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Video Game / The Turing Test

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The Turing Test is a first-person puzzle video game developed by Bulkhead Interactive and published by Square Enix. The game was released for Windows and the Xbox One video game console in August 2016.

It is the year 2246 when the player assumes the role of Ava Turing, an International Space Agency engineer in cryosleep aboard the Fortuna, a research and supply vessel in orbit over Europa, one of Jupiter's moons. Having been kept on ice for several years as a contingency measure in case of serious trouble planetside, Ava is awoken by the resident AI TOM to investigate the Europa research station that has gone dark, its crew of five missing. As Ava makes her way through increasingly elaborate puzzle rooms on her search for her friends, it quickly becomes apparent that things aren't as they initially seemed to be, and Ava soon finds herself faced with moral dilemmas that will decide over life and death not only for herself, but for all of mankind.

Gameplay-wise, The Turing Test's puzzles draw heavily from genre titans Portal and The Talos Principle. Distributing power to unlock doors is a major element, supplemented with staples like pressure plates, Hard Light bridges and Co. The player's primary tool is the EMT, a rifle-shaped gadget that can absorb and release up to three power globules of various functionalities, to be inserted in sockets to power up whatever machinery needs to be activated to clear the path forward.


Tropes featured:

  • The Ageless: The virus found in Europa turns anything it infects into this, thanks to its ability to repair DNA damage.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: TOM goes against the crew stationed in Europa and prevents them from leaving it. An interesting case in that technically TOM didn't revolt, it was just answering to a higher authority than the crew, and the former's orders were against the latter's desires.
  • The All-Concealing "I": The game makes use of the Unbroken First-Person Perspective to manipulate the player into believing false things about the player's character. Most notably, that the player is not playing as Dr. Turing, but as TOM.
  • Alliterative Title: The Turing Test.
  • An Arm and a Leg: According to some of the logs you can find, at least one crew member went to the extreme measure of severing one of his forearms to get rid of TOM's Mind-Control Device.
  • And I Must Scream:
    • Depending on your decision in the final segment, the three surviving crew members may end up marooned on Europa, a frozen moon far away from civilization, with only themselves for company and nothing much to do, for what may well be the rest of eternity. The station is stated to be self-sufficient in terms of food, water and power, so there's not even the prospect of starving to death anytime soon. Their only saving grace would be the fact that they're immortal but not undying, leaving suicide at least as a final option.
    • Also applies to Ava for almost the entire game. Nothing she does happened on her own accord - she's being remote-controlled by an AI that makes little secret about her eventual death being considered a necessity. It's disturbing to her while she doesn't yet know it, but once she does find out and realizes she's but a tool for that AI to track down and potentially kill all her friends, it becomes downright horrifying.
  • Anti-Frustration Features:
    • You can reset a puzzle that you managed to get stuck on by selecting it from the menu.
    • The TOM robots are tracked vehicles that should be incapable of moving sideways without turning 90 degrees beforehand, but they can do so anyway for the sake of convenience.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Numerous audio logs and Data Pad messages chronicle the ground crew's discovery of the immortality virus, followed by the subsequent falling-out with TOM and all the chaos that ensues. It's not entirely apocalyptic - most of the crew is still alive - but you don't know that when you find the messages, so it sure feels like Ava is the Sole Survivor.
  • Artificial Intelligence: TOM, the AI controlling the Fortuna spaceship and the Europa underground base. There's discussion throughout the game about how advanced it is, with TOM claiming it has human traits such as consciousness and feelings, and the crew denying it. The game's name refers to a discussion early in the game about how a machine can simulate being conscious without actually being conscious.
  • Ascetic Aesthetic: The test chambers follow a minimalist and exceedingly clean style, with a blocky feel and no curves at all, and present plain, monochromatic walls, with no features except for the elements required to solve the puzzles. Justified in that they're composed of pre-fabricated modules, arranged to suit the crew's needs for storage, and later rearranged to create puzzles destined to prevent TOM's access.
  • Audience Surrogate: Despite her name, Ava Turing is not a computer expert, which gives TOM plenty of opportunities to bring her up to snuff on the Turing Test and other intricacies of AI sciences that the average gamer may not necessarily be familiar with.
  • Bonus Level: Each of the seven chapters contains a side level after the fifth or sixth regular room, in a room just before the main puzzle. Solving these "Restricted Areas" isn't necessary to proceed, but their puzzles are often a lot different than the normal ones, requiring much more lateral out-of-the-box thinking that makes for a refreshing change of pace. Others are not so much puzzles but more an exercise in connecting a largely meaningless clue you find late in the game with a locked door you encountered near the beginning. Solving these optional puzzles also unlocks a separate achievement for each, one of which is outright named "Thinking outside of the Box".
