Seven Minutes is a very short existential platformer. Part of the goodness of the game comes from not knowing anything about it before you play, so if you haven’t tried it yet I’d recommend downloading it first, and reading this review after; the game, true to its title, will take you exactly seven minutes to play.
All games are metaphorical to some extent, but Seven Minutes is blatantly so, representing you, who are specifically said to be human, as a small black square (with eyes) on the screen. This square presumably represents your mind or spirit, during your last seven minutes of life. You touch a flame against the warnings of what appears to be a higher spiritual being represented in the form of a talking head, and you then have seven minutes to explore the game world however you choose; a world which is not generally as it appears. The talking head follows you throughout, telling you constantly to turn back.
There are three possible endings to the game, and one non-ending. If the seven minutes expire before you reach the game’s “end” you are met simply with a skull, and “Time’s Up”; if you make it through all the platform levels—which shift and change before you—you are presented with existential nothingness; if you touch the flame, but then stay in the same room, doing nothing, you are granted ultimate power, and enlightenment; finally, if you never touch the fire, nothing ever happens: you sit, and you wait, and you wait.
I have mixed feelings about the talking head, which plays a large role in the game (and, in my opinion, says too much). Part of me would really have loved to see this game embrace all of its existential potential by omitting any kind of direction or explanation, and ending simply with nothingness no matter what you chose. Clearly this wasn’t the desire of the game’s developer though.
The head’s presence essentially negates the possibility of existential nothingness, for even if nothingness is “thrust upon you” at the end, there is clearly reality beyond material life. Both “failed” endings then are some kind of cruel joke in which a divine power extinguishes your existence for failing to comply with rules or desires which you cannot be expected to fully understand.
Ah, this is Adam and Eve then, and original sin: we eat of the tree by touching the flame, desiring knowledge (the head says as much), and an angry god casts us away. This message would seem clear enough if it were not for the extremely puzzling fact that if you never touch the flame (which is what the god originally commands) you are only rewarded with eternal waiting, whereas if you disobey the deity, but then stay put, you are given some kind of ultimate power and awareness.
In line with the Biblical thinking it makes sense that we wait forever if we never touch the flame, because we were never going to die to begin with. But still, what do you do with a god who seems so cruel, yet rewards you for obeying only after you disobey? This god comes off as a mean hearted prankster all the way through the game: after you touch the flame and disobey are you told that staying in the room will still grant you salvation? No. The head does not speak to you again until you reach the second room; here it tells you to go back, but if you try you find it is too late: you cannot!
All of this is thought-provoking to be sure, but ultimately too haphazard to really connect to my experience, my faith, or my fears. Again, I think the game would have been significantly better if it had been a true existential object with no explanation and no deity. All that being said, it is still a thought-provoking effort that deserves commendation. The wonderfully minimalistic and well-chosen color pallet, the simplicity of the world’s elements, and the reductionist control scheme all serve the game’s theme very well. Beyond the talking head, the only gripe I have is with the game’s reliance on a fair bit of dexterity; this is an existential game for gamers, where I would like it to also be one for gamers’ moms.