Jason Rohrer once buried a titanium board game in the Nevada desert, and then handed out hundreds of pages containing printed-out GPS coordinates, one of which indicated the game’s true location. According to Rohrer, it will take 3,000 years for anyone to ever find that board game. Jason Rohrer once put a Minecraft mod on a USB stick, called it “Chain World,” and specified that only one person at a time can play it. When their character dies, they must hand the game to someone else. Jason Rohrer once made a game about trading diamonds in Africa. Jason Rohrer, long ago, made a simple, tiny game in which you walk: your character ages until they die.
His new game, One Hour One Life, feels like the natural conclusion of these experiments.
He recently invited me to play the new game online with him. We recorded the experience. Over several hours we lived many lives each as one another’s mother or child, struggling to sharpen rocks and make fire in a massive, persistent online world.
In summary, One Hour One Life is a persistent online multiplayer shared-world cooperative puzzle simulation sandbox. Players are born into a world Rohrer promises is “700 times the size of Jupiter.” Players begin as either babies or mothers. Six days pass every second. Every minute is one year. You will live, at most, one hour. Together, you do what you can in the time you have. You gather materials to craft tools of increasing complexity while minding your hunger meter and evading starvation. When you die, you make sure to leave as much behind as you can for whoever else will come after you. If you chance upon a skeleton in the shadows of a city in progress, you do your best to not squander what this player worked their whole one-hour life for.
Sometimes you’re born in a good place amid blooming berry bushes. Sometimes you are born to a stranger in the desert, and the stranger leaves you in the desert, and you die there.
With its simplistic graphics—Rohrer drew everything himself, in ink, on paper— One Hour One Life dredges up memories and empathies you might not have known you share with all of creation.
The game will be available for purchase soon. Rohrer says he’s forgoing platforms like Steam, and will likely sell the game on his own website.
Until—and after—its release, Rohrer plans to add hundreds of new items and features to the game per week. Eventually, if enough players cooperate enough with one another, the game world may evolve into and beyond the 21st century.
I was fascinated every time Rohrer casually mentioned building a house, baking a pie, or fostering four generations in the game, because my experience was so different from that. With Rohrer as my baby child, we were struggling in the middle of a wasteland to develop the tools to snare, skin, skewer, cook, and eat rabbits, all while the population of gooseberries dwindled to zero. We were living like ancient human animals, barely smart enough to make a fire that didn’t go out before we could cook anything on it.
“When time was young, and the world was its own diaper,” I put it. We were talking nonsense in real life, as our in-game avatars sharpened little stones against bigger stones.
Once we got together the tools to cook and eat rabbits, Rohrer promised, we’d be well on the way to living full lives. Well, we weren’t fast enough. Or maybe our birthplace had rigged it against us from the start. It turns out we had only always been well on our ways to becoming matching starvation skeletons slumped next to a burned-out fire.
“Someone will come by and know,” Jason Rohrer said, and then stopped.
“That there were people here,” I said, finishing the sentence. Then I died.
It’s a weird game, man. It makes me feel weird. It’s brilliant. I hope to play it with Rohrer some more, later, when some players have had a chance to get in there.
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