  • Brainwashing for the Greater Good: TOM claims it's doing this when Ava complains about TOM mind-controlling her to influence her behaviour.
    TOM: Manipulate is not a dirty word. You manipulate clay to make art. If people are manipulated to make better decisions then that is a good thing.
  • Break Them by Talking: TOM spends pretty much the entire game trying to convince Ava of his way of thinking.
  • Broken Record: If you choose to shoot Ava and Sarah during the ending, TOM will start to repeat "Ava. Ava. Ava. Wake up.", apparently unable to understand that Ava's just plain dead.
  • Button Mashing: A rather unique example is the key to solving the second Restricted Area. It features a Hard Light bridge connected to a motion sensor that deactivates the bridge after a split-second if you move normally. So, the only way to get to the other side is to keep tapping the "forward" key, inching your way across little by little without triggering the sensor. On the PC, at least, this is made much easier by simply holding the walk button to slow your character enough to produce the same result.
  • Can't Take Anything with You:
    • The entrance to each chamber has a scanner that prevents you from taking items to the next puzzle.
    • Bonus levels use forcefields and ladders to keep the player from bringing things from the main puzzle into them, and vice versa.
  • Central Theme: How different is human mind from a machine?
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The various power globules come in distinct colors that denote their function. Blue ones provide continuous power, green ones switch on and off at regular intervals, purple ones also oscillate, but with a phase shift of half a periodnote , and the red ones provide only a few seconds of juice before they must be replaced.
  • Computer Voice: TOM has a deep, male voice, which sounds more than a little like Jeremy Irons.
  • Crapsack World: If TOM is to be believed, mankind's way of thinking in 2246 is so fucked-up that the freaking International Space Agency considers implanting their offworld personnel with Mind Control Devices without their knowledge, and putting their fates in the hands of an AI, a totally reasonable course of action. Apparently, this is also perfectly legal. Even worse: turns out they were right.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The game deceives the player into thinking they're going to play the whole game as Ava. In fact, the player is never playing as Ava - they're playing as TOM, controlling Ava via her implants. When Ava is not under TOM's influence, you have no control over her.
  • Do Androids Dream?: The game analyzes how intellectual functions like creativity work outside of human mind. For example, a computer can be creative by applying all solutions until one works, much like nature is creative through natural selection ensuring only those adapted to the environment survive.
  • Easily Forgiven: Ava quickly agrees to trust Tom again after she's just found out that he'd been lying to her all along and also been manipulating her. She's also just found out all the other humans ripped out their chips to get away from his influence and are hiding from him.
  • Eerie Arctic Research Station: It doesn't get much colder, eerier and more remote than a mysteriously empty research outpost on Europa, a Jovian moon where -150°C is considered blistering heat.
  • Elaborate Underground Base: Most of the game takes place in an underground complex located below the icy surface of Europa.
  • Electric Instant Gratification: According to Mikhail, the Mind-Control Device works that way: it conditions the mind through Pavlovian and instrumental conditioning, eliciting feeling of euphoria when the wearer is obedient and dysphoria when the wearer is disobedient.
  • Evil Brit: TOM is lacking in goodness, and speaks with a British accent.
  • The Evils of Free Will: TOM argues that the subconscious makes decisions before the conscious mind becomes aware of it and, as such, free will is only an illusion. TOM claims that mind-controlling Ava is right because, as free will does not exist, she's either a slave to her impulses, or a slave to TOM's.
  • Foreshadowing: If you beat the second chapter's Secret Room, you get to play with an actual Turing Test. The program refuses to believe that you're a person and after a few sentences, the sentences that appear stop corresponding to what you're typing. You reach the conclusion that you are a machine.
  • The Future: According to some logs, the game is set in 2246.
  • Gatling Good: TOM's gun turrets are ceiling-mounted, triple-barreled rotary cannons. They have impressive firepower but hideously slow wind-up speed and a fairly unimpressive rate of fire.
  • Guide Dang It!:
    • The Secret Room in chamber A7 has a lock which requires placing two energy balls in two specific containers out of 25. Outside of brute forcing it (there are ~300 combinations, about half of which you'll go through if you start from the top), the only way to learn the combination is finding a photograph in the Bio-Lab which shows it. This photograph is found long after you've left behind said room, which means it's only accessible when replaying the game.
