The Philosophy of David OReilly's 'Everything'

A game about observing life and its systems.

David OReilly, Polygon

If you tried to explain David OReilly’s Everything to someone, you’d probably have trouble. Ostensibly, the name is about as fitting as you can get — it’s a PS4 and PC game where everything in the world, from rocks to wildlife, is playable. What you do, or what that means, is a much more difficult thing to describe.

Little has actually been said about how Everything, which was featured last month at Fantastic Fest’s Fantastic Arcade, works. Yet it doesn’t seem entirely dissimilar from OReilly’s independent debut, Mountain, a strange little experience where interactivity didn’t really seem to be the point. In Mountain, you could observe the seasons changing or watch as your mountain gathered random objects, and “do” very little else. Without a clear objective, Everything appears to be made in similar vein, but to be learn more, I spoke with OReilly via email about it.

David Reilly

“It’s the same idea explored in a much wider scale,” says OReilly, who you might also know from his game designs featured in Spike Jonze’s Her. “Both are part of why I’m interested in games, and I hope to keep exploring.”

If you played Mountain, you can probably get an inkling of what Everything is based on this response. Taken in the right context, you can view almost anything as an existentialist portrait, but without the would-be design luxury of an objective, or really even any sense of stimulus as a result of input response, Mountain pushes players towards some inner reflection. Based on its premise, it’s easy to see Everything following in those footsteps.

David Reilly

A recent video shows how this works, depicting a world full of selectable objects that you can “bond,” thereby taking their worldview. OReilly elaborates:

“It’s about your idea of you, and how you relate to the world. It’s also about nothing, perspective, nature, existence, recursion, symmetry life, and its systems.” He continues, saying, “These are traditionally seen as ‘heavy’ subjects because they’re often draped in archaic language or foreign concepts, but beyond that is something very beautiful that isn’t at all complicated.”

To put it more plainly, OReilly is seemingly after something we don’t try, or perhaps wouldn’t normally consider, associating with games.

“I want to create a philosophy you can experience rather than read,” he says.

David OReilly

OReilly isn’t interested in industry recognition (or many games for that matter), but he also doesn’t want to give the wrong impression about how he views the medium, either.

“I don’t want to be understood — I love a few games a lot,” he says. “What’s interesting to me about the medium is describing the world through systems. [But] I have zero interest in puzzles, in creating or solving them.”

To that end, I’m curious what he told the Sony reps when he was explaining Everything to them. OReilly says it was just a matter of showing them a demo.

“They just trusted me on it and have been very supportive,” he says. “I was lucky to not have to do any explaining [about it] because I don’t know how.”

David OReilly

Like Mountain, I think its safe to say Everything probably won’t make much sense to anyone until they’ve experienced it for themselves — which you can next do at this month’s IndieCade. Even then, it’s likely to be an intensely subjective experience.

But even if (as was the case with its spiritual predecessor) Everything remains inscrutable even after you’ve played it, OReilly did give me an indication of how players might find meaning in the game by way of a story shared with him about Mountain:

“Someone recently told me their husband played Mountain in the hospital every day as he was dying of cancer, and it made him happy during his final months,” he says. “There have been a few stories like this, and they always stay with me. I couldn’t ask for any better reason to get up in the morning. It’s far more encouraging than any amount of money or industry approval.”

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