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Ten Seconds to Hypertext Oblivion


Before reading this, you may as well play the game. It's only ten seconds long. But, I recommend that you do it late at night, and all by yourself. OK, here's the link. 


Blue helvetica typeface displayed on a black background. You click, and a timer appears on screen, counting off ten seconds. 

In the end, like you always said, it's just the two of you together. You have ten seconds, but there's so much you want to do: kiss her, hold her, take her hand, tell her.

This is game designer Anna Anthropy's queers in love at the end of the world (2013), a work made using the Twine interactive storytelling platform that is as much video game as it is hypertext fiction. In keeping with hypertext tradition, one navigates the work by clicking on highlighted words to choose among narrative threads, playing out one of several imagined end-of-the-world interactions as quickly as possible, from biting to fucking to handholding, before time runs out. 

The video game-like ten-second time limit (inspired by the theme of a Ludum Dare online game jam) is a shrewd solution to one of hypertext fiction's persistent problems, that of narrative excess. For completists like myself, it can be difficult to feel that a work offering multiple narrative threads has really been "experienced" until every permutation has been tediously explored. In queers in love, the impossibility of completion cuts through this, but also lends the work poignance: Ten seconds, after all, could never be enough.  

With each replay, a user gradually masters queers in love as a game of skill and encounters new facets of its characters. Never identified by name, they and their surroundings are sketched out in the broadest of strokes. Presumably, this is what makes it easy to identify with the protagonist, to experience their longing. But the relationship (in all its different scenarios) feels utterly specific. For example: "Her fingers pull your hair while dollars turn to dust and laws that were too small to hold you blow away like old newspaper." When you take it out of context and really look at these lines, they seem so over the top. But it feels real, like someone else is letting you inside some really intimate, cringeworthy feeling. The super-concise structure of queers in love somehow allows me to relax my normal filters for a moment or two, and really go with it. 

Beyond its devastating affect, the politics of queers in love are worthy of some discussion. The scenario it represents differs from most in-game end-of-the-world scenarios in that the player has absolutely no control over the course of larger events. There is no saving the word, here, no political agency. No point in fighting legislation or raising money that only turns to dust in the end anyway. In a way, it's a refreshing change from socially conscious games' usual over-emphasis on personal responsibility in the face of massive structural issues such as climate change. In its place, Anthropy offers a seductive nihilism, or maybe a nihilist seductionism: When we have each other, we have everything, she says. And that "everything" can be so easily wiped away.