Much has been made (in some incredibly niche circles of animation and game fandom, at least) of the fact that the gameplay trailer for David OReilly’s Everything is the first interactive project to qualify for an Oscar nomination. Whether it could’ve won became a bit of a moot point when it didn’t make the Academy’s long-list, but it was misleading from the start: if we’re talking about the trailer, we aren’t talking about something interactive. Not to take anything away from Everything, which deserves every accolade it’s received and is about as philosophically rich a game as you could hope for, but the trailer is its own thing, and it is masterful in its own way.
It might seem fussy to insist on the difference between Everything the game and Everything the gameplay trailer, but I’m not just saying it to be pedantic. I actually think that comparing the response to the trailer and the response to the game is really useful. Everything (the game) is important because it teaches its lesson through its interactivity. The mechanics of the game are meant to play off of and reinforce the philosophy of the late Alan Watts. You wander through a seemingly infinite universe, trying on different perspectives and scales, sometimes alone, sometimes in communion with the strangest assortment of creatures and buildings and celestial objects and abstract concepts in a grand, glorious dance.
But throughout all of it, you are at the centre; you are everything and everything is you. The visuals and the narration from Watts prompt you in the right direction, but it’s the interactive element, the way you inhabit the game, that makes everything click. The game is basically an existence simulator, with the any drama coming from your own attention and interests rather than from any sweeping narrative.
The trailer doesn’t have that interactivity. You’re an observer instead of a participant, so it can’t have the same natural ebb and flow of attention. Instead, OReilly keeps the proceedings under tight control. It’s built on gameplay footage, but the selection of objects, the scale of view, the pace of movement, are all synchronized with Watts’ narration. It builds and swells and gathers complexity, to a climax of giant space frogs and interstellar soup cans. It tells you the things the game will let you discover—it can even be useful in showing you the frame of mind the game is meant to be played in—but it’s a different piece of art from the game itself.
That all said, the reason for saying it is to make sure the interactive element doesn’t get pushed to the sidelines when we say things like “Everything is the first interactive project to qualify for an Oscar.” I’d love it if we could reach the point where interactive art is considered on the same level as fixed media by the powers-that-be, and Everything (the game) is a perfect example of a work that is only really possible because of your active role in it. OReilly’s skill as a filmmaker may have given the trailer more legitimacy in the film world, but the game itself is the real work of art.