Gamers, rise up: ‘Hypnospace Outlaw’ is the 90s internet nostalgia you didn’t know you needed

A graphic depicting a person lying in bed, with a Wi-Fi signal drawn in the style of think clouds above the person.
Graphic by Katie Erickson

The entirety of “Hypnospace Outlaw” consists of scouring the ugliest, stupidest and most hilarious web pages ever conceived, in hopes of stumbling upon violations, such as extralegal commerce or profane content.

The game is a 90s internet simulator in which you play as a moderator of “Hypnospace,” a virtual world run by “Merchantsoft” that allows users to use the internet while they sleep. Along the way, you happen upon a multitude of different users — some of whom you will come to absolutely despise, and others who will probably strike you as endearing.

Paired with a gleefully terrible 90s internet aesthetic, AOL-era cringe humor and surprising character depth, this game has a lot to offer and can appeal to a wide audience.

That being said, the first five minutes of “Hypnospace Outlaw” made me feel like a jerk.

My first task was to search for copyright infringement violations of any visual reference to an imaginary cartoon character, “Gumshoe Gooper.” He’s a cute little detective goldfish. I figured I’d just find pirated episodes of the show or something and get rid of them, but instead, I had to manually erase children’s drawings of him on a first-grade teacher’s art page.

The teacher later retaliated by having an entire forum of old, white conservatives plead their First Amendment right and post as many stickers of “Gumshoe Gooper” on their pages as they possibly could. “STAND WITH GOOPER,” their stickers screamed at me. I still had to take them down.

It’s mainly played off as a joke, and while it’s a funny one, it does offer some food for thought on both the role imagery plays in the freedom of speech and the growing importance of this freedom in an ever-changing digital landscape.

The first segment of the game ends with you discovering that one of the directors of Merchantsoft, Dylan Merchant, is pirating music. Merchant notices you taking down some of his links and promptly suspends you for three in-game weeks, but not before sending you a hostile email telling you to mind your own business and that you’re lucky that he isn’t banning you permanently.

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This is the first direct clue you receive that suggests Merchantsoft might be run by parasitic excuses for humans. This sentiment is only exacerbated by the fact that you receive no tangible compensation for moderating Hypnospace (aside from “Hypnocoin,” which is absolutely worthless outside Hypnospace) and that you are instructed to ignore sites that dispense viruses in hopes of appeasing Hypnospace’s sponsors.

There’s much to like about the game — the 90s nostalgia, the well-written characters, the situational humor — but it’s the rise and fall of Merchant that really sells the game for me.

The player sees what was once genuine enthusiasm in his project distort into callousness and corporate greed. His actions revealed at the end of the game are abhorrent and, honestly, irredeemable, but I couldn’t help but feel a little bad for him — not because I think he’s a good person, but because I know that he easily could’ve been if he had chosen a different path.

His character development is a perfect example of exactly why I love this game: It’s a story. It’s not just Dylan’s story, either — it’s T1MAGEDDONs story, it’s DarkTwilightTiff’s story, it’s RingleaderRoddy’s story, it’s every user’s story.

There are so many more things I love about this game that I wish I could talk about. The lovable ugliness of almost every webpage. The characters. The “Professor Helper” app, which is basically a human Bonzibuddy. The stupid viruses you get. The religious pages that “convert” you to Christianity by having you scroll down to the bottom. The fact that you can buy little animals to fly on your desktop and shit everywhere. Pizza dance. It’s virtually impossible to describe the compelling points of the game without spoiling all the jokes and plot points.

The core narrative of “Hypnospace Outlaw” perfectly explains the vibe of an internet community, the dangers of technological advancements and the significance of rising internet usage. If you want a game offering commentary of our past and present digital landscapes, buy “Hypnospace Outlaw.” If you want a game with a horrendous 90s aesthetic and timeless humor, buy “Hypnospace Outlaw.” If you want a game like “Papers, Please,” buy “Hypnospace Outlaw.” You won’t regret it.

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Brooke Sparks PO ’22 never thinks before she speaks. She mains Zelda in Smash Ultimate.

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