Dean Moynihan. One Chance. 2010. Flash. Dean Moynihan.
Released in December 2010, One Chance is an indie computer game that was developed by Dean Moynihan. Players control the life of John Pilgrim, who is a scientist that, along with his team, created a cure meant to attack cancer cells. However, when released in a gas form, it begins to kill healthy cells, ultimately leading to humanity’s extinction. Players have six days to find an anecdote or everyone on Earth will die. There are several alternative endings depending on what choices players have made throughout the game. Does John go to work every day? Spend time with his family? Go to the bar? Each decision drastically alters what happens next in the game. Despite these numerous endings, players only get the opportunity to play the game once.
According to an interview with Moynihan, the idea for the game stemmed from the first time he played Babies Dream of Dead Worlds. Developed by Gregory Weir, this is about a race of “squid-like” things that are dealing with the end of their world; although it is “completely impossible to identify with any of the characters or situations, the story and the way it was told really inspired [him]” (Meer). This may hint at why unlike many other games released during 2010, One Chance heavily relied on the narrative to draw in players. Focusing on the narrative also makes it much easier for players to identify with the message that the game seeks to express. As explained by the title, the overarching theme of the game is that players only have one chance to save themselves, their families, and the world. There are several means by which this is expressed in One Chance. For example, with every day that goes by, you notice that the surrounding environment is deteriorating and people are dying. Healthy trees start to turn yellow, and one day a co-worker calls you up to the roof and commits suicide. One day people are peaceful, the next they are protesting. And with each passing day, the words “you only have one chance” are flashed on the screen with a countdown to the end of the world, as shown below. Lastly, the most obvious means that Moynihan used to demonstrate this message is making it difficult to replay the game once it is over; after refreshing the game, a player is automatically put back where they left off. As a result, game players are forced to think about what they could have done differently to “win.” This highlights the reality that there are genuine consequences for your actions, even in the realm of video games, which caused much controversy. While some are saying how emotional and engaging the “no going back” concept is, others complain that there should not be multiple endings if players are unable to play more than once and that there is no sense of resolution.
Additionally, because One Chance focuses on the narrative, its audiovisual aesthetic is very simple. Moynihan chose to utilize slow and melancholic music and a dark, low-saturated color palette throughout the game. The only time the sound changes are during cutscenes, which help to intensify the drama. These factors significantly help to set the tone of the game and get players more invested in the characters and the story. Thus, despite the unrealistic facial features and atmosphere, players manage to feel more human and emotionally connected to what is happening. This connection escalates as the game progresses and you begin to realize that you are responsible for the events that have occurred. For example, when I played and came home to my wife dead in the bathroom, I became more emotional because had I chosen to spend the time with her and my daughter, she would be alive.
In a socio-cultural context, One Chance was very different from a lot of other video games at the time of its release. Not only was the content unique, but many of the games released in 2010 reflected the findings of popular studies–One Chance did not. During this time, researchers were beginning to delve into why video games were such a large phenomenon and what made people continue to play them. One study conducted by Nicole Lazzaro demonstrated that one of the crucial ingredients of a good game is hard fun, which Lazzaro defines as “overcoming obstacles in pursuit of a goal” (Tierney). In this respect, video games provide immediate feedback and continual encouragement. This causes players to remain motivated, no matter how many times they fail. Although this is true of most games released during 2010, such as Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, is it not in the case of One Chance. Perhaps Moynihan wanted to create a game that defied this logic and see what would happen. Not surprisingly, he labelled One Chance a “weird little game,” which accurately describes the game in this context. (Moynihan). A year prior, the gaming industry also suffered from decreases in sales because of the weak economy in 2009. To improve growth, companies in 2010 chose to release games with blockbuster titles, including God of War III, Halo Reach, Fable, Mass Effect 2, Splinter Cell Conviction, and others (Cassella). These games are not only more advanced visually, but they are also targeted primarily towards men and promote hypermasculinity. On the other hand, One Chance could be considered a unisex game meant for both men and women because it has a universal theme. However, the game still uses a male, heterosexual character, which encourages the heteronormative culture that was prominent in 2010. Lastly, suicide rates in the US had skyrocketed since the late 90s, increasing 30% among Americans aged 35 to 64 alone (Parker-Pope). Because several people in One Chance commit suicide, Moynihan could have been commenting on this as a societal trend.
By analyzing the message and aesthetic effects of One Chance, examining the means of expression it uses to achieve these ends, and situating it in a socio-cultural context, gamers can better understand the game and why Moynihan made the decisions that he did when creating it.
Cassella, Dena. “Video Games: The State of Play in 2010.” Digital Trends, Digital Trends, 20 Jan. 2010, www.digitaltrends.com/gaming/video-games-the-state-of-play-in-2010/.
Meer , Alec. “One Chance, 1470 Words.” Rock Paper Shotgun, 13 Dec. 2010, www.rockpapershotgun.com/2010/12/13/one-chance-1470-words/.
Moynihan, Dean. “Awkward Silence Games.” Home., www.awkwardsilence.co.uk/index.html.
Parker-Pope, Tara. “Suicide Rate Rises Sharply in U.S.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2 May 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/05/03/health/suicide-rate-rises-sharply-in-us.html.
Tierney, John. “On a Hunt for What Makes Gamers Keep Gaming.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 6 Dec. 2010, www.nytimes.com/2010/12/07/science/07tierney.html.