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In retrospect, OReilly’s last game was a warm-up for this one. Called Mountain, the game depicted a mountain, disembodied in space, at which worldly miscellany hurtled and sometimes stuck. Eventually, after 50 hours or more, the mountain, rather than the human, quit playing and departed.
When I wrote about Mountain upon its release in 2014, it was easy to find a hook. OReilly had produced several esoteric, animated short films, but he was best-known for designing the animations for the “alien child” video-game sequence in Spike Jonze’s Her, a film about a man’s relationship with an artificial intelligence that eventually reaches transcendence and leaves him. Her, I argued, was Hollywood taking the easy way out with alien love. Scarlett Johansson’s Samantha was just a human left unseen. Mountain offered a bolder invitation: to commune with a representation of an inanimate, aggregate object rather than a living, individual one.
Against all odds, Mountain was a commercial success. It cost $1, and it did well enough to allow OReilly to self-fund the development of Everything. That’s a big bet, but OReilly feels palpable glee from having taken it. “Money lacks the ability to look forward,” he tells me, reflecting on his difficulty parlaying short-film festival success into paying work. He sells the risk as a moral imperative. “I could have done a commercial thing or gotten a mortgage,” he explains, “but I felt a responsibility to go deeper.”
Three years later, Everything certainly goes deeper. The game sports thousands of unique, playable things, promising players that anything they can see, they can be. To “be” something in Everything means binding to and taking control of it. Once accomplished, the player can pilot that object around Everything’s vast, multi-level 3-D world. Rolling the boulder over to a Montgomery palm allows the player to ascend further, as I did up into the galaxy from the Rocky Mountain elk. The game also allows downward progress: descending from planet, to continent, to kelp forest, and then orca, then plankton, then fungus, then atom. And further, too, until discovering that, according to Everything, the tiniest of things in one dimension might just be the biggest ones in another.
Everything’s tagline promises that everything you can see, you can be, which has led some to conclude that the game is a “universe simulator,” along the lines of No Man’s Sky. But Everything isn’t a universe simulator. You can’t be anything in Everything, and anyone with that aspiration will leave disappointed. After bonding with a fast-food restaurant, players can’t descend into it to discover booths, ceramic floor tiles, low-wage workers, hamburger patties, or the fragments of spent straw sheaths like they can with galaxies and continents and shrubs.
Only a fool would try to make a game that contains everything—or think that it would be possible to play one. A game containing everything in the universe would be coextensive with the universe. We’re already playing that game, it turns out. But that fact is hard to see. Everything helps a little, by reminding people of the things that coexist both alongside and very far away from them.