Artist David OReilly is tired of the argument over whether or not games can be art. That question, he says, was answered with Pong in 1972. The more interesting topics at hand: can games be therapy? Can they change your perception? What about your philosophy?
OReilly’s latest game, Everything, is his way of toying with those ideas. He calls it experiential philosophy. “Our relationship with philosophy is [that it’s] basically something that lives in text, something that's a completely academic exercise. [Like] giant books you never read. You have sort of vague ideas about it,” he says. “To me, philosophy is much simpler than that.”
OReilly calls Everything a natural evolution from his last game, Mountain; a fleshed-out experience that moves players away from a single place and gives them access to... well, everything. Animals, trees, continents, planets, the universe itself — it’s all a new space for the player to leap into, a new body to inhabit.
I started the game as a brown cow, but quickly learned to be the new plants, animals, and objects around me. The game uses an ascend or descend system in which you can either choose to seek bigger or smaller things, gradually increasing or decreasing your mass. There are countless avatars to experience, "[but] the main character in the game is you,” OReilly says. “It's about you, the idea of what ‘you’ are.”
Each creature of object moves in a unique fashion, whether that’s through “dancing” triggered by the player or its own erratic moves. Trees shudder forward by replicating and disappearing; animals somersault head over heels at ridiculous speeds. The game will occasionally offer guidance or give you prompts on what to do or where to go, but its joy comes from fooling around. The ideas may be heavy, but the game’s spirit is light.
You “collect” the forms as you go, so that you can swap back to an animal or a plant or whatever else at any time. This means you can accidentally dunk a mega ostrich into a nearby lake, or drop a tiny planet into the middle of a street. Life will hum along, even with a miniature Earth crowding the walkways. “We're trying to make each character have something worth discovering, something interesting about them,” OReilly says.
Everything doesn’t even need you to actively play it. If you drop your controller and sit back to watch, the game will automatically shuffle through forms and wander its world. Occasionally, the game will filter in clips from the British American philosopher Alan Watts. These talks, recorded between 1965 and 1973, cover various ideas about the nature of being and life as you contemplate your existence as, say, a rock.
OReilly, in trying to articulate what his games want to say, doesn’t rely on words. “I think that's impossible to convert into language,” he says. “I think you make something because you can't say it ... That's the best reason to make art: to try and describe something you can't describe with words.”
Indeed, it’s bizarre to explain to another person why it’s so joyful to be a digital blade of grass, or to zoom through space as a particle I’ve never even heard of. It’s soothing. It’s just existing. It’s like seeing everything, but differently.