What is it like to be a thing? Game designer and researcher Ian Bogost took this question seriously enough to write an entire philosophy book about it, imagining the ineffable interior experiences of “all things—from atoms to green chiles, cotton to computers.” If you think that sounds weird, imagine the same metaphysical thought experiment turned into a video game. Artist David OReilly actually created such a game: it’s called (aptly) Everything, and it’s coming soon to Playstation 4.
Everything claims to do exactly what it says on the tin. “The central mechanic in the game is being able to be anything,” OReilly told me via email. “Every object in the game is a playable character which sees, hears and experiences the world differently. You can be a single tree or an entire forest, or the continent that’s on, or the planet that’s on.”
I was initially skeptical about how far OReilly took his conceit. Plenty of “god games,” from John Conway’s Game of Life to Will Wright’s Spore, generate rich interactions from a simplified universe. Everything’s cosmos has intentionally simplified aspects, too—for example, animals move around by flopping head-over-heels like children’s toys—but the interactivity is designed to feel literally unlimited. It’s not just the horses, trees, and rocks that have lives of their own: OReilly handcrafted several thousand playable entities nested within half a dozen levels of “existence,” from the quotidian (a hair, a speck of dirt) to the cosmic (galaxies and star clusters). “The experience is designed to allow the player to see reality differently, from many points of view–to get a sideways glance on the world we can only see anthropocentrically,” OReilly says.
And that’s what makes Everything different from god games: it’s less about creating or controlling a universe, and more about simply noticing and inhabiting it as-is. OReilly’s previous game, Mountain (in which players contemplate a rotating mountain and not much else) afforded a similarly mindful approach. “Everything is definitely a continuation of the thoughts behind Mountain, but expanded in every possible direction,” OReilly says. “The game is much more about describing right now than giving you a list of things to do.”
So what is it like to be a grain of pollen, a dead pixel, an island, or any other thing in Everything? OReilly won’t say, but admits that “it’s been a crazy couple of years figuring that out.” And Ian Bogost, who says he sent OReilly a copy of his book on the same subject, told me that he’s “super excited and jealous” of OReilly’s effort. Everything doesn’t have an official release date yet, but you can follow OReilly’s progress here.