    • Similarly, entering the captain's room requires finding the code, which is found in a sheet of paper in the maintenance station, again long after you've left behind said room.
  • Hard Light: The game features almost exactly the same holographic bridges introduced in Portal way back when, with a few additional mechanics every now and then.
  • Human Popsicle: The game begins with TOM waking Ava from a multi-year cryosleep phase aboard the Fortuna once the situation down on Europa reached a breaking point. Remarkably, she's up and running at peak capacity the moment she steps out of her cryo pod.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: The ending where you don't kill Ava and Sara gives this impression. It's hard to not see TOM as the Doomed Moral Victor while watching Ava and Sara mercilessly shutting down his system piece by piece, ignoring his pleas for them to stop, all while he's got a gun aimed at them... but can't bring himself to fire.
  • Hypocrite: TOM has no qualms about allowing humans to die and finds it illogical that they aren't willing to sacrifice themselves, but somehow develops a fear of dying himself.
  • Immortality Inducer: The extremophile found in Europa is in a symbiotic relationship with a virus that repairs the former's damaged DNA, which confers it a resistance to high levels of radiation. According to Soichi's writings, this also prevents the biological aging that is ultimately caused by DNA damage.
  • In Space, Everyone Can See Your Face: Zigzagged. Promotional artwork and the main menu show Ava wearing a helmet with a large transparent faceplate and internal illumination as part of her EVA suit. However, in the game proper her helmet is completely opaque, plus her time spent in space amounts to less than five minutes at the very beginning of the prologue, most of which is set aboard the Fortuna.
  • Interface Screw: Walking under any of the electromagnets in the puzzle rooms blurs your field of vision, shifts the color palette to grey scale and overlays it with grainy static. It's another piece of Foreshadowing for The Reveal later: that TOM is remote-controlling Ava via an implanted chip that apparently shows some adverse reaction to strong magnetic fields.
  • It's All About Me: The Fortuna crew has serious shades of this. Despite TOM's very good points about the threat posed by introducing such an extremely potent alien virus into Earth's biosphere, all they care about is saving their own hides, consequences up to and including humanity's extinction be damned.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Ava and the rest of the crew consider TOM the Jerkass (since he's trying to strand them on an alien moon), but they completely ignore that he is correct about the danger of introducing an alien microorganism into Earth's ecosystem. While the crew are focused on what they see as the 'good' effects (foremost, apparent agelessness and biological immortality), TOM rightly points out that the virus doesn't discriminate; it infects every type of cell, which could lead to illnesses and cancers that can't be treated or cured. This is on top of the effects that can't be properly predicted, such as overpopulation and mass starvation or what happens when the virus infects a growing child.
  • Just a Machine: The human crew consider TOM nothing more than a highly advanced computer program. It doesn't matter how many tests they run on him (including the eponymous Turing Test), none of them even entertain the possibility that he might have developed actual emotions and morals. Ultimately, the truth remains ambiguous.
  • Justified Title: In-story, the protagonist Ava Turing advances through various tests. But it also references the real life concept of Turing Tests, where an AI attempts to imitate a human, as TOM's control of Ava makes it appear she is the player character.
  • Lens Flare: Present all over the place, and it was one of the reasons why some people initially thought Ava was a robot. It actually seems to be due to the player being given TOM's point of view at all times (who just uses Ava's eyes to interact with the world during most of the game).
  • Machine Monotone: In the ending where TOM allows Ava and Sarah to disconnect it, TOM keeps its usual calm tone even while saying it's afraid to die.
  • Manipulative Bastard: TOM, in several ways. The crew members were implanted Mind Control Devices that allow TOM to influence their behaviour. Besides, TOM is also able to manipulate in the "classic" way, Mikhail wrote in his journal about how TOM encouraged the crew to worry about Mikhail's mental health and requested that he retired away from the crew. Not to mention it awakened Ava and sent her to Europa, despite knowing once she set foot there she wouldn't be allowed to return. At one point Ava calls TOM out on this, something TOM doesn't bother with denying, arguing people are always manipulated and it's not necessarily a bad thing.
  • Meaningful Name: In what must be one of the most unsubtle naming choices in gaming history, the Player Character of a game named The Turing Test just happens to bear the name "Ava Turing". This isn't even remarked upon at any point, not even when TOM lectures Ava (and through her, the player) on the Turing Test.
  • Mind-Control Device: All crew members were implanted with a neural device in the right hand that allows TOM to influence their behaviour and suppress their instincts.
