In Praise of One Hour One Life

life cycle of a One Hour One Life character

From birth until death, in 60 minutes

It’s not an MMO, but no other game I’ve played lately has better captured the spirit of collaboration and community of early MMOs than Jason Rohrer‘s new(ish) game One Hour One Life.

One Hour One Life is one of the few games that have routinely touched me emotionally. Even after months of play, I still find it compelling. Though there are moving moments in other games, no other game has repeatedly brought me to tears. In One Hour One Life, players will say ‘I love you’ to someone they’ve interacted with anonymously over the course of less than an hour, and mean it.

So, What is this Game About?

At heart, OHOL is a multiplayer survival sandbox. But unlike other survival sandboxes such as Ark or Conan Exiles, the game promotes cooperation, rather than competition. Though the world is persistent, each character can exist for a fixed amount of time — the ‘One Hour’ of the title. Each minute of your gameplay is equivalent to a year of your character’s life and your character will die of old age after 60 minutes. The most you can hope in your hour of gameplay is to advance your civilization moving from scrappy hardship towards sustainability.

A character spawns to two possibilities. You may start as an ‘Eve’ — alone in the wilderness with no one to help you, frantically gathering supplies to start a small home base and fend off starvation and wild animals. Or you may start as a baby born to an ‘Eve’, into a small community, or an established city.

Profile picture of character in old age

My most recent age-60 life, “Fate”

As a baby, you are completely dependent on the players around you — your mother primarily. During this time you can ‘speak’ only in single letters, you cannot feed yourself. Babies are carried passively, waiting for an opportunity to contribute.

Assuming you survive this time, you can go on and collect resources and attempt to make your civilization stronger, while avoiding over farming and over-harvesting of natural resources.

There’s no end game aside from making it to age 60, and if you spawn as a woman, in raising children to the point that they can carry on your lineage.

The Rohrer Oeuvre

One Hour One Life is a more traditional game than some of Rohrer’s creations. One other notable game, A Game For Someone, for example, consists of a physical game, buried at one of 1 million GPS coordinates. Even with well-planned search, finding the game might take thousands of years. It is more abstract experiment than anything else.

Rohrer’s work is featured in galleries and museums, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His games are often thought-provoking, and artful. While a Rohrer creation such as A Game for Someone is (likely) more interesting as an idea than it likely is as an extant game, One Hour One Life is both thought-provoking, and actually fun to play.

Bringing Back Challenge

This is not to say it is easy to play. It is not. It is challenging enough that logging in to the game requires some effort on my part. It’s like writing, or some other personal work which is meaningful, but not always comfortable in the doing. Like these, OHOL is sometimes difficult to get started with.

Once you press the ‘Login’ button, you could be in for anything. Your mother might abandon you at birth. You might spawn alone it the wilderness, and starve quickly. You might suffer a rattlesnake bite or bear attack. If you’re lucky, you’re ‘born’ to a careful mother, and you have a productive life before dying of old age.

Once in the game, the uncertainty continues. Will the civilization die out because not enough girls are born and survive long enough to reproduce? Will other players over-farm or harvest at inopportune times, depleting resources? Will a team of miscreants rage through the town, stabbing everyone present?

OHOL’s difficulty is not as in many recent ‘retro’ MMOs, where devs mistake inconvenience for challenge. It is the sort of difficulty that brings players together, working for a common cause. This is the kind of design that made me fall in love with gaming, many years ago. Playing One Hour One Life has renewed my optimism about the future of multiplayer games.

I’m just catching up now with last week’s Blaugust theme — ‘Developer Appreciation.’ Read more about Blaugust Reborn — a month-long celebration of blogging — at Tales from the Aggronaut.

2 thoughts on “In Praise of One Hour One Life

  1. I initially thought this sounded interesting when I first heard about it, but was put off by the “if you’re a woman, you gotta make babies” concept. Which, I realize, if you’re trying to grow a civilization, you gotta make babies. I do think the concept of starting off as a baby and being totally dependent on other players is interesting.

    • abbi

      Yes, this gave me pause as well. It’s interesting, too, that Jason Rohrer is a very involved at-home father, and the game has no father role at all. Males are basically ‘dead weight’. Practically speaking, if you don’t want a baby, you can just abandon it — though I’ve never been able to bring myself to do this! Also, since you don’t get to choose how you’re born (male or female), male players will be forced to deal with the baby-wrangling challenge as well, which makes it feel more fair. I think one primary idea behind the game is that you don’t have a lot of choice about your circumstances. You try to handle what you’re given, even if it’s a very difficult situation.

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