by Jed Pressgrove
In Hypnospace Outlaw, the object is to scour and flag fictional web pages for violations such as content infringement, harassment, and obscenity. The game’s puzzles, if one can call them that, recall the tedious desk work of a technical editor, and the audiovisuals evoke social networks of the 1990s and early 2000s. Think of this title, then, as Papers, Please meets Myspace — a combination that, on a basic conceptual level, reeks of tedium.
As an enforcer of Internet law in 1999, the player must grapple with an outdated interface, very noticeable loading times, less-than-ideal navigation, and the garish, cheapo imagery of web pages created by precocious children, jealous teenagers, overbearing Christians, douchebag rock musicians, clueless businesses, phony spiritual advisers, and other groups you’ve probably already laughed at while online.
In other words, Hypnospace Outlaw’s satirical vision would’ve seemed daring if it had been released about 20 years ago. Today, this game registers more as a mildly amusing representation of the early days of user-generated profiles on major platforms. Now that we are all used to slicker-looking and more intuitive social media, Hypnospace Outlaw encourages a type of nostalgic, smug laughter. We can cherish how lame we were a couple of decades ago and how much better we look now.
It wouldn’t have been impossible for developer Tendershoot, through reference to history, to say something relevant or, more wishfully, incisive about who we are as a modern online people. But Hypnospace Outlaw mocks the utter naivety of yesteryear too much to function as a commentary on our current struggle — namely, the modern Internet user’s willingness to knowingly reject their own interests in order to have convenient access to products. That we can play Hypnospace Outlaw on Steam, a platform that exploits our culture’s apathy and consumerism (as suggested by the 2015 satire Crime Is Sexy), tells us that the comedy has no fangs.