Minit and precious life seconds

Games don't make you think about time's inexorable march? Weird

Do games not make you think of death? I recently “joked” with a friend that videogames often impart on me a very intimate sense that the clock is ticking away. I think I used the phrase “precious life seconds,” in the sense of “I’m wasting my precious life seconds.” Not only did this friend not agree, they also asked if I was okay, and whether I should be playing games at all if this is how they made me feel. Very good questions, unnamed friend! Very good questions indeed!

Anyway, I played Minit recently, a game I’d always meant to play since I first saw it, but only just got around to trying after getting it in a Humble Bundle years ago, not playing it, then finally playing on PlayStation, due to its inclusion in the PlayStation Plus Super Duper Catalogue, or whatever they’re calling their Bad Game Pass.

Minit is a game you play one minute at a time. It is a 2D Zelda-like, with the additional wrinkle of an omnipresent countdown at the top left corner of the screen, ticking down the seconds you have until your character expires, which happens once per minute, every minute you play Minit. Put more simply: you play Minit for 60 seconds, then you die, then you start again, then you die, then you—etc., etc. It’s a time loop game, albeit one that isn’t too concerned with the metaphysical implications of what’s happening to you, and more concerned with keeping an accomplishable task within a single minute’s reach at all times. The central quest of Minit plays out like the trading sequence of Link’s Awakening, only condensed and presented with a postmodern wink. There isn’t much larger meaning at play here, except that your ultimate goal is to shut down an evil factory that is exploiting people and polluting the environment, which as far as throwaway plots go, you could do much worse. Lacking larger narrative concerns, the game instead settles into a puzzle of asking yourself a single question: What do I need to do next, and how can I do that right now?

You’d think a game that visibly counts the seconds you spend playing it would bug me out. As far as literal manifestations of anxiety go, watching a videogame actively measure the time you spend with it is something I would be subjected to in The Good Place.1 Strangely, though, I felt at peace playing Minit, which caused me to realize that my whole “death obsession while playing videogames thing that concerns my friend” is less about time than it is about choice. See, Minit is constantly telling you that time is running out, but crucially, it’s only asking you to do a single thing with a single minute, again and again. It is not, in the vein of something like Horizon Forbidden West or Ghost of Tsushima, giving you a buffet of choices of what to do with your time. Oddly, Minit shares an ethos with Elden Ring, in that it is really interested in giving you something interesting to do at all times, and more importantly, in focusing you on doing so. See, time-dread (let’s call it) for me is less about the existence of time as a concept and more about the choice paralysis involved in what to do with it. A game like Minit could easily evoke time-dread if it weren’t so thoughtfully and intricately designed. Instead, it feels like the world’s most accomplishable to-do list. I completed Minit fairly quickly, but an endgame report showed me that I missed roughly half the items in the game. Perhaps a more completionist player would’ve looked at that and worried about missing that content, but what I took from it was, as rich as my minutes had been, there had been other options that would’ve been just as fulfilling.

Games, like other art forms, teach us about ourselves, and I think a reality about me right now, in the phase of life I find myself in, is that I worry about time. Specifically, I’m trying to write a book, and if you want to talk about “precious life seconds,” trying to cobble together a novel with your limited powers of imagination brings about the ol’ time-dread in a big way. Minit wants me to chill, though.2 Minit’s gameplay enforces the idea that, yes, we are limited by time, but if we tack our goals to the reality of time rather than our perception of it, which is to say, if we fashion our goals in the shape of the time we have rather than the time we think we have, we can accomplish great things, one minute at a time. Whether those things are dismantling an ecologically destructive and exploitative sword factory in Minit, or whether it’s sitting down with your little word doc and tip-tapping away at the keyboard until eventually, maybe, it looks something like a book.

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  1. I identify more with Chidi’s quote about the fork in the garbage disposal than I ought to.

  2. Minit, and my wife. And friends. And family.