Everyone Is Wrong About Everything

Everyone Is Wrong About Everything
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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.

Image: Supplied

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.


  • It’s nice to see an article that goes against the grain once in a while.

    The Emperor’s New Clothes analogy was spot on.

  • Thank you! I have watched trailers and gamrplay and always thought “But he’s naked” after reading the reviews.

  • This is possibly the best article I’ve seen on Kotaku in a long time.

    “Its art!” style defenses have always bothered me as being a cheap and easy way to ‘fix’ any criticism.

    Personally I’ve always thought that if someone needs to keep explaining that their work is ‘art!’ or the likes in order to defend it, then that work has clearly failed.

  • Games like this, where the drawing point is not game play mechanics, are always going to hinge on one question “Did this make you feel something?”.

    If you don’t, all you will see is a pompous waste of time. If you do, then it can have the potential to stay with you for much longer than most games.

    While I’m not going to have a chance to actually play this for a while, I’m so glad it exists. Games that polarise are much more interesting than when there can be a consensus of “yeah, it’s alright”.

  • Good, even handed criticism.

    When I saw some playthroughs and articles praising this, it did seem rather juvenile. Most positive statements have adopted a stance praising the vacuous nature of the game as though that somehow helps it’s message, when in fact it just smacks of laziness. And then covering up for that sense of laziness with the label of art.

    Giving people another piece of media to explore interesting ideas is good. But that doesn’t mean any product which does so is automatically a good game. One should be able to separate the two – and applause an attempt at the first while raising valid criticisms about the second.

  • I have not played the game so i can’t give my personal opinion on the quality of the game (or art) as art (or game). However I did find the argument here to be a bit too to self-assured and forceful. There is no rule that art needs to be original. Most artists readily admit to their influences. Art is as much about recycling as it is pushing boundaries. Also, just because something has been discussed/thought of before does not make it less amazing. Everyone has had that conversation about how amazing the universe is… goes on forever… etc… but It’s still amazing. At the time ‘we’ discover something, it does not matter if someone thought about it before.

    Anyway, it is fair enough to be critical of the game/art and I suspect I might feel the same about this game in some areas (if I ever play it). I just felt this article was a little over the top and preachy.

    • I agree. When we discover another way of thinking, we can often forget what a short time ago it was when we were less enlightened and crap on those who aren’t as non-ignorant as we are now. Everyone’s awakening to a wider world starts somewhere, for some it will be this game, and as is often the case, it will be just a first step to wider exploration.
      I just felt this article was a little over the top and preachy.

      Much praise to the author for challenging peoples perception of what is perceived as art and what could possibly be just some poor sorry excuse for it.

      When i watched the game play videos i too was confused as to what this whole thing was. An elaborate tech demo with sound bytes spruced everywhere, or something really more meaningful.

      The moment the author threw a jab at the high kid saying “woah we’re all connected” made me realize that I need to break out of my shell of conformity and actually make a footprint of myself in my own opinions. Ive been growing complacent on games defined as “art” only because i love games. But just because i love them, doesn’t mean i have to accept everything and anything.

      Props to the author for actually making me realize this flaw in myself.

      • It’s a bug that has been going on for weeks now, staff are aware. As @transientmind noted, the moderation doesn’t show up on the list staff see so unless they stumble across your post while they’re reading comments it’ll never be approved.

        Solution 1, post a followup instead of editing. Solution 2, edit the original, copy the text, replace the original with just a dot and then post your comment again as a second one. The second one can’t really be done if someone’s already replied though.

    • Persona 5 is art. Horizon Zero Dawn is art. This is good knows what.
      Once again Amanda your article rocks!

    • I agree with most of the points in the article, but I think this article makes the same mistakes that it calls the game out for, ie. writing a somewhat preachy and divisive article calling out a game for being preachy and divisive.
      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

      We are all ignorant on a huge range of topics, I can’t believe the ignorance level when it comes to indigenous Australian issues, but I know almost nothing of issues with, say, the Inuit in Canada. If the game prompts people who are ignorant on an issue to questions things a little and maybe look a little more outside their bubbles then that is a good thing, even if the game is clumsy. The article feels a bit like “look how ignorant I am not!” at times.