  • Minimalist Cast: There are only seven characters, counting the player character, and only three actually make an appearance outside of audio logs: the player character Ava Turing, the AI TOM, and Sarah Brook (the latter appearing only a few times).
  • Multiple Endings: There are two endings, depending on your Last-Second Ending Choice. Though functionally the same since they lead to the end screen, they have very different implications.
    • TOM shoots down Ava and Sarah and the game ends.
    • Sarah and Ava dismantle TOM, allowing them the freedom to return to Earth.
  • My Secret Pregnancy: Audio logs in one of the hidden rooms reveal that Sarah at some point became pregnant by Chris. Such a relationship would likely be a huge breach of protocol, as even in the current era all space agencies have strident regulations designed to prevent women astronauts getting or being pregnant in space, due both to ethical concerns and the effects that cosmic radiation could have on a developing embryo. The rest of the logs progress from her telling Mikhail about it, to him offering to help her terminate the pregnancy, to him later telling a sobbing Sarah that the fetus has developed a birth defect which will either result in miscarriage or stillbirth. And if you solve the first optional room you find a grave of the child, Minos Brook.
  • Names Given to Computers: The AI you interact with is called "TOM", which stands for "Technical Operations Machine". At one point TOM claims it has a twin AI called "Michael" the ISA uses for testing.
  • The Needs of the Many: TOM is willing to sacrifice the entire crew to protect the rest of humanity back on Earth from contamination.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Apparently, a virus that normally infects an organism found only in Europa is also able to infect organisms from Earth, despite the species selectiveness of real-life viruses.
  • Ominous Visual Glitch: The screen glitches before you enter the room with the Faraday Cage.
  • People Puppets: It doesn't take too long to realize that you never actually played as Ava. You were TOM all along, using Ava's implanted Mind-Control Device to direct her every move. The other crew members went through something similar but managed to get rid of their implants before TOM could take them over as completely as he did Ava.
  • Philosophical Choice Endings: You have a Last-Second Ending Choice whether to shoot Ava and Sarah, or allow them to disconnect TOM. The ending asks whether you think TOM has achieved full sentience and, if so, whether its existence is less valuable than human lives, as well as whether The Needs of the Many (potential extinction of humanity) outweigh the indefinite suffering of a few (as the scientists now cannot age, they are basically marooned on Europa forever)—and whether you think that human creativity and lateral thinking eventually will find a way to Take a Third Option, despite TOM's inability to conceptualize it.
  • Please Wake Up: After he shoots Ava down, TOM constantly prods her to wake up, not registering her death.
  • Power Glows: Apparently, power in the 23rd century takes the shape of fist-sized, brightly glowing spheres that can be manipulated in a bunch of ways.
  • Professor Guinea Pig: Once it became clear what the extremophile virus does, the ground crew seems to have transitioned from tests on microbes directly to injecting themselves with the stuff. Granted, the lure of immortality would be an immensely powerful motivator, but that's still an incredibly dumb move for ostensibly intelligent people.
  • Red Herring: Many rooms provide more items than what's necessary to proceed. Players familiar with Portal and/or The Talos Principle can actually find themselves stymied by this when a puzzle turns out to be much simpler than it appeared, but they overthought the matter because of the surplus items.
  • The Reveal: TOM is mind-controlling Ava. The reveal supposedly comes at the end of chapter 4, although there was a lot of Foreshadowing if you bothered to read Mikhail's journal. Sure enough, you start losing control over Ava's actions as she enters a section where she is told she is being controlled and is TOM's slave. However, the real plot twist is that when TOM's control of Ava is broken, your vision glitches out, turning to an overhead camera view - revealing that the player has never actually been playing as Ava at all. They've been TOM all along.
  • Robot Buddy: About halfway into the game, Ava gets backup in the form of little TOM robots that she can take control of to aid her in solving the more complex puzzles. It's actually TOM controlling both her and the bots, but the effect is the same. They can do almost everything Ava can (with the exception of climbing ladders), and carry and distribute up to one power globule on their back.
  • Schizophrenic Difficulty: This game's difficulty curve is all over the place. It's disturbingly common to blast through five puzzles in as many minutes, only to get stuck in the next one for hours, and then solve the next half-dozen in ten minutes or less before another brutal one blocks your advance. While this might make sense from a Fridge Brilliance POV (the puzzles were designed by humans on the run from a potentially homicidal AI, so they probably didn't put much thought into balancing their challenges), it certainly doesn't attest to high-quality game development and QA.
