How do you review EVERYTHING?
Should you list every possible thing, denoting the individual quality of each part and the larger role they play together?
Do you just consider the amount of it all and pass that off as the “value”?
Or do you consider it holistically, from every rock to every poorly animated gazelle, and view the whole of creation, realizing your own role in it?
EVERYTHING, created by indie filmmaker/animator David O’Reilly, sounds, on paper, like a huge joke, and that’s certainly how many at Indiecade 2016 viewed the game. A game where you can play as everything; it’s not possible and doesn’t sound particularly entertaining. It would make some amount of sense if it was. O’Reilly and his team’s first piece of interactive content was a iOS and Android simulation game called MOUNTAIN where you play as a . . . mountain. It was more complicated than that of course. The mountain had ecosystems, weather patterns, and a strange way of generating ambient music. It also had emotions, sort of. It was a weird experiment that shares a direct lineage with EVERYTHING. The thing about EVERYTHING, though, is that it isn’t a joke, it isn’t a repeat of MOUNTAIN, and, most surprising of all, it works.
The game itself is simple enough. The universe is created and you are spawned as a random thing. Sometimes it’s a blade of grass, sometimes a cow, or any of a variety of things from the surprisingly large list of Things in EVERYTHING. From their you move, discovering more things to be, thoughts to read, and, perhaps not surprisingly, recordings of late philosopher Alan Watts. It was with the “thoughts” and recordings that I encountered my next wave of doubts with EVERYTHING. Featuring thoughts from inanimate objects you can collect and recordings from Alan Watts that, in 2017, feel sort of cliche seems like a bunch of red flags. But I was wrong.
Each of these deer holds a multitude of universes in them. Even the upside down ones
There is a kind of profound experience in playing EVERYTHING. The gameplay is basic, but in a satisfactory way. You hold triggers to “ascend” and “descend” between different levels of existence, different levels of complexity, different Things in the universe of EVERYTHING. There’s not much to each Thing, they are deliberately poorly animated and are simply drawn, approximating what they are rather than really being a representation of it. They dance and sing, drawing similar Things towards them and revealing the emotions of the other Things around them. With enough singing they can clump up and travel in a pack and enough dancing they can . . . reproduce, asexually(?) Beyond these basic systems, you can at any time become a Thing you were in the past, creating strange visual scenarios where an island is full of stars or space is flooded with streetlights. The physical gameplay is on its own meditative, but combined with the random, but somehow incredibly prescient thoughts, and the similarly appropriate Alan Watts recordings, EVERYTHING becomes a sort of beginner’s lesson in existentialism and Buddhism. Almost like a workbook that you can get as much out of as you put in.
I’m not here to debate whether EVERYTHING is a game or not (though it definitely falls on the “interactive experience” side of things), but it is engaging, a space you can get lost in, even as the experience of playing it grows repetitive. It’s open and vague, somehow encompassing all of existence in a $15 game. And it exists well in that kind of grey area, but it does beg the question, “Does EVERYTHING feel profound because of how fuzzy the edges are”?
They mean EVERYTHING when they say EVERYTHING
Honestly, I’m not sure. But I do know the game is at least worth the play for one moment in particular. It can happen very early in the game or very late, but it will happen. It was when I decided I like this game, however un-gamelike it is and imperfect it could come off. It’s the moment you realize that everything in EVERYTHING is much bigger than they seem, because EVERYTHING contains multitudes. You can descend further and further down and find yourself looking at a universe of galaxies, you can ascend higher and higher up and find yourself playing as a single molecule of carbon. The world is vast and never-ending and you are both a part of it and “it,” merely a vessel and the spoke everything turns around. That is an idea that is daunting and overwhelming, but EVERYTHING treats it as the purest form of empowerment; the basic power in all of humanity. Not many games reach that high. EVERYTHING does and does it well enough that it transcends “interesting” to land firmly in “meaningful.” That’s why, even if you can’t tolerate philosophical “hippie shit,” EVERYTHING is worth looking at.
Reviewed on PS4, also available on PC