Police a weird retrofuturistic internet
I’ve never played anything like it, and it’s completely unpredictable
Set within a fictional operating system called HypnOS, Hypnospace Outlaw is, initially at least, a game about policing a futuristic internet. But in this future, the ’90s web aesthetic never went away. Browse this faux-web’s many odd pages, and you’ll see threeframe gifs, tiled backgrounds, low-res photos, garish text, and under construction signs. You’re an enforcer for Hypnospace, a corporation that runs this retrofuturistic internet, and you’re paid for finding content that breaks the rules and censoring it. You get an early taste of this when the copyright holder for a cartoon detective (and also a fish) wants you to search the web for people using the character without permission. And when you find a page full of cute kids’ drawings of the character, you inform Hypnospace, and see them replaced by a big red X and CONTENT REMOVED in all caps. Fan art is not allowed on Hypnospace, even if you’re a sweet little kid. It’s brutal.
The humor is darkly hilarious, and I love how the game mixes contemporary issues such as internet censorship with a nostalgic art style. Even though I do feel bad about deleting these kids’ drawings, I get a buzz out of using the hammer icon to smash away at rule-breaking images and watching my bank balance tick up as a reward. You have to be sure a piece of content is breaking one of Hypnospace’s laws, though, otherwise you’re punished for wasting resources on false claims.
Crimes include targeted harassment and sites offering payment with a currency other than HypnoCoin. You receive missions by email, and you’re given a ‘region’ of the internet to police for each one, narrowing things down. You’re given a set number of illegal items to remove, but the more you find beyond that, the more money you’ll earn. Site authors will also react to their censorship when you come back later, making you feel bad about what you’re doing.
Later tasks are more challenging, forcing you to use a search engine to try and dig out obscure pages to find a piece of illegal content you’ve been asked to delete. Some people, including a bully called Zane, whose website claims he’s ‘sexy both online and off’, knows Hypnospace is after him, and goes to great lengths to hide his crimes. But this makes you feel like a detective, uncovering his secrets by cross-referencing and focusing in on keywords. It’s satisfying finding a hidden page and smiting its content. I also had fun just surfing the web. It’s so dense with weird music, surreal art, oddball humor, apps, wallpapers and sound files you can tinker with. I spent some of my earnings on a virtual hamster with wings, who flew around my desktop covering it in turds, then died because I didn’t feed him. Now there’s a tombstone in the corner of my screen that I feel bad about every time I click back to my desktop. Every pixel of the game is full of personality. And you can make your own retro-style web pages with an editor bundled with the game.
I get the feeling there’s more to HypnospaceOutlaw, though. The ‘outlaw’ in the title suggests you won’t be policing the internet for the whole game, and I love the idea of becoming a rebel and bringing Hypnospace down from the inside—if indeed that’s the direction the game goes in. I honestly don’t know, and that’s what’s exciting about this game. I’ve never played anything like it, and it’s completely unpredictable. It’s stylish, funny, clever and the virtual OS is a lot of fun to play around with. And if you remember having your own GeoCities page back in the day, then you’ll get an extra kick out of it.
Digital desktop pets are more hassle than they’re worth.
The art is brilliantly nostalgic.