The internet isn’t fun anymore. Actually, that statement isn’t severe enough to reflect how bad the internet is these days, so let me try that again: being online in 2023 is a fucking nightmare. There are only three websites. They are all designed to make you angry because it’s the most profitable emotion. Your aunt was indoctrinated into fascism by a page called “This country used to have real bin men” after she liked a meme about glass milk bottles in 2012. Every boy you went to school with has a podcast about football now. Your Mam once warned you about spending too much time on the computer but now spends eight hours a day playing Hay Day on her phone. AI was meant to let us lie in fields and read books, but instead it’s being used to show you what Breaking Bad would have looked like as an anime.
But it didn’t used to be like this! Obviously I don’t need to remind our regular readers about the glory days of the information superhighway because some of you are old enough to be my Dad (and I’m thirty-one) but just in case a member of Gen Z has stumbled upon this article by accident: the internet used to be fun. Like, really fun, and Hypnospace Outlaw is living proof of it.
If, like me, you daydream endlessly while sitting in front of the computer about those halcyon days of sitting in front of a different, slightly larger computer then may I recommend checking out Hypnospace Outlaw as part of this month's RPS Game Club? A detective game set within an accurate (if slightly surreal) depiction of the World Wide Web circa 1999, Hypnospace Outlaw serves as an effective time machine for those early days of being online.
For example: remember when you owned a website and didn’t just belong to one? There is no social media in Hypnospace. Instead, users construct their own crude web pages to reach out into the great digital unknown. Presented with a blank canvas, Hypnospace reminds us, human beings have no choice but to paint with the colours of their soul. Howard Hewson just wants to share some things he's figured out in the 47 years he's been on this planet. He reckons reaching out to your family, instead of waiting for them to call you first, is a pretty neat idea. Tamara’s spoken word poetry about her life at college is freely accessible to all. Abby maintains “Hypnospace Heaven”, where three heavily dithered angels look over user submitted obituaries about those they’ve lost. Tuba playing teenager Corey thinks a dancing pizza slice is peak comedy. Reggie Paulson can’t figure out how the page builder works, resulting in his woodworking tips being obscured by a rotating image of a World War II tank.
In 2023, the personalised homepages of Hypnospace are enviably quaint. Garish background colours. Wacky fonts. Obnoxious GIFs and autoplaying MIDI music tracks. As a proud member of the MySpace generation and someone who spent countless evenings hand-coding his Game Boy themed homepage (Damien Rice’s The Animals Were Gone would play in the background because I was very deep and interesting), I remember the joy of digital self-expression dearly.
You could learn a lot about a person from their homepage. Their interests. Their friend group. Their favourite colour. Their favourite book. Remember when using the internet was more like journaling? When we were encouraged to be creative and free by virtue of there being no rules or expectations? Hypnospace relies on the earnest self-disclosure of its users to guide you through its open-ended narrative, but it’s a potent reminder of what we’ve lost in the real world too, as the borders of this theoretically limitless technology edge closer and closer towards a very tight and very boring centre.
Why must we shave the edges off things? Why is Twitter - sorry, X - so boring? Why is TikTok so curated? What happened to forums dedicated to niche interests that allowed me and 43 strangers to discuss Half-Life 2 mods in great detail? What happened to blogging, writing your thoughts without worrying about algorithms, monetisation and other numeric metrics that dictate your success? Hypnospace is silly and weird and sad, and I think I want that version of the internet back. I don’t want access to it all the time. I don’t want to be given an endless feed of thoughts to absorb. I want to log on to someone’s website just to see if it’s been updated. I want to read thoughts as they were always meant to be consumed. In their own space. In my own time.
Hypnospace is inevitably a game about people. Adults and teenagers, bloggers and artists, widowers and tech bros. They're brought together by a service, but that’s where their similarities end. Sure, there’s conflict. With you. With each other. Technology isn’t perfect. Hypnospace has its flaws.
But look! There they are! So clearly visible in every pixel on the screen. A page about dinosaurs. A page that documents the history of music genres. A page about hot dogs. A page about video games. A blog. A comic. A music track. People, using the internet as a tool for self-expression rather than being subjected to the whims of the most divorced man in history.
I think you should start a blog. It should be messy and weird and riddled with errors. It should be a reflection of you. Or maybe it should be about your cat. It should be filled with your favourite recipes and 300 word movie reviews. No one will read it, except maybe for your friends and your cousins and someone you went to school with 15 years ago. I think that would be nice.
I think that would be better.