At some point, a hot drunken night of things that seemed like a good idea at the time simmers down to a confused, achy and embarrassing morning. Social interaction with a complete strangers with whom you’ve exchanged bodily fluids—but not names—can be a veritable landmine of potential danger. What do you say? What do you do?
Beats me, but it’s a bizarrely enrapturing concept to build a game around. One Night Stand is a piece of interactive fiction about the morning after. You wake up next to a naked stranger. Clearly the two of you have engaged in sexual congress, but you remember nothing about it.
It’s a concept that veers dangerously close to absurd romcom territory, except One Night Stand isn’t here to make you laugh—although it can, for various reasons. It’s a game that fixates on the discomfort of two strangers trying to get back to their daily lives, which may or may not include each other from now on. In an effort to learn more about this woman you’ve woken up next to, be prepared to search around her bedroom when she’s distracted and try to find the right words to not come off like a complete asshole. (The game currently only allows you to play a man who awakens next to a woman; here’s hoping they open things up in future versions.)
Or don’t. One Night Stand doesn’t care. You can even sneak right out of bed as soon as the game starts. The game’s short-story approach accommodates a surprising variety of choices, which in turn lead to a wealth of possible endings. Each playthrough only takes maybe 20 minutes, but there’s a voyeuristic fascination to trying everything. It’s like a cathartic release for all those disastrous mornings after—the ones when you did everything wrong but so desperately wanted to be the guy who did it right.
Alternatively, it’s a depressing parade of painfully rehashed memories. One Night Stand is most interesting in its intent to simply present a situation then step back and let it happen based on your choices. It’s not trying to steer you to a positive outcome. As a result, a lot of the situations, dialogue and results can hit all too close to home. Fascinating and uncomfortable in equal measure, this is the kind of indie experimental experience that proves games really can cover a gamut of emotions that mainstream design tends to avoid like the plague.
After playing through a few times, you realize that, here as in real life, there aren’t any particularly good choices or fairy-tale endings. For most of my time trying to solve the puzzle of both her identity and mine, I usually ended up wishing I had just slipped out right from the start to save us both the sheer awkwardness of fumbling around in the metaphorical dark. I also found myself wishing I had the knack for getting to know this woman better—fictitious though she may be—and especially thinking about how much I’d love a rewind button in real life.