      I like the article, but it does come across easily as preachy as the game itself.

      • I don’t really think the game makes anyone look outside their bubble, so much as look more intently at their own bellybutton.

        I believe the frustration largely comes from the fact that this game has had pretty stellar reviews for (in the author’s opinion) probably pretty short sighted reasons.

      • Elaine: Perhaps there’s more to Newman than meets the eye.
        Jerry: No, there’s less.

      • Came here to post exactly this. While the writer makes valid and perhaps accurate points, she also falls for the fallacy of the arrogant thinker. While she herself has to admit that for some people these kinds of ideas may be novel and illuminating, she dismisses such people as being behind the times or stupid.

        The way she paints it, there are only three kinds of people in the world:

        -Those unaware of the ideas presented by the game, who are irrelevant and apparently to blame for their ignorance so not deserving of the education provided by the game.
        -Those aware of those ideas but who are dishonest and/or presumptuous, trying to glorify an undeserving offering for some sort of self-serving agenda.
        -The innocent and pure, yet knowledgeable and truly sagacious (and uncompromising and brave and wise) for whom such ideas are pre-kinder level and dare expose the deception of any who’d praise them.

        Even if the game was intently created to be as pretentious, yet clumsily shallow and disingenuous as the article writer suggests, I think I’d be able to respect that a bit better than the pompous, self-aggrandising and conceited kind of person she shows herself to be in this piece.

    • Have to agree. I considered buying this but each time I watch footage for it and read the explanations of it, I keep coming back to the same thing, “Why would this be appealing?”

      I just can understand the concept to be appealing. Being able to play as anything is interesting. But you’re not playing as anything. From what I see of the footage, you’re playing as many clones of the same thing, just with different sizes and different paint jobs.

    • Excellent review Amanda. Hilarious destruction of pseudo-art, and very articulate on your points.

    • An excellent point. “Art games” have received absurd praise (and pricing!) simply because they’re a novelty in gaming – until a load of other artists tried to climb on the now saturated bandwagon. Now many are revealed for what they are – bad art and bad games. I couldn’t believe Grayson’s gushing review which seemed to have such little content about the game itself – but I guess when the art itself has little to say and the ‘game’ it’s attached to is bad, you can’t say much at all.

      It’s about time we started criticising these things like anything else, instead of treating each one as special and beyond reproach simply because it isn’t a traditional video game.

    • Haha, great read. I didn’t even know there was anyone talking about the game, hadn’t seen much mention of it other than that trailer so that’s all I know about it. But from what I saw, it seems like a poor man’s Cubivore. This makes me think that even moreso.

      Everyone go try out Cubivore instead 😛
      (though uh… mind the ridiculous eBay prices it seems to have these days :/)

    • I feel like the article might be a little hard on Alan Watts, the philosopher whose quotes are used through the trailer and game. I quite enjoy listening to Watts and it’s not like he had much say over his words being used for this not-game.

      A recent study from the University of Waterloo would call this game “pseudo-profound bullshit”. It presents its assertions in such a way as to provoke profundity despite them being mundane or even vacuous. It’s false substance, dressed up to appeal to the same kind of people who find misattributed “inspirational quotes” profound.

      The classic response to this is inevitably “you just don’t get it”. Sometimes things do have philosophical depth that goes over some people’s heads, but sometimes a thing really doesn’t have any substance. My first impression of this game was the latter, and I’ve seen nothing so far to suggest otherwise.

      • A good way of telling whether or not something actually has philosophical depth is in that response; if something actually does have depth that isn’t readily apparent, the person making the philosophical statement will probably make some attempt to explain it to you. After all, what’s the point in sharing your philosophy if you’re not going to make any effort whatsoever to have it be understood?

        “You just don’t get it” is code either for “I don’t get it, either,” or “There is nothing to get.”

    • Ha! Your writing articles and critiquing it’s merits as art. Thus legitimising it as art. We can all thank Duchamp and Andy Warhol for that.

    • educational perspective,

      hey its not COD / Battlefield so we want to kill it with fire!

      everything reminds me of populous/B&white/spore/from dust… god sims

      but you are right art is supposed to be criticised heavily on why it is art

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