Lots of anti-gaming folks have been telling us to put down our controllers and memory cards for a while and look into something called "outside". While the meaning of this directive has been a mystery for far too long, a discussion over at MetaFilter finally figured it all out. Someone by the name of aeschenkarnos has been able to track down a copy of this Outside game and explain just what it's all about.
Traditionally Outside receives extremely high ratings by those who like to see others play it, and these people are in many cases comfortably ensconced Inside themselves. Outside was released many years ago, it was in fact the first massively multiplayer game, and yet it has always managed to avoid the double-edged Retro tag. In its favor, continual user updates have kept Outside current; there are always new things to see and do Outside. Participants are permitted, to some extent, to modify their own areas of Outside, which is a large part of the fun of the game. However it seems that in the end one is modifying Outside largely for the sake of it, and having done it, there is a distinct feeling of "now what?"
In terms of the traditional target age content metrics, Outside is remarkably high in sex, violence and challenges to traditional values, despite the strong child-focused marketing it receives. Many would go so far as to say that for a child to develop the ability to cope with Outside is essential, as long as the harm incurred is not too debilitating. Children injured playing Outside are usually comforted by parents, and soon encouraged to go Outside again; this leads to the conclusion that somehow Outside has escaped any and all of the usual moralizing that surrounds the video gaming industry. One might say that Outside gets a free pass from the Jack Thompsons of this world.
That aside, how does Outside actually rate? The physics system is note-perfect (often at the expense of playability), the graphics are beyond comparison, the rendering of objects is absolutely beautiful at any distance, and the player's ability to interact with objects is really limited only by other players' tolerance. The real fundamental problem with the game is that there is nothing to do.
I've tried Outside and while I can see the appeal, it can leave me wanting more. There's far too much level-grinding and a lack of fantastic power-ups. Taking damage actually causes physical pain for some bizarre reason. Too many of the other players tend to be complete jerks, too. I cannot fault the length of the game, however. Do things right and there's enough content in Outside to last a lifetime. It's not always the most exciting or rewarding content, but it's there.
UPDATE 4/7/2008: It's Patch Day! Outside was updated to version 4562365148.1516 this morning.