I’m hunched in my seat in a cozy Embraer jet on a moonlit tarmac in Iowa, de-icing by coincidence next to Donald Trump’s plane, playing a very stupid game called Adventure Capitalist. I should say “playing.” I tap my phone’s screen without thinking as buttons brighten, my finger a tiny mallet striking the heads of colorful, beveled rectangles. Like Whac-A-Mole redux, I do this over and over and over.
Then my finger pauses for a microsecond as I think; finally, a decision that requires firing synapses! Where to next? 100 novemdecillion car wash profits? 10 duodecillion angels dancing on the head of a mad money pin? Wait, what’s a quattuornonaginintillion equal to anyway?
I’m a bit late to this crazy party. Adventure Capitalist, available for PCs and mobile devices, came out of nowhere a year ago, part of the so-called “clicker” fad. It means just what it sounds like: games where you click (or tap) stuff as fast as you can. Others you may have heard of include Cookie Clicker, Candy Box and of course critic and academic Ian Bogost’s delightfully subversive Cow Clicker.
My editor tipped me off to Adventure Capitalist, in which you tap, again and again, on a series of small businesses to produce goods and sell them. (Eventually you can hire digital “managers” to do the tapping for you.) Needless to say I took the bait, and now here we are, weeks later, with thousands of lemon stands and movie studios and shrimp boats fueling an empire of unlocks and lifetime earnings, all for the sake of pushing a stupid number higher—with no end in sight. It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever played. And I can’t stop.
My screen looks like a nuclear control panel in a quirky cartoon. Pulsing green chevrons of cash-flow show my profits per second like stopwatches run amok. That’s what you do in Adventure Capitalist: accrue capital unadventurously, the aggregate number at screen top spinning too fast to count, the product of all that click-labor snowballing in a fever tycoon fantasy: minimum effort, maximum return.
Imagine being on a never-ending escalator with the facade of some fantastic mountain-climbing adventure—foothills to summit to sky—at either side. Every so often, someone shuffles over to change the scenery so it looks like you’re going somewhere. Up and up you go, eventually heading out past those snowy peaks to the stratosphere, into low-Earth orbit, and on to the Moon. Then out past the Moon and beyond Mars, arrowing out toward the infinitude of outer space.
There’s probably an ironic point here about materialism and capital for capital’s sake. Did I mention you can spend real money on gold bars that make the numbers spool up faster? Make what you will of that.
All I know is that, having conquered the introductory earth businesses, I’ve gone to the Moon (oh so slow and vexing, the Moon) and totally conquered Mars. I’ve traded quinquagintillion dollars for mega bucks tickets to permanently boost the returns of my lunar gravity booths and helium farms and werewolf colonies. I’ve participated in goofy holiday events to collect one-of-a-kind badges, and shamefully prostrated myself before tedious 20 second ads to unlock temporary bonuses.
But the one thing I’ve definitely not done: spent a single penny on this incredibly vacuous but impossible to quit addiction. Try it at your own peril.