Developed by: David O’Reilly
Published by: Double Fine Presents & David O’ Reilly
Available on: Mac, PC, PlayStation 4
There is little distance between the ludicrous and the profound in “Everything,” a game I’ve been recommending to anyone interested in video games as art. Here is a game in which you might tumble a camel end over end — because that’s just how mammals walk — while listening to a snippet of a lecture by the British philosopher Alan Watts (1915-1973), and collecting intimate thoughts scattered all over the world: e.g. “I have great compassion, but it’s just a pretext to gain respect, honor and power. I am coming to terms with being doomed.”
I started “Everything” as a pig who, to my initial surprise, didn’t trot so much as flip over and over in the direction I guided him. The ridiculousness of the action complimented the sparsely detailed forest, making the whole into a welcoming abstract space. On a pure gameplay level, a child or an adult might equally enjoy moving through “Everything’s” radiant material universe. Though it would take quite a precocious child to appreciate the game’s moral energy.
“Everything” powerfully conveys a sense of the interdependence of all things. As you roam the world, you’re encouraged to inhabit a fantastic array of different forms. With the press of a button you can become a rock, a plant, an insect, an animal, a landmass, or something much smaller than an insect like a subatomic particle. Viewing things at different levels of scale is of cardinal importance to the game. Watts audio clips, made available to the developers via the Alan Watts Project, subvert the melancholic tone of many of the self-pitying notes that one encounters in the world. Watts calls attention to the inherent narcissism of all living creatures. In his view, we’re all liable to see few things as normal and dismiss a great part of the world as being of no concerns.
According to Watts, if we were to assume the perspective of other creatures we would see that they too see themselves as the center of the universe. By giving the player the chance to take on so many different forms that operate and intermingle across so many different scales — think about all of the organisms in your body keeping you alive — the game operates as a remarkable counterpoint to Watts’s effort to describe how deeply entangled we are with the world around us. “Everything” provides a beautiful visual reminder of how alive space is., It highlights the fact that there exists plenty of phenomena that elude our gaze, and it reminds us that space is laden with meaning insofar as conscious things define themselves by and in contrast to the things that they come across.
Suitably enough for such a meditative game, the music is atmospheric. If you have a taste for contemporary classical music or ambient soundscapes, it may resonate all the more with you. For me, the music was a strong piece of an extravagantly successful project. I can only hope that “Everything,” opens the door for more philosophical games; it is the rare game that may push you to want to lead a better life.
Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer who has been playing video games since the days of the Atari 2600. His writing has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the Barnes & Noble Review, Al Jazeera America, the Guardian and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.
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