In ‘Everything,’ It’s Impossible to Go Alone

If you divided the world of games into two categories, those with heroes and those without, Everything would fall in the gap between, or perhaps encompass both. You don’t take up a sword and play someone out to save the world, and you don’t stay outside the world in the abstract space of puzzle solving. You play a bear, or a bridge, or an entire galaxy. You play yourself playing the universe.

Creator David O’Reilly doesn’t lack for ambition.

O’Reilly’s best-known game work isn’t a game at all — it’s an augmented reality experience in a short segment of Her, the Spike Jonze film. After that, O’Reilly released his first game, Mountain, a fairly non-interactive experience of keeping a mountain company. In contrast to Mountain, Everything is massive. It’s a universe filled with thousands of creatures and objects, each of which you can become. Look at a tree, become that tree. Wander the landscape until you decide to become a flower, then become that flower. It doesn’t really have everything (technology isn’t quite there yet), but it has quite a few of the many things that make up our reality.

Cataloguing those creations is the mechanical goal of the game, and if you’re motivated by checklists, Everything will keep you going for a long, long time. But while you try to find your way into every individual molecule and landmass, the game sets out to show you that none of those molecules or landmasses is actually individual at all. Even you, the player, are part of the whole.

That lesson is delivered in gameplay, and also in the words of late British philosopher Alan Watts, whose lectures serve as Everything’s narration. Watts helped popularise Eastern philosophies in the West, and thought of Buddhism and Taoism as comparable to psychotherapy. Sections of his lectures from 1965 to 1973 can be found throughout the game. They delve into ideas about the self, the universe, and our experience of life and the world. Even anxiety gets its due.

“What I am really saying is that you don’t need to do anything, because if you see yourself in the correct way, you are all as much extraordinary phenomenon of nature as trees, clouds, the patterns in running water, the flickering of fire, the arrangement of the stars, and the form of a galaxy. You are all just like that, and there is nothing wrong with you at all.”

-Alan Watts

 
Speaking with Forbes, O’Reilly explained some of his reasons for choosing Watts to be the voice of Everything.

Alan Watts, along with the very old ideas that he’s describing, were a huge inspiration to the project,” reveals David. “I just think he’s a wonderful thinker and a great speaker. And people who like Alan Watts really love him. He’s a special kind of person who described things in a way, I think, that other people haven’t gotten close to. It’s poetic and not bogged down by jargon or dogma. It’s just describing the core of [different] schools of wisdom in a very entertaining way. But because he’s been dead for so long, it’s always lived as a pure audio thing to me. I was listening to [him] while we began developing and it all just fused together.

 

Between Watts’ words, a moving soundtrack composed by Ben Lukas Boysen, and the experience of inhabiting, exploring and dancing with so much of the universe, Everything can be a profound experience, one that inspires self-reflection.

Its philosophy is one that can also be explored in mindfulness meditation, in Buddhist practice and in many other traditions — some religious, some not. If you’ve explored concepts of mindfulness or self-compassion, these ideas might already be familiar. Whether you’re new to its concepts or not, the ability to literally inhabit everything in Everything is a powerful, modern illustration of the idea that none of us can be alone when we’re all connected at such a fundamental level.

Everything is available now on PS4 and is coming to Steam on April 21.

Content warning: Some of the included lecture segments include discussion of suicide as a philosophical problem.