HYPNOSPACE OUTLAW is a detective game set in a fun and delightfully unpolished, reimagined early Internet platform. HYPNOSPACE OUTLAW’S world is rich and artistic, with the best part of the game being the ability to explore Hypnospace. It feels like a real social media platform, only more gloriously wonky and garish.

HYPNOSPACE OUTLAW adopts many early Wild West Internet signifiers and aesthetics. It also taps effectively into nostalgia for early-web spaces like GeoCities, providing a joyful foray into a raw online experience of the late 90’s. Surprisingly, HYPNOSPACE OUTLAW also brings up current issues we have with our modern Internet landscape.

[Editor’s Note: There are a few spoilers for the game ahead. So beware!]

Hypnospace Outlaw_Article Body Image 1
One of the many pages you’ll encounter in Hypnospace. Yes, I did buy it. Image courtesy of No More Robots.

Your World: The Beginnings of Online Existence

You play as an Enforcer in Hypnospace. It’s the “world’s first sleeptime social network” that people connect their consciousness to through a headband. As part of your role, you anonymously snoop around in the network to solve your assigned cases. The cases are reasonable in difficulty level, and aren’t a tedious impossible grind.

In Hypnospace, users can make their own personal pages in themed zones. Some of the themed zones on Hypnospace include Bible Belt central’s “Goodtime Valley,” alternative religions’s “Open Eyed,” and the teenage hangout “Teentopia.” The premise of Hypnospace is pretty similar and most likely an homage to the now-defunct GeoCities site. GeoCities is arguably the predecessor of social platforms like Facebook and Myspace. (Yes! There was a world before Facebook and it’s ilk.) On GeoCities, you could similarly choose individual themed “cities,” to place your personal web page. It was one of the birth places of the communal virtual experience, and was a lot of people’s entry point into sharing content on the web.

The amount of raw and unfiltered content on Hypnospace was indeed a nostalgic throwback to that time. Hypnospace zones had that charming late-90’s Internet feel. It’s a combination of absolutely random content and ostentatious color palettes. I was extremely impressed by the variety, content, and personalities conveyed by garish graphic design.

Hynospace Outlaw Zones
Hypnospace Zones. Image courtesy of No More Robots.

The Fun Part: Frolicking Through the Content of a Reimagined Early Internet

This was the best part of HYPNOSPACE OUTLAW: the ability to explore the content and to treat Hypnospace like it was actually a space on the Internet. I deviated from the game’s main narrative and gleefully downloaded random applications unrelated to case objectives to see what they’d do. I also admittedly spent an embarrassing amount of time taking care of my virtual pet and customizing the desktop. Honestly, a blissful time.

As a player, you could also download multiple pieces of music created by artists. Different artists offered unique genres, such as “cool punk,” “flip-flop,” and psuedo-religious songs. Even the badly disguised malware Dr.Helper was a fun download. (It was a hilarious throwback to when I actually did download malware like that.) I absolutely recommend taking time outside of the main gameplay to explore the bonus content.

Personalize Screen
Sharing my personalized screen. I rather liked the design of the Beef Brain logos. Image courtesy of No More Robots.

The Crying Part: Thinking About Our IRL Virtual Existence (Major Spoilers ahead!)

HYPNOSPACE OUTLAW is a throwback to the early Internet and the birth of the collective virtual experience. And the game is extremely fun in that aspect. However, the game also provokes a lot of thought about our IRL, modern-day shiny and slick hellscape of an Internet. I think what’s interesting to me about HYPNOSPACE OUTLAW is that it envisions a world where the Internet, a virtual space, can cause direct literal physical harm to the body.

Towards the end of the game, Dylan Merchant, the co-founder of Hypnospace, hastily implements a buggy game into the platform. As a result, the platform implodes and kills a handful of people that have their minds hooked up to Hypnospace. It’s an interesting what-if scenario that makes extremely literal what we’re all uneasy about: the potential violence that our virtual world has on the real world and real human bodies.

The very role of an Enforcer, content moderation, is an example of the virtual world and its systems affecting physical bodies. For example, IRL content moderators for companies like Facebook and Youtube are forced to watch and review hours of potentially traumatic content for a salary that’s just barely above minimum wage in most parts of the country. (Don’t worry: HYPNOSPACE OUTLAW doesn’t show any truly disturbing or illegal imagery.)

Victims in game
Victims in the game. Image courtesy of No More Robots.

Other Evil Twins

Other happenings in the fictional universe of Hypnospace are paralleled in our IRL virtual space. In the game, Merchantsoft, the company behind Hypnospace, is cryptic and opaque in many of their modifications to the network. At one point, the company combines five different zones into one without notifying users ahead of time. Merchantsoft also later deletes half the content from a zone, much to the discontent of the zone members.

The deja vu was strong since just recently, MySpace accidentally deleted more than 50 million songs posted between 2003 – 2015. Twitter has also been intensely criticized for having opaque rules regarding suspension policies and has been panned for a general lack of transparency. HYPNOSPACE OUTLAW even had a Jack Dorsey clone. The other co-founder of Hypnospace, Adrian Merchant, is some insensitive corporate dude-guy that is weirdly into co-opting spiritual practices. Needless to say, that’s exactly Jack Dorsey.

And although nothing as dramatic or direct as Dylan’s crime has been committed by a social platform in real life, Facebook did contribute to the election of a literal fascist and racist despot in America through failing to address election interference on their platform. Youtube’s recommendation algorithm has facilitated the expansion of far-right radicalization by steering users towards extreme content in attempt to keep them on the site as long as possible. In both instances, these platforms’ structural issues went unaddressed by the companies before being reported on. The full effect of these problems on our physical world and physical bodies is undetermined because they are so new and complex.

HYPNOSPACE OUTLAW virtual pet
Image courtesy of No More Robots.

Final Thoughts on HYPNOSPACE OUTLAW

It’s an age of great anxiety over the virtual world, the physical world, and the slippery place where they intersect. The world has yet to know how much harm our social platforms can inflict. We struggle to explain and quantify the harm done to the real world and real bodies by these platforms. We are also struggling to define the responsibilities that social media companies have toward their users and communities. As I was feeding my virtual pet and playing at detective in the game, these were the heavy thoughts that were percolating in my head. It was a very unique gameplay experience, to say the least.

HYPNOSPACE OUTLAW is special in that it highlights the birth of the virtual existence and the sheer fun of it. But it also offers hypothetical dark and wacky instances between the virtual and physical that feel incredibly relevant. Both a thought-provoking and fun game, HYPNOSPACE OUTLAW is worth playing. I highly recommend it.

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