A potato has no shape. Even among its fellow tubers — the indelible orange phallus dubbed ‘carrot’, the blood-red beet with its adorable tail — the Solanum Tuberosum struggles to stand out. The potato, in fact, is whatever we need it to be: a mirror for our fears and desires, a blank slate to be adorned with our own image (see: Mr. Potato Head).
“Our appreciation of the game has ballooned out of control.”
It’s no secret that Outermode’s staff has recently developed an unhealthy obsession with Spaceplan, a bizarre little browser-based ‘clicker’ created by Jake Hollands that has since been expanded into a full-blown title published by Devolver Digital. Our appreciation of the game has ballooned out of control and given birth to whatever the fuck we mean when we say ‘Potato Week’. Spaceplan’s premise is as absurd as it is simple: stuck on a spaceship that can only replicate potatoes, you are tasked with manipulating time and space to restore earth to its pre-apocalypse state.
Spaceplan should be depressing: you are, after all, adrift in space with nobody to keep you company but an artificial intelligence and the millions of potatoes you create to generate power. But the game’s tour de force is its insistence on deconstructing both shape and taxonomy, reducing the world to an abstract landscape populated by blobs, specks, ill-defined words, and general incompetence. In short, Spaceplan takes an inherently structured game format (defined by rising numbers and simple mathematics) and purposefully makes a complete mess of it.
“Spaceplan subverts the clicker genre by insisting that your clicks mean nothing on every level.”
Spaceplan subverts the clicker genre by insisting that your clicks mean nothing on every level — you’re creating potatoes, your mission is based on a gross misunderstanding of scientific theory, and the narrative progression is nonsense. This isn’t my own judgment — the game repeatedly breaks the fourth wall just to remind the player of its own futility. In theory this should make Spaceplan less enjoyable (what’s the point of clicking to raise numbers if they mean nothing?) Instead, the game succeeds in loosening the player’s grip on numerical progress to deliver a potent and dreamy dose of abstract art and existentialist humor.
“What’s the meaning of life? A potato.”
The potato is the perfect tuber for any absurdist hitjob: an ungraspable, shapeless non-entity that refuses all definition. It’s a dadaist punch-line for the mundane capitalist era. You work a crappy job for forty years, and for what? A potato. What’s the meaning of life? A potato. Can you imagine how much funnier Fincher’s Seven would be if at the end of the movie Brad Pitt opened the box and found a potato?
So, on this holiest of weeks, I urge you, dear readers, to remember Friedrich Nietszche’s famous words: “Beware that, when cultivating tubers, you yourself do not become a tuber… for when you gaze long into the potato. The potato gazes also into you.” Don’t say Outermode didn’t warn you.