An abstract journey that’s more intriguing in theory than in practice.
In the beginning, there is nothing, You’re alone in an empty cosmos. The only thing you can do as you wander is think. And so you think, pondering your existence, wondering what and where you are. A world fades into view around you, and you take the shape of an animal. With no instruction from anyone else, you wander further into the world.
This is how Everything begins. As you wander, you find objects in the world that can think like you can, and you can hear their thoughts. Sometimes they ponder their own existence as well, but sometimes they teach you new abilities. These abilities are interpersonal skills, like how to communicate with others and how to form a pack to wander with you. Eventually they teach you that you aren’t limited to your current body; you can swap forms with anything around you, either ascending into a larger body or descending into a smaller one.
That is effectively everything that you do in Everything. This is a journey where you simply move through the world and experience all of the creatures and objects that exist around you and within you, from the largest galaxy down to the smallest microbe. You gain a few other abilities along the way such as dancing to reproduce—which you can do no matter what you are, even if you’re a cloud—but nothing else unique ever really happens.
As you explore Everything, you discover recordings of philosophy lectures by the late Alan Watts. In the recordings, Watts discusses the nature of perception and existence. In terms of playing a game, I would say that these lectures are the most interesting part of Everything, and the underlying gameplay between each lecture is repetitive and boring. But Everything isn’t trying to be a game in the traditional sense; it’s trying to be a deeply philosophical experience.
Watts’ lectures propose the idea that looking at the world as a group of disconnected physical things is wrong. The underlying message of Everything is that all things are connected and exist as part of a unified whole. This is supported by gameplay. The only gameplay is to move between other objects and creatures in that unified whole. The core mechanics of play support the message that Everything is trying to deliver. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to take this message seriously when the things you’re doing are so fundamentally silly.
The very first step you take at the beginning of your journey breaks immersion as the animal you control stumbles forward in an unnatural roll with only four distinct frames of animation. You’re immediately reminded that this is not real life; this is a video game. That dissonance never goes away. Objects will clip through each other with no sense of collision. Entire continents will dance in a circle until a new continent spontaneously pops into existence between them. Between each lecture you’ll wander aimlessly with no idea what you’re supposed to be doing until a new lecture or tutorial finally appears somewhere on the map. Eventually near the end of your journey you’re asked to return to the spot you started in with no direction on how to get back, even though you may now be on another continent on another planet in another galaxy. Everything is trying not to be a game, but it has all the frustrating baggage that comes with being a boring video game.
I respect the idea behind Everything, and I’m glad that developer David O’Reilly decided to try something experimental with an interactive medium. I can appreciate a game that hides meaning beneath its surface, but Everything doesn’t have a surface-level story for that meaning to hide under. Alan Watts’ philosophy lectures are intriguing, but it’s not very interesting getting from one lecture to the next. I was never able to be engaged or immersed in the world. Despite being a game about how all things are related, I found the silly, empty experience of Everything very unrelatable.