The concept behind The Deed is a fairly simple one. It is a murder mystery in reverse. In other words, the player takes on the role, not of a detective trying to solve a crime, but instead the role of a murderer who must plan and then execute the perfect murder. Put simply, in The Deed, you need to kill someone and then pin it on someone else.
The core of this idea does correspond in some way to the clearly cerebral qualities of investigation. Like the detective, the murderer does need to think about motive and how motives are expressed through evidence, as well as things like how a murder weapon might best be connected to a perpetrator. However, the fascinating thing for me about playing The Deed is in recognizing how very much more concerned with morality I am when playing as a killer by contrast to how objective and distant taking on the role of the detective so often feels.
In The Deed, you take on the role of a clearly despicable man, Arran Bruce, who wants to kill his sister in order to clear the way to acquiring the family fortune when his parents die. Nevertheless, unlike a detective in most crime fiction or drawing room mysteries, this act became one that is, for me at least, incredibly personal and even moralistic in tone.
One can certainly play The Deed in a wholly impersonal way, looking for the best opportunities for exploiting the flaws of the other individuals in the game in order to create a plausible frame up to distract from the protagonist’s crime. However, I found myself picking and choosing my patsy based on who they were and what they had done to me.
For instance, the first frame job I performed while playing The Deed was to pin my sister’s murder on the butler. Why you might ask? Well, when I first arrived at my family’s home, I chose dialogue options that allowed me to come on to the maid. The butler talked a lot of crap to me as a result, insinuating what an immoral cretin I was. So, guess what? He made it personal. I had found my first patsy.
On my next playthrough, I framed my father for the crime because, well, I learned that he was a horrible, abusive tyrant. In other words, he deserved it.
While I have framed the maid for murder in order to satisfy a gaming achievement to frame all of the possible potential patsies available in the game, it bothered me to do so. She seemed like a relatively decent person in a house full of pretty awful people. I just didn’t think she deserved being an innocent victim of Bruce’s avarice.
All of which should seem absurd. After all, the character that I am playing as is seemingly a sociopath, interested in killing his (probably) mentally ill sister for the sake of money. Why should he care about what is just?
However, it isn’t often the culprit that seems so dispassionate in detective fiction. It is the detective. For example, Sherlock Holmes is a traditionally distant, purely cerebral investigator, who is really less concerned with morality than he is in solving challenging puzzles. It is Edgar Allan Poe’s murderous protagonists in works like “The Tell Tale Heart” or “The Cask of Amontillado” that concern themselves with pondering guilt, the nature and rationales of justice, or the sources of their own rage, not Poe’s consulting detective from “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” or “The Purloined Letter”, Auguste Dupin. Dupin might be the good guy, but doesn’t give a fig about morality and doesn’t give a second thought to justice. Instead, he likes to show off his superior intellect and overall cleverness to his intellectual inferiors, the police, by doing something better than they can.
Looking over discussions of this largely positively reviewed game on the Steam forums, does reveal one slightly negative, but not uncommon criticism of the game having no real “good ending”. After all, this is a game that features a fair amount of multiple endings, depending on varied successes and failures that can result from your efforts to plot the perfect murder, so why can’t the protagonist find himself satisfied or happy in one of these successful executions of his plans?
However, I think that this is one of the geniuses of the game. Satisfaction for the typical protagonist of this kind of story, the detective, can typically be reached, as the “game” of murder is just that for him, a puzzle that must be solved and can be objectively satisfied as a result of having been solved. The case itself and the concerns of the people involved in it are never really the issue for him at all, nothing that he has to grapple with personally. I prefer the more complex and unsatisfying philosophical and emotional nuance produced through this inversion of the traditional mystery. Finding a way to execute a perfect plan (and to try to execute such plans in new and colorful ways as The Deed‘s brief 20 minute playthroughs encourage) is fun, but it should never, ever be fully satisfying. The murderer is far too intimately involved with his own game.