As the name implies, the game has you dealing with an increasingly absurd series of bureaucratic hurdles. Something's wrong with the mail delivery service, you can't access your bank accounts, annoying nerds are hounding you every step of the way... the list goes on.
Bureaucracy is unique from other interactive fiction titles in that it has a blood pressure mechanic. Your blood pressure rises every time something frustrating happens; if too much happens in a short span of time, you get an aneurysm and die.
Bureaucracy provides examples of:
- Bland-Name Product: "Boysenberry" for Apple, "Beezer" for Visa, "US Excess" for American Express.
- Chekhov's Gunman: The annoying nerd who follows you everywhere you go turns out to be the closest the game gets to a Big Bad.
- Forbidden Chekhov's Gun: You can't let your blood pressure get too high for every frustrating thing you do, lest you end up killing yourself. The only exception is that you need to open the airlock in the hacker headquarters by putting the keycard in the slot and then try to open the door a few more times, as the rising blood pressure will give you the strength you need to force open the door.
- Hello, [Insert Name Here]: The name you put in during the game's "software validation" screen is the name used for you throughout the game. Other details it requests, such as your least favorite color and the names of your former and current romantic partners, are also referenced elsewhere.
- iPhony: "Boysenberry", a stand-in for Apple. Its symbol is a partially digested purple berry.
- Purely Aesthetic Gender: Bureaucracy customizes your protagonist in the form of Hello, [Insert Name Here] and others such as your sex, street, city, state and zip code and so forth.
- Scolded for Not Buying: You will never be able to afford whatever the nerd is trying to sell you (it will always be $1 more than you have in your inventory), but if you try to interact with him in any way besides attempting to buy it, such as by offering him an item, he'll complain about it.
- Self-Deprecation: At a bookstore, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish can be found as a leftover in a bargain bin.
- Violation of Common Sense: One of your credit cards is hit with an overdraft fee... that the bank mailed to you in a check, so when you finally get your mail, you get a check for $-75. And yes, you can get positive money out of it, somehow.