For once, perhaps I should have heeded Windows SmartScreen's warning. Having carved out a niche making thoughtful digital-pet-ish games including Cyberpet Graveyard and A_DESKTOP_LOVE_STORY, with her latest free game RUNONCE (remember_me), Nathalie Lawhead is exploring what it means to be a finite being, with no clue when your life might unceremoniously end. Having ignored Windows' file paranoia—and consequently a big in-game warning by Lawhead—I would go on to make friends with, and converse with a cute desktop pet.
Minutes later, I would erase my new friend from the face of the earth.
In my defence, I had to kill them. It was kind of the whole point. RUNONCE is a scattershot, seemingly randomly ordered conversation with a talkative, childlike rabbit thing that pops up on your desktop after you click the executable file. Perhaps reeling from being created on my moribund Windows 8 PC, this creature's thoughts immediately turned to death, loss, and its greatest fears, including being forgotten. It's heavy stuff, delivered lightly, and at multiple points you'll be asked to reply with your own thoughts.
The cyberpet's fears turned out be founded, as the game makes it clear that closing the program will kill them—something they go to great, desperate pains to prevent. The only way to remove the adorable critter from your desktop is to open the task manager and force the program shut—but before you do, know that they'll never be able to grace your PC again. RUNONCE is true to its name, meaning the next time you open the program, you'll be greeted by...a gravestone. You know, just to rub it in.
If it all sounds a bit depressing, it's slightly less so in practice, as this ruminative and emotive game is delivered with Lawhead's usual hyperactive and decidedly syrup-free style. (Even so, be aware that it does end with you essentially killing a desperately pleading digital creature.)
RUNONCE can be found on Nathalie Lawhead's itch.io page, on a Pay What You Want basis, alongside some other wonderfully colourful games.
For more great free experiences, check out our roundup of the best free PC games.