Indiewatch: One Hour One Life tells a story of human survival and cooperation

Every so often an indie game comes along and deconstructs everything you took for granted in your favorite game genre. Undertale deconstructed the violence inherent in JRPGs. The Stanley Parable deconstructed linear narrative. But all of these deconstructions pick apart genres and conventions that have long been established in the gaming world.

Jason Rohrer’s newest game, One Hour One Life deconstructs something relatively new, the survival game. 

Survival games are games where you start off with very little and slowly gather resources in order to survive a hostile world. Survival games have been around for some time but have only recently catapulted themselves into popularity with titles such as Don’t Starve and Subnautica. All of these survival titles have one important thing in common. The only one surviving is you. Whether you live or die is entirely based on your own ability to scavenge and adapt.

One Hour One Life tells a more realistic survival story, a story of the survival of the human race. You, as a singular player are not going to survive. The question is, what will you leave behind?

In One Hour One Life every in-game minute corresponds to a year of time. When you spawn, you spawn as a baby freshly born from another player in the game. In this state you can do nothing. You cannot pick anything up. You can barely move. At most you can type one or two letters into the chat bar. You have a hunger bar that is only four units long and drains extremely fast. If left alone, you will die.

To be honest, you will likely die a lot right after spawning. You might run away from your mother or she might run away from you. You might spawn in an area that doesn’t have enough food to support a baby. You might accidentally wander away from humans and get eaten by wolves. It’s very easy to die as an infant.

You may luck out and be born to a responsible parent. That parent will look after you, fend off dangers and feed you when you are hungry. As you grow older, your food meter grows longer and depletes slower, allowing you to spend more time apart from your parent. Grow old enough and you will be able to pick up small items and even feed yourself if you manage to find, say, a berry bush. This could be your life, wandering around, eating berries until you grow old and die. Not a very eventful life, but a common one.

If you are feeling particularly ingenuitive you can use your limited time on earth to start tinkering with your surroundings. Find some sticks and put them together to make… a pile of sticks. This might not seem like much, but with enough tinkering that pile of sticks can become a tinder pile, and with some flint, you can eventually make a fire. That fire will keep you and your other humans warm during cold nights, increasing their life expectancy. It will also let you cook meat that you might have lying around.

Of course to obtain meat you need to trap small animals, hunt large animals or even go fishing. This requires weapons and other tools, which you have to invent. Then, after you invent them, you have to go find your prey, kill it, bring it back to the fire (if it hasn’t gone out) cook it, and then eat it. All of this takes some time and just inventing a few tools will be enough to spend a good portion of your lifetime.

Which sounds kind of boring right? Get born, be helpless, make a spear, kill one thing, eat and then die? What kind of gaming experience is that?

A shallow one, but you won’t always be having the same experience. You see, the things you do during your lifetime have a lasting impact on the world. If all you do is consume food wherever you find it and give nothing back to human society, then you’ll make food and resources scarce for the generation that comes after you, if you manage to have children at all. However, if you use your time to invent new things, the next generation will have it better than you.

Let’s say you create a fire, some hunting tools and some clothes. You also create a container to store all your leftover food in. When your child is born that player won’t have to invent fire, and tools and clothes all over again. They can use the same inventions and knowledge that you passed down to them. They don’t have to spend all their time hunting for food or scavenging for the resources to make tools.

Instead, they can devote their time to other pursuits. Maybe they will figure out the basics of house building, and then the next generation can live in a house free from the danger of the elements and wildlife. Maybe they will figure out the basics of farming, allowing the human race to replenish their food more easily.

Or maybe everyone will just stop inventing new things and the human race will starve to death, at which point the next player spawns as “Eve,” the first woman and everything starts all over.

Jason Rohrer has stated that there are more than 10,000 craftable items in One Hour One Life ranging from simple prehistoric tools to complex futuristic constructs like robots and teleporters. However, players will only be able to experience the joy of that futuristic world if they can work together, not only with each other, but with their past and future selves. THAT is the story of human survival, a story of knowledge and tools being passed down from generation to generation in order to make our children’s lives a little bit easier than our own.

At time of writing civilization is still pretty basic in One Hour One Life. It’s fairly common to spawn with a parent who hasn’t even made a sensible set of clothes and who still sleeps outside in the wild. But every so often you find yourself spawning into a real village with real homes and real tools, and when you inevitably get mauled to death by a predator you can at the very least say you were a part of something bigger. Perhaps the biggest question One Hour One Life poses is: will humanity ever survive to see that “something bigger.” Rohrer has even said that he will stay one step ahead of human civilization, adding more items for people to craft every day. So it’s a game world that is constantly evolving, not only because of its creator but because of its players.

It’s not just a survival game; it’s a profound statement on human life and the nature of human existence. If you are the type of person who likes to reflect on deeper questions about human society, or if you just want a really difficult new survival game to play, One Hour One Life deserves your attention.

Maybe you too will be a part of something bigger.

You can purchase and download One Hour One Life at its official website.