Games are just, dang, so surprising, you know? I’ll sit down, play a game, write a little about it, and halfway through whatever thing I’m writing I’ll have a totally tangential and equally interesting idea about whatever game. Today’s weird-ass-and-tangential topic is about Innerspace. Specifically, about the way its narrative and mechanics hint at themes far deeper and a lot more “ponderance of human existence”-type stuff than I expected.
For those of you that missed my video, Innerspace is a game that has you flying around, collecting artifacts of a lost civilization, and trying to find a way out of the small web of spheres you find yourself in. Very straightforward, very simple, and easy to accept as nothing more than the narrative framework for some enjoyable gameplay.
But hey, guess what, my dumb brain decided that there’s way more to it than that and, in reading into Innerspace’s presentation and story I’ve decided that this is a game about way more than grabbing toys. It’s a game with narrative built on a foundation that observes human nature- the struggle of society to be remembered in the face of time itself, and of the war between the natural and the manufactured.
We, as humans, have an innate desire to be remembered or to leave our mark on the world. I don’t strictly mean this in the “bigass all the world affected” sense, either. On a smaller scale, humans desire to affect those around them- to make their friends happy and to build memories with those we care about. It’s those memories that qualify as our “mark on the world”, and with the exception of a handful of individuals, being remembered in some way is important to us.
We also have an insatiable thirst for knowledge, specifically of our species’ past. There are multiple entire sciences and studies dedicated to analyzing remnants of humanity’s past, dedicated to putting the puzzle pieces together.
We see both of these facets within the artifact collection and analysis facets of Innerspace. Moments after you’re brought to life, a sentient submarine calling itself The Archeologist asks you to assist it in gathering artifacts- statues and toys left by a vanished civilization- so that they can analyze and document the video-gamey collectibles, much like real-world archeologists do with actual artifacts. Woah! Crazy! Videogames!
It’s in this way that we see all the pieces of humankind’s struggles.
Through the artifacts, which are bits of ancient technology or toys or statues situated firmly on pedestals, we see the struggle of the ancestors to be remembered. In order to have some little, tiny, bit of potential to be remembered- in order to leave some kind of mark on the world, even if there’s nothing beyond it and nothing after them, they went to absurd lengths and created ridiculous things in hopes they’d outlast civilization itself.
The character of The Archeologist furthers this metaphor. Is that a good word for it? I don’t know, call it whatever you’re gonna call it.
An Archeologist is someone that studies remnants of the past to discern meaning from them. In Innerspace, our friendly neighborhood sentient submarine pal who is named after that profession has a fairly fitting thirst for knowledge. Throughout the entire adventure, the peculiar submersible expresses a constant curiousity about the world they find theirself in. Every time something new is learned or found, they express their desire to understand the why and how behind whatever it is. At times, it seems like The Archeologist is more interested in learning about the Innerspace, Ancestors, and Demigods more than they are concerned with escape.
Between the artifacts left by the ancestors and the archeologist joining in on our adventure, we have two analogues for the two biggest ways humanity holds onto the past and tries to leave our mark on the future. Since we only ever experience Innerspace in its world’s present- never going into a flashback or jumping ahead in time- we’re placed in the perfect spot to learn about this world’s history, to do with that knowledge what we may. In this way, the developers themselves have left us a kind of artifact, don’t you think?
It’s entirely possible that this theme that I’ve found within Innerspace isn’t something intended at all, I guess that’s kinda the point? I played this game that, really, was just about flying around cool spaces and collecting cool things. Despite its simplicity, I’ve been able to read into it and extract some perhaps-not-intended meaning. I’m not really sure where I’m trying to go with this to tie things up, so I’m rambling a little bit, but I just think it’s cool, you know?
Games are what we make of them, and their meaning or themes are an extension of that fact. Don’t be afraid to read into things.