I wasn’t going to say anything about Twelve Minutes because I thought the denouement was so unbelievably *lifeless hand wave* that I didn’t feel there was anything I could conjure up. But then I watched the recent Zero Punctuation and listened to Yahtzee try to describe it without spoiling. And it occurred to me that there are those of you out there who might not get how bizarre and uncontextualized the true ending of Twelve Minutes is — there are those of you yet unspoiled.
So to hell with it, I’ll talk about it.
Spoiling the Ending of Twelve Minutes
Twelve Minutes is about a very banal couple in a very small apartment who’ve just discovered they’re about to have a baby (Personally, I’d be wondering where they’re going to keep the little tyke in that shoebox.) when they are ambushed in their apartment by a determined murderer who accuses the wife of murdering her own father. The husband is trapped in a 12-minute time loop and must figure out how to break it and save himself and his wife.
It sounds intriguing, and the game is admittedly absorbing as you direct the man around the tiny apartment and try to not only stop him and his wife from being killed, but also discover where all this hostility is coming from. And in the end it turns out that the husband actually killed the father because he discovered that he was actually both of their fathers via an affair with the husband’s mother.
The player can choose to end the game either by making it so that he never got together with his wife in the first place or by choosing to have his memories repressed. I’m still not sure if all of this is meant to be taken literally, or if these repeated deaths are a metaphor for the protagonist trying and failing to find a future where he can marry his sister — if it’s the latter, then it would explain why Willem Dafoe voices both the detective and the father.
We Just Had to Go There, Didn’t We?
So just to recap, two people who have the same father unbeknownst to them end up falling in love and are about to have a child, when death comes along like the arm of God to strike them down for their deviance. That’s not only a tale as old as time; it’s the exact plot of a Law & Order: SVU episode (season 5 episode 15, “Families,” if anyone is morbidly curious). Except I can’t even give Twelve Minutes the same credit as SVU because at least viewers go into SVU knowing to expect the devious and taboo.
I realize this might come across as kind of hypocritical of me, since I wrote a whole article teasing Hades for removing the incest from its Greek myth narrative. But in that case, I was talking about how it was removed specifically because it might have made people uncomfortable and detracted from the narrative about resolving dysfunctional family dynamics. Twelve Minutes, on the other hand, seems almost proud of the fact that its big twist is basically “incest happened.”
First of all, using incest does not make the story clever. It’s a plot twist as old as Oedipus, and it’s not new in games either. Fire Emblem has pulled the “characters who are secretly half-siblings have a baby together” card, and that time it was actually in service to a larger plot about an evil god. “Incest” is one of those taboos that the prurient or unimaginative might imagine as great fodder for a story specifically because it’s taboo — but it’s not.
What really makes it bad for this game is that, because the game is so short, we don’t have enough time to contextualize it. The only way something like this works is to convey what it means emotionally to the characters. If you’ve read the Song of Ice and Fire novels, twins Jaime and Cersei’s relationship is shocking at first, but the books spend a lot of time exploring what kind of emotional torment would force two people who seem to have everything to do something like that. Because Twelve Minutes reserves the incest for the very end of the game, there isn’t enough room to handle a revelation that should have so much emotional weight. So it just doesn’t have any weight at all.
And the worst part about this ending is that I suspect Twelve Minutes wants me to find metaphorical meaning in it. Parts of the final confrontation with the dad only make sense if the apartment scenario isn’t actually real — the wife infers that she only met the husband after her father died, but the final scenario shows the dad warning the future husband away and telling him the truth. But I don’t like any piece of media that wants me to do the work of making it look smarter than it is, so I won’t try to do that. Suffice to say, this ending betrays the Twelve Minutes’ intriguing mystery story by trying to use shock value to make it stick in your mind.