I started to write a Game of the Year list for 2019, but uhhhh it was July and I hadn't finished it so here are my thoughts on hypnospace broken out.
Hypnospace Outlaw is extremely my shit. Hypnospace Outlaw got me to consider making this site and writing stuff on it again. It made me miss the days of the personal website. Now social media allow a cover photo and avatar at best, with tumblr being the last refuge of custom looks and feels to someone's page. Hypnospace is not just a nostalgia piece though, I think even those unfamiliar with the 90's/Early 00's internet can get a lot of out Hypnospace. It is not a simple recreation or reference to the internet of the time, but something with the "feel" of that period of the internet that captures what it is remembered for in an alternate universe setting.
Hypnospace takes place in an AOL-like internet full of geocities-esque pages full of animated gifs and poor design accessed by people in their sleep using special headbands and technology we do not have today. Almost every page has autoplaying music, mostly in a simple midi-like style that many older websites had. You play as an Enforcer, a moderator of this internet and the main gameplay loop is that of a detective game, you are investigating reports of rule infractions and giving people demerits and bans for inappropriate conduct.
The first case you get is that of copyright infringement in "Good Time Valley," a community dedicated to the good old days full of older users. It seems the residents are using animated gifs and images of an older cartoon character named Gumshoe Gooper and the copyright holder is not happy about it. As you report the infractions of an elementary school teacher who posted drawings her students did of the character, she updates her status to express outrage at her unfair treatment. As the game progresses, this snowballs into an open rebellion as people begin to put "I Stand With Gumshoe Gooper" badges on their page. A page with american flags and patriotic midis is created to denounce the communist plot to take down Gumshoe Gooper and take away their rights to free speech as the community becomes divided over the issue. The debate bleeds over to other communities with "Teentopia"'s teenage hacker T1MAGEDDON making a satirical page about it to keep people riled up.
The thing I liked the most about Hypnospace is the characters involved weren't just there to be funny. They all have their own lives and relationships you can glean from their pages. Abby, the school teacher, is lonely after her daughter died at a young age and she lost her husband. The trial of Gumshoe Gooper's censorship causes her and another member to begin an online relationship as they bond over organizing the protest. Abby is popular in the community and is friends with an older biker who lost his wife a few years ago and they connected over their shared loss. The gooper gifs are made by a furniture salesman who lost the use of his legs in a car accident in his early twenties and uses hypnospace to communicate with people who don't just think of him as the guy in the wheelchair. Each investigation allows you to go down a rabbit hole of webrings and links to find out more about the characters and their lives.
Every area in Hypnospace includes its own cast of characters whose homepages give you glimpses into their lives. There's the pastor's kid in Teentopia afraid her dad is going to take away her Squisherz game because he thinks its satanic. There's a recurring washed-up musician known as "The Chowder Man" (played by internet funny guy Hot Dad) who is trying to return to popularity and is the source of the funniest songs in the game.
Most of the gameplay involves searching for keywords to find pages both listed and unlisted related to whatever investigation you're currently working on. This is reminescent of Sam Barlow's 2015 game Her Story and its computer-based search puzzle. The conceit works well enough and facilitates finding easter eggs and new pages and it helps that other mechanics are layered on top of it regarding hidden pages and areas. Collecting icons, wallpapers, themes, virtual pets and especially music tracks were really enough for me to keep engaging with every page I could find.
I don't have anything particularly profound to say about Hypnospace and its overall story arc, so I won't go into great detail about it. But the story of corporate greed and shortsightedness, teenagers desperately trying to be cool and loved and the ending really emotionally affected me in a way I didn't expect. Hypnospace does a great job of capturing that feeling of putting an image of yourself out there for others to see and how others who see this can keep an image of who you are for years to come.