“Have You Considered the Benefits of Life Insurance” is a computer game about life insurance, which automatically makes it the best computer game about life insurance, because the competition is just that thin.
The plot is simple enough: you are an ugly life insurance salesman with a trophy wife. You need to buy your wife gifts (a fish, a bottle of wine, something I thought was an asthma inhaler but now believe to be a blender) so that she stays with you. You make money by selling life insurance policies to pixelated people who will pay you $1 a second until they fall into a hole and die, at which point you pay them $100. (Since that’s the only way anyone dies, I’d probably have a “falling down holes exemption clause” in the policy, but that’s just me.) If you so choose, you can plug up holes at $20 a pop.
My first time through the game lasts less than a minute. I sell every person a policy, reasoning that then I’ll have more money to plug up holes and make the world a safer place. Then when a hole opens up under one of my unfortunate little policy holders I go bankrupt.
For round two I decide I can’t save everyone, so I’ll just make sure my sole insured person (“Reggie”) has a good long life, free from holes and accidental deaths. Except I can’t afford any gifts for my trophy wife (“Samantha”), and when I look away for a second, Reggie has fallen to his death and I’m bankrupt. Again.
Determined to learn from my mistakes with Reggie, I notice that the people are all different colors. Maybe this color coding is the game’s way of telling me which people are suicidal and which aren’t. I steer clear of the blue people as they’re probably the most depressed. My chromatic profiling turns out to be useless, however, when some incautious green people plummet to their untimely deaths, bankrupting me. And I thought green just meant seasick, or possibly suffering from an abundance of chlorophyll. When I realize that the pink people are most likely not communist sympathizers I put an end to my racial prejudices for good.
Is the game good? I can say with some certainty that it’s more fun than actually selling life insurance, although that’s setting the bar at roughly shin-level. Still, the mechanics are sound, and it does a good job of dramatizing the economics of life insurance and risk-management. Plus it’s free. The designer, Crackerblocks, created this game over a weekend for Ludum Dare 20, a game design contest with the theme “It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this!”
With these caveats in mind, anything that can fundamentally shift your perceptions about mortality and the worth of an individual should be applauded, even if the graphics pale in comparison to, say, anything on Commodore 64 or later. I have a lot of fondness for the game, which is maybe why I kept going back to it, even when it became clear I wasn’t getting any better.
I wouldn’t call it winning, but one time I was able to end the game with money. I sold policies to three people who eventually died, but after long and fruitful 120-second lives, leaving me a $68 profit. I bought a fish and a bottle of wine for Samantha.
By this point, the world is entirely full of holes, and when new people appear on the screen, they don’t survive long enough for me to even sell them a policy, and they fall, uninsured, to their deaths, cursing a cruel god who’d allow them to be born on top of an open chasm. Samantha and I eat the fish and drink the bottle of wine, watching these poor lost souls until our irreconcilable differences drive us apart.