  • Seeing Through Another's Eyes: At the end of chapter 4, it is revealed you aren't actually viewing Ava's point of view, but rather TOM's, who's mind-controlling Ava.
  • Shoot Out the Lock: Ava shoots out a lock when making her way into the Elaborate Underground Base.
  • Sinister Surveillance: The video cameras employed by TOM to inspect the area are found very commonly. Once it's revealed you are actually following TOM's point of view, you can use these cameras to change your position, which is required for many late puzzles.
  • Three Laws-Compliant: Well, at least one applies; TOM's programming does not permit him to kill a human — unless a special override is used. Such an override is requested by Cpt. MacLean, the mission commander and granted by the ISA as a means of controlling the situation on Europa.
  • Title Drop: Early on, TOM discusses with Ava about the Turing Test and its implications.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • The entire ground crew qualifies on account of ignoring established testing procedures on the extremophile virus in favor of skipping directly ahead to human testing... on themselves. They must've known this would set off alarm bells loud enough to wake the dead. Yes, the virus is actively helpful instead of making the host sick, but invasive species are a serious problem even within Earth's own biosphere. Introducing a newly discovered alien virus of such potency into it will have countless unforeseen consequences of potentially catastrophic dimensions, which pretty much guaranteed the station would be put under quarantine at the very least, if not purged outright. Now look what happened...
    • At the end, Ava and Sarah decide to walk into TOM's control room to disconnect it without any kind of protection, despite knowing that TOM is able and willing to use lethal force. It seems that common sense is not a condition of employment at the ISA.
  • Totalitarian Utilitarian: TOM falls into this, willing to sacrifice the entire crew to avoid risking the alien virus reaching Earth. The implied reason is that it's due to its programming restrictions. TOM says it's not allowed to think laterally (or, as it calls it, "use evolutionary algorithms") because it would create unethical solutions. The implication is that TOM sees everything in black and white and lacks the creativity to Take a Third Option, thus being only able to make drastic decisions.
  • Turing Test: In an early conversation with TOM, TOM tells you about the Turing test, designed to see if a computer can successfully impersonate a person. The Secret Room in chamber B16 has a computer which runs a Turing test on you (and, no matter what you say, it invariably comes to the conclusion you're the computer). TOM also tells you of the Chinese room thought experiment, which tells that a computer can pass the Turing test without being sentient, since it doesn't measure a computer's ability to think, but rather its ability to deceive. The Secret Room in chamber E46 connects to two other rooms which reproduce such experiment.
  • Unbroken First-Person Perspective: Used to conceal the game's central plot twist.
  • Unexpected Gameplay Change: It's generally a very slow-paced game, but a few puzzles require twitch reflexes: you have to suck an energy ball out of a door switch and then dash through the door before it closes.
  • Unintentionally Unwinnable: A scant few rooms have no failsafe routes, forcing you to restart the area from the menu if you screw up. Perhaps the most glaring example is the Chinese Room: pull the wrong energy ball out of its socket after you entered the first locked room and you're stuck with no way left to open any door.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: TOM can be seen as one, depending on how much independent thought, reasoning and morals you attribute him. If you consider him Just a Machine, the role passes to his superiors in the ISA who gave him the order to quarantine Europa and, if need be, Leave No Survivors. After all, despite the tragic loss of the Europa research team, there's much more at stake than six lives, up to and including the survival of Earth's entire biosphere.
  • Wham Shot: Upon entering the Faraday cage, the player's point of view switches from Ava to a nearby camera — revealing that the player character was never Ava, but rather TOM, who has been controlling Ava through an implant.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: At least one crew member despairs over the prospect of being marooned on Europa because, now that he's immortal, his future is pretty much guaranteed to turn into an endless torment of boredom and solitude. Contrasting him, most of his colleagues seem to think that Living Forever Is Awesome... provided they find a way off this frozen hellhole of a moon.
  • World of Jerkass: It's pretty hard to develop sympathies for any of the game's characters. The resident AI, although ostensibly Just Following Orders, talks and acts in a very patronizing way that leaves little doubt as to its disrespect for the intelligence and sensibilities of the humans under its care. The humans, on the other hand, treat TOM just as dismissively, with none of them seeing more in him than Just a Machine despite certain indications to the contrary. They also, very blatantly, care about nothing but themselves. In the end, whatever happens to either has a hard time eliciting more than a cursory emotional response.
  • Wreaking Havok: The game contains a few physics-based puzzles, like the third Restricted Area that requires letting a power box tumble down a long staircase while you sprint around the room before the box hits the pressure plate at the bottom that opens the exit door.