Intertain: Spotlight 02

Australia has lived in a prison-like state during the second half of 2021 due to COVID lockdowns.

Being confined at home day after day starts to feel monotonous after a while, as claustrophobic repetitions fluster us without relent, much like we’re stuck inside a time loop.

The premise of Twelve Minutes is built on such constraint. Developer Luis Antonio initially painted his vision across an entire neighbourhood over a 24-hour period, but then worked his way down to a single bedroom apartment within a mere 12-minute cycle.

The resulting structure is a highly focused affair dipped in theatrical undertones given the intimate, dramatic, and violent interactions between the game’s characters on a fixed “stage” of sorts.

And what has come out of experiencing this limited, yet intense slice of time and space?

Let us read on to find out…

To begin the game, we must CONTINUE!

What’s in a Loop?

A husband returns to his apartment after work and is greeted by his wife, who surprises him with the news that she is pregnant. As they start to celebrate, a man claiming to be a cop knocks on the door and accuses the wife of murdering her father eight years ago. The cop attacks and subdues them, and when failing to extract information from the wife, proceeds to strangle the husband out of frustration and kills him.

Upon death, the husband finds himself back at the moment when he first entered the apartment — not particularly shocking for gamers, who understand that videogames are most often built on loops; dying simply means restarting from the last checkpoint.

In this case, however, the character is conscious of the loop and joins the player in using knowledge gained from previous iterations to make headway on the situation. And thus, the concept of the time loop is actualised in the natural progression of the game.

The calm before an unexpected storm.

With imaginative intrigue, our participants shared about what sort of day they’d prefer looping over one year’s time (if they had to). Below are some of the answers from this hypothetical exploration.

  • KJ originally wanted to relive his wedding day again and again, until we questioned how tiring that might become. So he went with the relaxing honeymoon instead at a holiday resort.
  • ROBIN gravitated toward excitement, and hoped for a setup that involves his young son.
  • MIN wished to extend a seasonal celebration like Christmas, when she’s around family.
  • JANICE yearned for her carefree childhood, where she would wake up, get fed, go play, and always be taken care of without having responsibilities.
  • AYK had already felt that his days during lockdowns were looping… But in all honesty, he’s never been the type to freak out about a quiet, routine existence as long as his wife is near.

The Path to Knowledge

When constantly stuck within the same place and the same time period, how might you see and hear new things in order to acquire new knowledge?

Certain repetitions and sequences need to be broken to allow revelations to shine through the cracks. For the husband, this would mean to disrupt routines and redirect conversations with his wife. Additionally, he may prove that he’s in a loop by demonstrating foresight with knowledge past.

Yet some shells are tough to penetrate in minutes without proper technique. The cop searches for an expensive pocket watch hidden away by the wife, who remains unwilling to disclose its whereabouts until the husband is killed and the loop ends. You can try attacking the cop, only to die more quickly every time. So to uncover the location, players must learn to think outside of the box… or perhaps inside of a closet, hiding.

Indeed, if the husband enters the apartment and dashes into the supply closet prior to being greeted by the wife, he may spend the upcoming minutes observing how the cop confronts and abuses the woman, getting her to spill the beans — as well as her brains — all over the carpet when the violent interrogation comes to a fatal conclusion.

It’s not every day that the thrill of success comes with feeling like a failure of a husband.

From the coward’s perspective.

But talk about unexpected paths to achieving a goal, here are some responses from our group:

  • ANGELA does scientific experiments for work. She told us about a time when she was aiming to capture pathogens for study. However, it proved difficult to separate certain particles from the filter she used, which impeded the overall process. After numerous trials, she decided to utilise an agent that the manufacturer warned against. In this case, it melted the filter material while leaving the pathogens intact, ready to be quantified. Had she followed instructions, this solution would never have been discovered.
  • MIN once created her own escape room challenge when she locked herself inside a bathroom just before heading off for the very first day to work. Despite the initial panic, she received the peace of God, along with the ingenuity to think of using a mini spatula that came with a facial cream to be able to reach for and flip open the door lock.
  • MAY reminded us that prayer is an unconventional way to face issues and solve problems in the eyes of the world. She is quick to ask God for things big and small, and would often trust in our Father’s faithfulness, rather than relying on her own cunningness to attain progress.

Outer Constants, Inner Variables

When offered a consistent routine, many people may enjoy stability and growth. Conversely, when forced upon a tedious monotony, that type of “stability” doesn’t translate to the soul.

Over the course of time (after time), the husband’s reaction to the loop changes. And even as events and the environment stay constant, the deterioration of his mind becomes evident. From one angle, we witness the intensifying of frustration and desperation, which players share with the protagonist. But perhaps more disturbingly, we also see him desensitised to violence that resets the loop.

The contrast is undeniable. The first time that the husband watches his wife get beaten and murdered, we could all hear him tremble with shock as he struggles to remain incognito inside the aforementioned closet. Later on, he becomes familiar with death (including his own), and would even go as far as knifing the wife without flinching, while shushing her like a confident serial killer.

Oops! I did it again…

Alas, being stuck in a troubled, prolonged situation damages the soul. But to steer the discussion toward a brighter note, I asked our participants for examples where renewal and meaning are discovered in the context of a healthy routine.

  • JANICE works in an ICU ward treating COVID patients. Earlier on in the outbreak, she felt trapped in fear and stress. But as the months passed, her duties became much more manageable as medical staff gained experience and death rates proved to be low.
  • KJ shared that his response to churchgoing changed over time; his attitude morphed from one of obligation to one of joy. Regular attendance and consumption of God’s word continue to refresh him, which allow for much excitement when spending time among fellow believers.
  • ANGELA said that she has a habit of reading bedtime stories to her son Samuel. And since kids like familiarity, there are some favourite tales in rotation. Nevertheless, she would also seek to vary up her delivery. She highlighted Bible stories as being rich and layered, and particularly inspirational for their ability to speak in new, relevant ways for both the teller and the hearer.

The Truth of the Matter

People make mistakes. Some mistakes may transpire within minutes, and yet the impact would be felt over an entire lifetime.

Players also make mistakes. We did that plenty of times while playing through Twelve Minutes. Fortunately, we could always try again in the following loop.

Many have expected the game to come to a conclusion when the sequence is perfected without error, where the characters calmly talk things over and find peace at that moment. But let me just hint that this isn’t as straightforward as Groundhog Day.

Today is tomorrow. It happened.

Perhaps the final point we could take to heart is that we shouldn’t consider grave mistakes to be wholly amendable by living perfectly for minutes. Facing the truth, however, is a vital first step.

I shall not reveal any more spoilers, so check out this truth instead.

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

— John 8:31-32 (NIV)

Lies keep us trapped in a loop. Truth gives us hope to break free.

Accumulative Attendance [7]: Angela Sun, Ayk Iano, Janice Lim, KJ Jang, May Chien, Min Yee Ong, and Robin Zhang.