(*) This poem includes featured works from the late visual artist and writer Lan Anh Lê.
As Everything has recently become an internet phenomenon, those who have heard or experienced it will acknowledge Everything apparently as a video game, which is currently available for PS4 and Steam. Among the video game market, Everything is quite standing out in terms of player’s experience and interior narrative.
Disclaimer: I did not spend that much of my time for video games these days...
However, “Everything” just won over my attention and time so tremendously, because it is indeed an excellent piece of visual art.
Everything is developed by David O’Reilly, whose previous experience accustomed with conceptual and implicate 3D animations (Google his works and you will find out why). The game appears as a stimulation flat-form, in which you can literally become everything that presents within the virtual environment the game creates. Then what’s fun about this? For now, please sit down, we have a lot of interesting stuff to discuss here.
Emerging into the world of Everything, you will be randomly assigned to be a “thing” (in my case, I was a Addra Gazelle). You will start with getting used to the control system of the game, as well as some certain instructions to make sure that you stay resilient enough make progress, since there will be a lot of daunting and clueless moments to encounter. The instructions include 3 types of different symbols for you to approach: the bubbles – listen to the thoughts of your surrounding objects (yep, they all have thoughts and unique voices, event a rock); the interconnected hexagons – get access to new actions and features;
and the circles – listen to Alan Watt’s narrative speech.
First thing first, David chooses Alan Watts – a Western philosopher who passed away in 1973, to be the narrator of the game. In his interview with Vice Tonight, David empathized:
“…there was a strange reflection between what he (Alan) was saying and what we were making…the totality of existence, or the universe, let’s say, or nature.”
The interconnection of everything – being strongly fascinated by Buddhism study, I recognized the ideological appropriation in Watt’s narration after just a few lines. The interconnection among every existing objects has always been a fundamental of Buddha’s teachings, ever since Gotama Siddhartha accomplished his ascetic practice and became a bodhisattva, or an “enlightened one”, who later determined co-existence as an essential element that constructs the world of correlation (or the so-called karma) we are living in. That was before I did research about his legacy as a Western philosopher, who helped implement and penetrate Eastern philosophy into the Eastern world, including the Buddha’s teachings. Up to this point, I was amazed by how an Eastern concept had become more and more universal, and now being illustrated in a video game – a very particular medium for conveying such ideas.
Then, after navigating for a while, you will encounter more interconnected hexagons and get access to performing more new actions, including manipulating different objects and living creatures. You can be an Addra Gazelle (or micro-sized bacteria) at the beginning, a few seconds later, you already become a middle-sized rock. Exploring a little bit more, you’re now a galaxy floating in the infinite outer space.
The shift in perspective was illustrated quite visibly through the movement of the day-night cycle. The larger the object you manipulate, the quicker the cycle’s rotation will be. As you shift to another object with another perspective, the appearance of the environment around you will change accordingly, though it’s quite clear that you are still located in the same dimension. It was satiated in a sense that my (our) dreamy desire of being the sky, the cloud, the universe – something that broaden our perspective far beyond what we assume as human limitation, becomes actually doable in this world of Everything. At the same time, I came to a comprehension of pure understanding among individuals – an “objective perspective”, which is quite “impossible” in any extents, according to David. However, as we strive to pursue objectivity, we attain a better state of mutual understanding and connection.
And now, most interestingly, there are a lot of disturbing illogical and physically uncanny details inserted into the game. At some points, I can say that they have become a direct facade for the internet’s jocular criticism (“Why are there WEIRD ROLLING animals???” – see the trailer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYHp8LwBUzo&t=431s ), however, are the most essential factors that make Everything the Everything we see.
The idea was actually inherited from David’s previous Youtube animation episode called “The horse raised by sphere” (which is another story). In Everything, he brings up the sense of abnormality to see how we perceive it within the context where the alien 4-legged animals’ movements become contextually ordinary. Consequently, this implication challenges our judgement toward the inversion of norms and abnormality, as well as the values and qualifications that construct one’s identity, through a distinctively rich visual concept.
“What I am involves who you are”Alan Watts
I profoundly treated this game as an artwork, because of its creation in a very particular time and space, where there are more than one issue triggering the world greatest nations, internally and externally; where climate change is threatening human existence without a sense of ceasing; where trustfulness and humanitarian values have seemingly vanished into a long-gone past.
We bring up the question of true human nature once again.
To achieve the most in-depth experience, you may want to push yourself out of your comfort zone a little bit, as well as prepare for the unexpected strikes to your current mindset and perception.
Keep going until the very end (?), you may find yourself going on one of the most reflective journey ever; you may want to sit down and re-question your own identity and the true meaning of existence; or you may even end up with looking at the world in a way that you never thought you could back then.
Who knows? It’s everything anyway.