Warning to the reader: Spoilers for 12 Minutes ahead!
It never feels like 12 minutes. You () exit an elevator and into a hallway that eerily resembles the one in “.” As you arrive home, your wife () greets you in a wonderful mood, which shows promise for a special night. She has made your favorite dessert and while you enjoy it, she surprises you with a gift. The gift is baby clothes, and she announces that you are going to be a father. The two of you hold hands in celebration. Everything appears great — even perfect — until there’s a knock at your door.
It’s a police officer (). Or at least someone who claims that he is. He accuses your wife of murdering her father years ago and is in search of a pocket watch that belonged to him. Your wife denies his claims, which causes the “cop” to wrestle you both to the ground. While he begins to strangle you, your wife shouts, “Wait, wait I’ll tell you where the watch is.” However, it’s already too late. Soon after the moment of your death, you wake to your wife greeting you again as if you’ve just returned home. You’re stuck in a time loop and it’s up to you to figure out why.
12 Minutes is a point-and-click game, played with a top-down perspective. It was developed by Luís António and published by , known for games such as Sayonara Wild Hearts and What Remains of Edith Finch. It’s set in an apartment that consists of a living room/kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. While you are only given the information in the above scene, it’s up to you to explore the situation and solve it in any way you choose. The developers expect players to finish the game in 6 to 8 hours — unless you’re like me and it takes you 50 years.
As I began living in the world of 12 Minutes, I was quite confident that, due to my detective skills acquired from watching shows like “” I would solve this puzzle within an hour. Nonetheless, I was never able to solve the puzzle, only finding more pieces I couldn’t quite connect. The problem is that the game gives you no absolute direction, which is beautiful and haunting at the same time. There is so much information to be learned, but where to start or how to decode clues was a different challenge. Every small detail had the potential to reveal a compelling outcome.
While my in-game wife tries to set up dessert, I’m over here stealing all the plates and glassware in hopes of getting some (or any kind of) reaction. Eventually, she gives up and reads her book on the couch. I bring her water, which she accepts and says something smart like, “Oh, I was looking for those.” I continue to acquire random household items for my inventory and place them in spaces within the house. I even look at paintings and pictures, in the hope that it will give me some idea of how to convince my wife I’m stuck in a time loop. In addition to this, I’m still deciphering if she’s actually a murderer. I wanted nothing more than to look up cheats because I was stuck in this 12-minute loop for what felt like hours.
Eventually, you get so tired of tedious searching that you enter the “screw it” phase, which is when you act only with rage. Every violent thought that could possibly enter my mind was executed. I killed myself, I killed the cop and I killed my wife. I almost felt bad each time I did, as if it wasn’t a game, but real life. I found out the cop had cancer and a daughter and what do you do when you find out important information about a person? That’s right, you blackmail them. Who knew that with each loop of being evil you’d gain so much information.
However, it wasn’t long until I had learned every ounce of information I could and it was time to figure out how to gain specific context about each clue. I had learned that my wife was actually innocent and that her half-brother had been the killer. At one point, I even thought I had achieved the best ending ever. My wife and I had confessed to the cop, giving him the watch to treat his cancer, and explained how the brother is the one responsible for the murder. The cop thanks us graciously and promises to find the brother in the name of justice. I was determined that I was given the best possible ending — until the loop started over once again.
At this point, I’ve come too far to quit. I continue on with my search for an ending. I’ve grown too attached to this husband, wife and even the cop and the lives that they live. I dream of a happy ending for each of them while knowing their true stories and identities, or what I had thought to be their true identities. I had thought wrong.
The cop realizes that he knows the name of the brother’s mother, but he can’t quite remember it exactly. He knows that it starts with a “D” and is flowery. That’s when you remember that a name that begins with a “D” is on the baby clothes your wife has gotten for your child. That’s when you remember that you were going to name your daughter after your mother. That’s when the cop confirms your child’s name is the same as the name of the brother’s mom. That’s when you remember everything.
How did this game, 12 Minutes, make me emotionally attached to characters with the most disgusting plot twist? Once I found out that I was married to my sister, I wanted to quit the game altogether. I had gone from wanting them to have a happy ending together to having never met in the first place. Technically there are six different endings: endings that I’m still trying to make sense of. All six endings lead to a similar “true” ending that arises from realizing the entire game has been a dream or unfulfilled wish of what your life would have been like if you had chosen to stay with your sister. The “true” ending is what actually ends the loop and prevents anything with your sister from ever existing.
12 Minutes reminds me of a quote that many use to describe villains with complex stories that say something redolent of “cool motive, still murder.” Instead, 12 Minutes is like “cool story, still gross.” Overall, I enjoyed the game and the different take it had on and I would most definitely recommend for others to play it and experience this wild ride for themselves. However, I believe the ending had so much more potential to offer than what was given. I understand the desire to have a shock factor twist, but having that twist be incestuous just leaves the taste of vomit in your mouth. The ending doesn’t ruin the game, but it doesn’t give it that replay value to explore the other potential conclusions.