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Donut County: How I learned to love being a hole

And ruin the lives of others

Simone de Rochefort has been producing & hosting YouTube videos for Polygon since 2016. She co-directed the upcoming documentary The Great Game: The Making of Spycraft.

“Well, that was really satisfying,” I thought. I had just finished condemning the citizens of a perfectly nice little town to a dark existence 900 feet below the surface of the earth.

Donut County is the latest project from Ben Esposito, the creator of Tattletail and Anamanaguchi’s Capsule Silence XXIV. In Donut County, you’re a hole. As a hole, you can whizz around the screen, first swallowing up small objects — rocks, blades of grass. Then you get bigger. Soon you can swallow people, and entire buildings.

Donut County’s simplistic gameplay pings some part of my brain that wants everything to be organized. When the final object — or character — falls into the hole and the screen is clear, you feel an undue sense of accomplishment.

In between levels, there are comedic glimpses of what’s going on 900 feet below the surface of the earth — where all the characters condemned to darkness are chilling around a campfire.

Donut County characters discuss their predicament around a campfire.
How did we get here?
Ben Esposito/Annapurna Interactive

There’s a dubious morality to this game that is offset by the adorable character designs and the art —and the ridiculous concept, which actually originated on a joke Twitter account.

“There was this Twitter account called Peter Molydeux, which was a joke on Peter Molyneux,” Esposito explained. “And it just posts game ideas, and one of the them was: you play as a hole in the ground. And that's it.”

He prototyped the idea, and said that he had the same reaction I did: it’s really satisfying to be a hole.

I giggled my way through the entire demo. The dialogue, delivered mostly by talking animal characters, is irreverent and funny. Underground, they take turns trying to figure out what the heck happened to them. The gameplay takes place in flashbacks where you, as the hole, chase the storyteller down and ultimately swallow them. Esposito described these flashbacks as “little pinhole views” of the world.

“None of the characters really understood what happened to them,” said Esposito. “They all got sucked up by the hole but they're all wrong about the reasons for it.”

Music and lighting cues took the second level from funny to slightly melancholy, in a seamless transition. I felt a little sad about what I was doing to these people — not bad enough to stop playing, obviously, because it was stupidly fun.

Donut County gameplay
Look out for that hole.
Ben Esposito/Annapurna Interactive

“Ultimately the hole isn't a person, it's a force,” said Esposito. “It’s a mysterious thing that's just doing its job. [...] You're always going to put them in the hole at the end and I really want to get that emotional arc of the bittersweet feeling.”

In essence, you can have fun, but you’re always there to put the characters in a hole.

Donut County gif of a raccoon
No one is safe from the hole.
Ben Esposito/Annapurna Interactive

The two levels that I played each seemed to have a small arc of their own. In the first level, for example, there’s a raccoon on a vespa. At first you can’t fit the raccoon, but you can knock over his vespa if the wheel gets caught in the hole. Finally, once the hole grows big enough, the raccoon topples in, vespa and all.

So like, what’s up with the hole?

“There's a lot going on,” said Esposito. “It’s ultimately really silly.”

Donut County is coming to Mac, PC and iOS, with other platforms coming but unconfirmed. I saw two of what will ultimately be about 20 levels, and I can’t wait to go deeper.

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