Philosophical game invites students to ponder everything's existence

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Subjects & Skills

Character & SEL, Critical Thinking

Great for

Game-Based Learning, Instructional Design, SEL

Price: Paid
Platforms: Windows, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Linux, Mac

Pros: Elegant use of play and simulation to model Zen philosophy.

Cons: It'll work on some students, others will surely be bored.

Bottom Line: Meaningful and humbling take on interconnectedness, but in that existential sort of way that's highly individual and potentially hit or miss.

It's hard to predict how students will take this game. It can be both meaningful and boring, which, in itself, is the point. It requires contemplation and revisiting. Perhaps teachers could scaffold students' experience with Everything with an introduction that frames it carefully as an exploration of the nature of existence. It may be better, however, to let students discover the game on their own and then to reflect on their play for a while before jumping back in a few days later.

Teachers could at least use Everything to introduce students to the audio recordings of Alan Watts and to Zen philosophy, and also as an introduction to the concept of ontology. What makes the world work, what is the nature of existence, what is a thing or object in the world, and what is our place in the world? These are all questions that Everything brings up, and fruitful class discussion or writing reflections could come out of it. There are other questions that come up, though, like: Why is the game so clunky, are we in the '90s, and how slow can this game get? It's probably best to assign this game in a unit or course on philosophy or religion or, alternatively, in other courses, like ELA, as an elective activity that could lead to interpretive essays.

Everything is an exploratory game about interconnectedness inspired by the Zen philosophy of Alan Watts. You start off as a single speck of light, moving in open space. You form thoughts and become conscious. Then, you're on an open plain or desert populated with little critters and rocks and trees. You're a zebra, albeit a poorly rendered, flipping-head-over-feet-over-head-to-move-around-like-a-square-wheel zebra, as if you're playing an unfinished game. In fact, all the other animals you can see are also somersaulting around the plain. At first this is puzzling, but you learn later that this animation choice is completely understandable, since there's a lot to this world: a plenitude of animals, plants, rocks, human-made devices, and many other objects, populating lots of different biomes. Each of these objects can be controlled. Your consciousness leaps from object to object whenever you want, and you can also zoom in and out of the world by taking over smaller or larger objects. You can zoom down to a grain of sand and up to the sun. Animating each controllable object realistically would have taken a lifetime, and actually, the halting, sporadic somersaulting of the first few animals ends up being funny and whimsical. 

As you move around the world, you engage in short dialogues with other objects, portrayed as thought bubbles on the screen, each giving insight into the thing's thoughts. Many of them question the nature of existence and are paraphrases from various historical philosophers. Once in a while, you come across an object that plays an audio recording of Alan Watts, the philosopher from the 1960s. Students might find this experience meditative. Others might say it's boring. Both perspectives are right, really. The only "game" here is the act of trying to figure out what's going on and how to progress. There isn't a story or narrative to explore, there isn't conflict or challenge in the normal sense. It's a novel space to wander through with sound bites to contemplate. After about an hour, you'll get it. Or, maybe an hour isn't enough time to get it? Perhaps, you're just being impatient. Ultimately, it's up to you how much you get out of the game.

At first it's intriguing; later, it's boring; even later, it can turn into something deeply meaningful and transformative.

In the same way that Seinfeld was a show about nothing, Everything is a game about nothing. Seinfeld's brilliance was that it could cover so much with so little and expose human foibles purely through dialogue. Everything follows suit; players talk with other objects but also with themselves as they play. The text is sporadic, giving ample time for reflection. Players can build upon previous thoughts and experiences on their way to a theory of how the world works and what living in it means. This is the perfect counterpoint to the game That Dragon, Cancer, which let players explore the journey of a family that found meaning through God while mourning the death of their young son. Everything provides meaning in the same sense that Carl Sagan or Neil Degrasse Tyson find meaning in the cosmos -- the same meaning that Luke finds through the help of Obi-Wan in the Force. We are all connected, everything living and not. This brings a sort of peace with existence, an alternative to the answer for why we exist. It's enough that we simply exist and are part of something larger -- something much, much larger.

Learning Rating

Overall Rating

Student feelings of engagement with Everything will be varied. Teachers could mitigate this with some good framing before students play.


It's steeped in philosophy and models it well, but for these ideas to sink in, students will need time for reflection and introspection.


Easy to play, and there are instructions throughout. Teasing out the learning, however, requires digging into resources outside of the game.

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