Dean Moynihan. One Chance. 2010. Flash. Dean Moynihan.
Scientist John Pilgrim and his research team discover a miracle cure for cancer, only to realize a day later that the supposed cure is a deadly pathogen that will exterminate every living cell on earth in just six days. By the second day, everything has gone wrong, and John’s world has already descended into chaos. By the sixth day, John will either face the consequences of his mistakes in the form of a desolate world, or perhaps find a single silver lining, depending on his choices. Six days feels like six seconds all of a sudden; there’s too much to do and not nearly enough to do it all. Kind of like real life, except much worse because the entire living world is at stake.
Should John spend his final days with his wife and daughter as they steadily grow sicker with a virus he indirectly infected them with? Should he return to his lab to find a cure as his coworkers die from the pathogen they created themselves? Should he drink his sorrows away and numb himself, accepting his fate?
There are a number of choices to be made, but as the title implies, you only get one chance. Once the player completes the game, they cannot replay it. Refreshing the page brings them back to the ending they received. Every choice counts, and you get what ending you get– no take-backs, or replays, or walkthroughs.
Should John choose to spend time with his family, he all but guarantees their death by not working for a cure. Should he return to his lab, he may find a solution to the problem he created– but not without his coworkers dying all around him and his family withering away. And, of course, he can drink to the very end, idly and drunkenly watching his family die and humanity fade away.
There are consequences to John’s actions. There is no undo, or loading a save, or starting over. The graphics are charmingly simple, but the game atmosphere feels all too real. The backgrounds fade away as the pathogen spreads, in a clever use of color and lighting. The passersby first revolt, then disappear as social order disintegrates. As the people in John’s life succumb to the pathogen, blood mars his surroundings, with no one available– or willing– to clean it. Though the narrative takes place over the course of just six days, the changes from day to day are immediate and drastic, further pressing the player to weigh their choices and think ahead.
Creator Dean Moynihan describes One Chance as a “death threat” magnet, and for fair reason. This kind of game feels frustrating because there is no winning. Regardless of what combination of choices the player makes, many things can and will go wrong, as things are wont to do– as reality is wont to do. It goes against the gamer mindset of relentless optimism: the belief that there is always a way out, a happy ending, a perfect run through. Even the best possible ending is still despondent, and since the game limits the player to one try, they feel the weight of their decisions and mistakes by the end. It is no wonder Moynihan is on the receiving end of player frustration; One Chance, though simplistic, parallels reality a little too closely for comfort.
Moynihan said, “A lot of reviews make it unclear whether [the players] want a replay button because they genuinely want to help the in-game world, or whether they are just too stubborn to have been ‘beaten’ by the game.” In my case, it was both; I wanted to save everyone and everything, but I also felt defeated by this simple flash game that waved the consequences of my actions in my face, reminding me with every refresh that my decisions are permanent.
Can’t John take his family with him to the lab as he works for a cure? Can’t his daughter watch as her father works relentlessly to save her? Can’t his wife find the will to survive for a bit longer seeing her husband fight for her and their child? Can’t his research coworkers snap out of their hysteria like the rational scientists they’re supposed to be?
Can’t I save everyone?
One Chance’s answer is, “No, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying.” Or, at least, that’s the answer from the ending I got. On the one hand, it is undeniable that One Chance is despairing. On the other, there is a certain optimism to it, a small fluttering hope that if your decisions could potentially wipe out all of humanity, then maybe they could save all of humanity too.
Assuming One Chance is a tragic grief spectacle is selling it too short. While the player learns early on that their choices carry repercussions, it takes a bit more effort and thought to see what else the game has to offer. Should John take the most optimistic course of action, then the game gives him the most optimistic ending. Should he take the most despondent route, then the game gives him the most despondent ending as well. John– and the player– have one chance to decide their fate, and even though it may seem hopeless, there is still something to be said for relentless, foolish optimism. Once you’ve gone through the single play through you’re allowed, real life seems easy by comparison. After all, John could take control of his fate, and he nearly wiped out all of humanity; it only depended on the strength of his will. Surely whatever problems you’re facing can be handled too.
While you only get one chance to play through One Chance, you can get countless chances in real life.You may not be able to help John’s world, but that’s John’s problem. Your world, however, is real, malleable, and worth saving. Real life is not nearly as bad as we all like to think, but sometimes it takes a flash game ending where you inadvertently kill all of humanity to remind you of it.
Meer , Alec. “One Chance, 1470 Words.” Rock Paper Shotgun, 13 Dec. 2010, www.rockpapershotgun.com/2010/12/13/one-chance-1470-words/.