I went into David O Reilly’s new game having seen nothing aside from a few screenshots. I wanted to be surprised, and was prepared to be, if not blown away, at least challenged by its unconventionality.
What I got was a first year theatre student gurgling warm milk for half an hour.
Everything has received a good amount of praise. But the more I look at it, the more I think it is the emperor’s clothes. Nobody wants to say it’s garbage, for fear of revealing themselves as somehow uncultured or uneducated, unable to appreciate or understand the game’s depth of meaning.
I am the child standing to the side of the procession, shouting, “But he’s naked!”
There are some who argue that Everything is a video game, some who argue it is art, and some who believe it is both. Regardless of your stance, Everything fundamentally misunderstands the point of both video games and art, and thus fails at both.
The function of art is, put simply, to tell a truth through a lie. The best art makes use of specificity to reflect a broader, shared truth – the tale of a named man’s death used to convey a universal truth about dying. Art particularly shines when the truth is too ugly, awkward or personal to address directly, and when it invokes realisation and empathy in its audience. The message isn’t made explicit yet is understood, and leaves the audience emotionally changed.
Everything disregards all beauty and subtlety, opting instead to bludgeon its audience over the head with a steel pipe while screaming into a loudspeaker. The game’s message is explicitly and repeatedly stated in the text, as it does not trust its own gameplay and mechanics to convey meaning, preferring instead to narrate itself like a man shaking his fist at the sky and yelling “I’m angry”.
Further, the message Everything clumsily attempts to share is the same one you can hear from any high school kid pretending to be stoned: “Woah, we’re all connected.”
What, then, is the point of Everything beyond that? There is no point.
People think art must make grand statements regarding subjects such as the nature of existence or our relationship with the universe. Everything falls into this same trap, throwing vague, nebulous sentiments at its audience in the hopes they will be mistaken for depth.
Splicing in audio of a dead white philosopher doesn’t make something art. I could tell he was white because one of the audio clips included a bit about how black people and Asians are people just like you. I could tell he was dead because his ideas were revolutionary in 1950.
And the worst thing is that there will be people out there who still find these ideas amazing. Everything is the kind of game that is enjoyed by people who have never had to think about or question their place. The kind of people who have been ignorant most of their life but consider themselves worldly with one glimpse out their tower window.
This game is a testament to how little society has progressed in 50 years. It is a monument to mediocrity and stagnation. It spews philosophical ideas that were absorbed into mainstream thought decades ago, and doesn’t offer anything fresh about them. Artists are, traditionally, on the edge of society, pushing new ideas and ways of thinking, dreaming of things decades before they are invented. Everything digs up and reheats last century’s ideas, serving them up as new.
There is no lie nor gentle truth, no fiction nor even the framework for a player-created one. There is only an outdated, irrelevant lecture delivered in a vaguely interactive form. Press X to hear another audio snippet.
If you don’t know what Everything is, watch this trailer. You have now effectively played the entire game.
Aside from artistic aspirations, Everything doesn’t even manage to be a passable game. It offers a quick giggle if you go in ignorant that your avatar moves in a comical head-over-heels roll, but this amusement lasts maybe 10 seconds before tedium sets in, then boredom.
The concept of being able to play “as everything” appears exciting, until you make that first jump from one body to another and discover that nothing has actually altered. You continue on exactly the same as before — the same mechanics, regardless of whether you are a flower or planet or galaxy. It is like claiming that you can play as a Creeper in Minecraft when all you’re doing is putting on a Creeper skin.
Everything‘s skeletal gameplay is as anaemic as its philosophy. Half of it is wandering through the environment, pressing X to have various beings deliver a line from a cache of pseudo-profound snippets. “I can imagine everything except my own non-existence.” “I haven’t been able to sleep because I realized my atoms don’t give a damn about me.” “Everything sings!” The other half is jumping into different bodies.
The beauty of video games as art is they make art accessible. Video games are mainstream, and it isn’t as great a chore to download a new game as it is to visit an art gallery.
But by making the gameplay so boring (and I’ll give the benefit of the doubt and assume it was a deliberate choice rather than gross incompetence), Everything robs itself of a great advantage of its medium – its ability to reach and engage its audience. Interactive games are by nature well-suited to holding an audience’s attention. Yet Everything works hard at walling itself off, creating for itself a false sense of exclusivity and puffing itself up with self-importance, a maelstrom of clichés and navel-gazing pseudo-intellectualism.
Meanwhile people believe they are obligated to support such games, merely because they claim to bring an artistic “legitimacy” to the medium.
Playing Everything is like talking to that pretentious theatre student who is writing a one man show about their Id, Ego and Super-ego arguing in their head. Or that backpacker who went to Thailand and stayed at a Buddhist temple for a fortnight. Or that art student who thinks constructing a giant papier-mâché vagina is the epitome of shocking. Maybe it was in 1950. Now it’s dull. It’s cliche. It’s lazy. It’s been done before, and done better.
Everything has all the marks of a creator trying desperately to hide the fact that they have nothing to say. If it is meant to be art, then it is bad art.
“Art” is not a label you get to hide behind to mask how terrible the thing you’ve produced is. It does not preclude your work from criticism or from failing. And it’s time we stopped pretending it does.
Despite its bumbling message of universal connection, Everything serves to divide. Those who “get it” and those who don’t. Those who have social cache invested in portraying themselves as knowledgeable, have perhaps gone through higher education and place stock in Freudian theories.
And those who are the children, pointing in the street, as the emperor parades.