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One Hour One Life: Rohrer riffs on cyclical survival

One Hour One Life

In one of those strange “thinking about a person and then they phone you for a chat” moments, I was wondering what Jason Rohrer might be up to earlier this week. It’s because his MMO burglary/home defence game The Castle Doctrine pops into my head from time to time. So obviously I then get an email saying “Hello, here is the trailer for my new game” from Jason Rohrer. It’s called One Hour One Life [official site] and is billed as a multiplayer online survival game by Rohrer and Tom Bailey. Let’s take a peek.

[Warning: NSFW because cartoon nudity. That said, I work in a job where cartoon nudity is fine so I guess the warning should be not safe for work if your work doesn’t like this sort of thing. NSFWIYWDLTSOT.]

The trailer itself doesn’t really give much away so, as per the email, here is Jason’s summary:

Quick summary: a multiplayer online survival game where you are born as a helpless baby (the child of another random player) and potentially live out an entire life into old age over the course of one hour. Each minute marks the passing of a year of game time. When you die, you are reborn as another baby to different parents somewhere else in the game world. Players collaborate across generations to rebuild civilization from scratch in an infinite expanse of wilderness, starting with nothing but rocks and sticks – a 10,000-item crafting tree that goes from arrowheads to iPhones.

I really like Jason’s work because his games seem to be more about giving people interesting constraints. The Castle Doctrine got you to build a domestic fortress but you’d always have to be able to navigate it yourself without dying, Sleep Is Death is a… storytelling co-op/competitive two player scenario build-em-up?, Cordial Minuet has you betting real money on choosing numbers from a magic square.

Perversely, I’m also fond of his work because it can engage with some pretty unloveable and complicated themes. The Castle Doctrine is really interesting from a design point of view and in what limitations it places on players, but it’s also so hard to want to be in that brutal, aggressive world and to be okay with building vulnerabilities into your home. I remember that the involvement of real-money gambling in Cordial Minuet was also a big point of disagreement for some players – in the interview I did at the time Rohrer felt that a real stake was a vital part of the experience and offered a libertarian attitude towards personal responsibility.

I get a lot out of thinking about Rohrer’s work, even when it’s obvious that we fundamentally disagree about some things or if the game itself doesn’t draw me in. The idea of potentially using these up-to-an-hour-long cycles to make progress as a society and the way it would, I presume, engender a kind of community/progressive spirit based around “this could be you in your next like” is curiously selfish rather than empathetic.

I’ll be interested to see how it actually manifests when One Hour One Life opens its digital doors.

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Philippa Warr

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