Facebook can be addictive. You log on to answer one message, and three hours later you’re several pages deep in a clickbait news site, or else have been lurking for updates on the timelines of your friends and family for an obscenely long period of time. Killing Time At Lightspeed takes this mundane activity and transforms it into a sharp, surprisingly-moving science-fiction story that spans three decades.
The premise is this: you are boarding a ship which will carry you at faster-than-light speeds to a new and distant habitable planet. For you the journey will take just under half an hour… but on the Earth that you leave behind thirty years are set to pass before you disembark and collect your luggage. Fear not, however, as you won’t be entirely cut off from the world – the ever-thoughtful SpaceY corporation has hooked you up with access to a limited number of websites to browse while you hurtle through the infinite void.
Gameplay is simple, and should be intuitive for anyone who has ever survived a Facebook clicktrance. You can catch up with the news in brief by clicking through the headlines in “Skimmit”, or else take a gander at your “Friendpage” feed to see what your left-behind fellows are getting up to back on Earth. There is, of course, something of a time difference to take account of. As such, refreshing the page doesn’t just bring you the latest updates, but instead hops you one full year forward in time. While you while away your trip, human society changes shape, and your friends grow old, grow up, get married and drift apart.
It’s worth noting that Killing Time At Lightspeed deserves the label “interactive” more than it does “playable”. There’s plenty to click on, read and explore – and you can even select from a small number of canned replies to certain status updates – but overall there are no real choices to make, and you have no way to influence the narrative that you witness unfolding. And even that process of unfolding is somewhat understated. In the early stages of the trip I thought I detected a nascent technological disaster in the pipeline, but this never definitively comes to pass. Instead, the swirl of change and drama is more sedate. People grow. Interests shift. The news drones on and technology develops. There’s certainly nothing obviously cataclysmic, but things certainly do evolve.
When you realise what Killing Time At Lightspeed is aiming for, this makes sense. It’s not about drama. It’s not about blistering sci-fi action, or an inevitable dystopian future. It’s not an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride. Instead, it’s a slow exploration of time and change, with some wry observations on current trends thrown into the mix. You might be hard pressed to describe any of the actual narrative threads, but nevertheless the slow transformation of your once-home planet has a startling emotional effect.
On top of all that, it’s pleasingly well-written too, with a good mix of voices. A dozen recognisable content outlets are skewered and satirised, and many of the news stories function as neat allegories for events currently unfolding in the real world beyond the game.
If you’re in the mood for something playable, something challenging, something to sink your puzzle-solving or button-mashing teeth into… Killing Time At Lightspeed isn’t it. Think of it as more of a visual novel than a game, and one that’s designed to evoke tender sensations of loss and nostalgia rather than nail-biting excitement. That’s something it does particularly well – when I finally arrived at my destination and logged out of Friendpage, it was with more than a little sadness for what I might be leaving behind.