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A game called One Million Checkboxes has sparked a terrible online war


A page full of checkboxes
Image credit: Nolen Royalty

I’m getting into the bad habit of posting just after the end of work. In this case, I’m doing it because the whole affair might be over and done with when I return to my desk. New York-based Nolen Royalty, creator of impish experimental games about bouncing DVD logos and staring contests, has made another one that consists of a website with one million checkboxes. It's the best thing I've played all year, possibly.

You are free to check and uncheck any box you please, and any box you check will appear checked for any other visitor to the site, with the game keeping a running total of checked boxes in the top-right corner. There is no reward for your efforts. The whole thing is entirely pointless, an idle clicker without even the gratification of unlocking a picture of a cookie or similar. And yet. And yet. Look at all those strangers on the other side of the internet, busily checking boxes, working their way down the page like locusts munching through a massive ream of bubble-wrap. Now, notice how that running total shoots up and down at the behest of an opposing army of uncheckers. Which are you?

In the course of five minutes with One Million Checkboxes, I have deduced the existence of several broad classes of checker or unchecker. Firstly, there are the Frontliners, fighting tooth and nail over every square, clicking on each other's clicks as though treading on heads in the scrum. Then there are the Artillery Checkers, who use the search field in the bottom right to punt themselves way ahead of the running total, crashing down into an unspoilt fastness of unfilled boxes.

Their counterparts among the uncheckers are the Saboteurs, who use the search functionality in reverse, burrowing back through the landscape of checks, opening up seams of white in the middle of all that slanted blue as though bleaching out the heart of a coral reef. And fourthly, there are each side’s Clean-up Crews, who follow behind the frontline polishing off stray squares here or there, as though knifing the wounded. It’s a brutal business, truly, the checking of squares.

As of these words, 525939 boxes have been checked. It was 820552 a couple of minutes ago. It's not entirely clear what might happen when all the boxes are checked or unchecked. Perhaps we'll find out in 30 seconds. Perhaps we'll never know. Going by the developer's tweets, they weren’t expecting people to be quite this obsessed with the checking of boxes. Here’s a communique from a few hours ago: “alright i have been firefighting to keep the site up for like 14 hours straight, it's 3am, i am going to try to get some sleep. everyone just...don't check too many checkboxes for the next few hours ok”. Me posting this article definitely isn’t going to help with that. Sorry, Nolen. Neat game concept though!

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