I game, therefore I am – I am pretty convinced that this is what the famous philosopher René Descartes would have said, if there would have already existed computer games in his time. Just kidding. However, artist David O’Reilly, who is also responsible for the game “Mountain”, where – you guessed it – you play a mountain, created with Everything one big ontological statement. Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence and reality and this is exactly what Everything is all about. You play as Everything, you are Everything. This is our Everything review.
Everything ranges somewhere between a procedurally generated sandbox game and an interactive art installation. It offers more “game” than I would have initially expected, but it is still one of the weirdest experiences I have ever enjoyed. Basically it is the ideas of philosopher Alan Watts, taken a wee bit too literally. During the game you will even stumble upon recordings of his speeches, accentuating the bizarre scenery on the screen acoustically. Without being an expert on Watt’s philosophy, it stems heavily on Buddhism and other eastern philosophies and comes down to everything being connected with each other and our being not restricted to our physical body.
This theme is recognizable from the very beginning. You start out as an animal and learn that you can switch to control other beings. Step by step new functions will unlock and enrich your possibilities. You can make other beings of the same kind as you join you, you can sing to communicate or dance in the group to create new, smaller beings. I say beings with full consciousness, because you are not only controlling animals, but all kind of things. Very early you will learn the possibility of switching the scale – in both directions. You can scale down and become plants, stones, microbes, particles and atoms. You can scale up and become whole continents, planets, galaxies and so on. However, you are not even limited on natural entities. If you are for example switching to a city, you might as well become a car, a building, an arcade automat or a street sign.
Everything that you have ever been is stored in a codex. In that regard, Everything can even be played as a collectible game, although I am not sure if it is achievable to collect all things in one lifetime. This incredible amount comes at a price, naturally. There are no real animations, even animals just perform some sort of cartwheel when they move. I believe that at one point, the game even calls itself a crappy attempt at what it’s trying to achieve. I would not sign that statement though. It’s amazing how within two or three hours I moved from laughing about a dear standing on its head during movement and grass bushes dancing in circles to taking it as the most normal thing in the world that I slide as a giant hamburger through the dessert, where a miniature planet is parked next to me.
It’s remarkable that even the gaming experience itself transforms within a couple of hours. With improving possibilities it transcends from a journey, where you merely explore the world to a creative playground, where you form the world yourself. You can transform into every being that you have already visited before and when you do so, you will be fitted to the scale in which you are situated at this time. If you transform from a fox to a planet, it will be a miniature planet, while if you transform into a spider instead, it will be a gigantic spider and so on. By playing around this way, you unavoidably bring chaos and bizarre-ness into the initially ordered world. On top of this, you can even let the game play itself. With a few options you can tell the game, which functions it is allowed to use and how frequently it should use them while you just lean back and watch.
To rate an artistic work like Everything in terms of classical gaming criteria is an inherently unfeasible task. As a game, the technical shortcomings and the scarcity of actual gameplay elements in a traditional sense are obvious. As an experience, all this doesn’t matter. Some might consider it to be philosophical mumbo-jumbo; others might have their personal enlightening and their world view changed forever. For me, neither of both is the case. I simply appreciate Everything for being what it is supposed to be in such a consequent way and that is has realized an idea that was just waiting to be done ever since procedural generation came to existence.