The mystery of the detective who won't touch stuff


I started playing a game called New York Mysteries: Secrets of the Mafia, because how could I not? It's all right there in the title, which has both the word 'mysteries' and 'secrets', plus 'mafia' and 'New York.' If it had the word 'dinosaurs' in it I'd probably explode.

Wait! There are dinosaurs in it! Sort of.


The story goes like this: a mafia boss is strolling through a dinosaur museum one night—as mafia bosses do—when he suddenly disappears in a cloud of smoke, leaving behind only a green puddle of goo and a butterfly. Elsewhere in the city, children are disappearing after drawing pictures of the same butterfly. This is a Myst-like adventure/puzzle game, where you sort of hover around attractive yet static screens waiting for your cursor to change, at which point you click on stuff.

I quickly discover a bigger mystery than the goo-puddles or butterflies, however. It has to do with my detective, Miss Terry Secrets. I call this case: The Case of What The Hell Is Up With My Detective.

Arriving at the scene of the disappearing don, I'm immediately faced with a problem. I'm here to talk to someone at the museum about the mobster and the goo and whatnot, but the door is locked and the buzzer is broken. What do I do now?


I sort of have my own incredibly clever solution in mind... knock on the door like a regular human being? This is a video game, however, and an adventure game at that, so logic is replaced by loopy and unlikely puzzle business. Instead of knocking on the door, or looking for another entrance, or finding a pay telephone (it's 1955) and making a call to the museum, or just waiting for ten seconds to see if someone opens the door, I must become an amateur electrician and actually repair the doorbell. I find some scissors in a nearby valise (lucky!), cut wire from a broken light (dangerous!), and attach the wire to the sparking cable that provides electricity to the bell (very dangerous!).

It might not seem strange that my detective is completely comfortable repairing live electrical systems with her bare hands, but it simply doesn't fit with her behavior when she's confronted with other puzzles. For instance, at one point I find a cardboard box sealed with tape. I surmise there might be something useful in the box, this being an adventure game and all, but my detective refuses to simply pull the tape off the box and find out.


Touching live wires, no problem, but when faced with cardboard and tape I must puzzle the box open rather than touch it. Luckily, I did just find something else useful: a key! I know a key is the perfect item to cut though box-tape because for the past several decades I've opened every single taped box I've encountered by cutting through the tape with a key, because keys are usually in my pocket and scissors are usually in that shadowy nether dimension that scissors disappear into the second you put them down. The key doesn't work, oddly, and I'm forced to hunt for a sharper tool.

Later, I find a folder tied with string. Untie it? Ha ha, no! That would require


Finally, I open a fusebox, and I can see it contains a battery I need to put in a flashlight I found. There's a hitch though: cobwebs. COBWEBS. Literally the only things you can name that are even easier to move with your hand than string and tape.

They're not even particularly thick cobwebs. I find more cobwebs than that strung over my bike tires when I don't leave the house for a few days because I'm too busy sitting here playing games where detectives don't touch cobwebs. Plus, fuseboxes contain electricity, and she loves handling that! Alas, she won't go near it without finding a dust brush first.


And yet, when the time comes, the same woman who does't like touching string has no problem spelunking down a spooky elevator shaft while hanging onto a fire hose with one hand. When solutions come before logic instead of as the result of it, adventure games become stories about the protagonist's incompetence, rather than the player's competence. I couldn't care less about goo-based mysteries at this point. I just want to solve the puzzle of my detective.


The first PC game Chris owned was Choplifter in 1982, and since then our staff writer has played at least three other games. He has a love/hate relationship with Early Access survival games and an odd fascination with the lives of NPCs.
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