Is Everything for real?

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Stalvern
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Is Everything for real?

Postby Stalvern » April 8th, 2017, 4:48 pm

I am amazed and disheartened by the credulously fawning reception that this game has drawn. I can't think of anything, game or otherwise, that has made such a show of making a point while failing so badly at it. Whether due to limited resources or sheer laziness (the idiotic tumbling of the animals suggests the latter - even assuming that skeleton animation was too tall an order, nothing should prevent a bear or deer from stiffly toddling along like the insects manage to do), the game never even approaches following through on its most fundamental premises.

The entire thesis of the game is that everything in the universe is connected and mutually necessary, an idea sure to blow the mind of anyone who never read "Song of Myself" in high school or college. As basic as this idea is, the game hardly makes even a gesture of actually implementing it. Grass is necessary to herbivores; herbivores, to carnivores; the decay of animals, to the flourishing of plants, intermediated by innumerable teeming microbes - this, of course, is why a sheep never eats grass or flees a wolf, why paramecia and plankton will inertly swim and bounce to no real end. The game purports to show the player the "perspective" of anything they find, but the perspective of a rock is no more distinct from a mountain's than from a grain of sand's - no matter what you "are", you're an arbitrary set of polygons free to do little more than wander, completely without obligation to your environment. The gameplay trailer, the video that is supposed to sell the game's accomplishments, hilariously juxtaposes Alan Watts's ruminations on the gravity that binds the cosmos into a single entity with a literal pile of galaxies carelessly dragging itself through the stars, blithely ignoring the cataclysmic consequences of such an event in the context of the game's own narration of the spectacle. Space is connected, Watts tells me, while the game goes as far as is conceivable to show me that no, it's not, at least in this case. At the opposite scale, zoom out far enough from the universe at large, and you're a carbon atom... not bonded in a molecule, not composing the substance of a cell, just idly floating about, free of purpose. Everything in the universe of Everything is a completely isolated, independent model (the closest that the game comes to surpassing this is in the animals' herding and flocking behavior, which merely replaces one arbitrary entity with a larger one). Drawing a variety of animals on index cards and sliding them around my desk would be a more convincing picture of the universe's interconnectedness; I could at least slide them around according to some coherent idea of an ecosystem.

On top of that, the game still further undermines its own worldview by giving the player's vantage point objective credence. "Which perspective is correct?" the game rhetorically asks - the ostensible answer is that all of them are, but the truth is that only one is genuinely acknowledged: that of the player, whose ultimate task is to inhabit one of every type of object in the game, with progress tracked by percentage in each category. While the game makes the statement that one part of the universe is as much the whole as the whole is one part, that everything is in everything else and nothing is isolated, the player is demonstrably not that whole, insofar as they have only been 57% of birds or 19% of landmasses.

The message of Everything, ultimately, is that the universe is tied together not by the laws of nature, the consequences of survival, or the inherent inseparability of the cosmos from itself, but because a dead British man tells you so in spite of literally everything you see. It's the opposite of a thesis; the game makes a claim, then actively discards any evidence that could found it. It takes the magic and wonder of life in its myriad expressions and replaces it all with soulless, mindless tumbling and shuffling in service to the completion of a glorified Pokédex. This is a simpleton's Walt Whitman, a Buddhism more emptily facile than anything sold by Deepak Chopra or Rhonda Byrne: The world is not connected because of any meaningful connection but because the idea, uh, sounds kinda nice.

An objection that I anticipate is that some of these decisions, like the wandering galaxies or completion percentages, are necessary to make this a game. This is a small-minded attitude: a game genuinely concerned with showing what a galaxy is to the universe could find a better way than letting the player slide it through the stars, and a game invested in the endless diversity of life in time's endless march should certainly know better than to cap itself with a finite goal. To shoehorn something so far beyond gaming's established traditions into some of its most hoary tropes is a complete waste, a service to nobody at all.

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Atarifever
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Re: Is Everything for real?

Postby Atarifever » April 8th, 2017, 7:41 pm

I had never heard of this game, even once. I originally thought the post was a philosophical question (to which I would have answered "no" by the way).

That is as deep an analysis of an "art" game as anything I have ever seen. To take issue with a game like this for being unable to live up to its thesis, rather than just for being pretentious means, most likely, this is one of the better reviews for this game online. Given the scores I have seen, it appears people are fawning over it, and online on many forums I imagine many people who dislike it are just going to the old "it's not a game" argument.

For my part, your review is likely the most time I will give to this game. It sounds utterly unappealing to me from it's thesis to its mechanics, so I will not end up knowing any more about it than what you've said here.


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