Dubious Games: Cookie Clicker
In Dubious Games, we take a look at weird games, fringe games, and things that might not even technically be "games" at all.
Cookie Clicker is dangerous.
It seems so innocent, too. That's part of the danger.
What is Cookie Clicker?
If you've never played Cookie Clicker before, a good way to understand the game is to give it a try while you read this article. Go ahead and open up this link in a new tab. Click the cookie 15 times, and you'll be able to buy a cursor from the store on the right hand side. Do that now, then click until you have enough to buy at least one more cursor. Now just let the game run in its tab in the background. We'll check in on it later.
Cookie Clicker is a free online game that falls into the "idle gaming" genre, which is a fairly recent development in the world of gaming that includes games where the goal is, by and large, to minimize player interaction and input. While many mobile and free-to-play games emerge as idle games by default for players who prefer to wait for opportunities to take action rather than paying real-life money, Cookie Clicker is something entirely different.
Cookie Clicker is about baking virtual cookies. You bake these virtual cookies by clicking a big, delicious-looking chocolate chip cookie. Each click gives you a single cookie, and that's how it works...at first. Before too long, though, you'll be able to exchange your cookies for cookie-baking assistance, which initially comes in the form of cursors which automatically click the cookie every few seconds, whether you're playing along or not. After you have some cursors you can begin hiring a team of friendly grandmas, who'll generate a certain number of cookies per second themselves. Beyond the grandmas come cookie farms, factories, mines, and even stranger things.
It doesn't take long at all for the game to get ridiculous, and that absurdist sense of humor is a large part of the game's charm. Playing Cookie Clicker for a few hours will see you amass millions of cookies, and the in-game news ticker will begin to inform you of the latest cookie-related happenings in the world at large. Most of the upgrades (purchasable with cookies, of course) have humorous names, as do the in-game achievements. It's all just loony enough to keep you interested.
Cookies all the way down
Though its core mechanic is just about as simple as you can get, a surprising complexity emerges the longer you play Cookie Clicker. While you'll most likely purchase just about every upgrade eventually, the choice of which to prioritize and which upgrade tree to pursue first can be an interesting one. The cost of different cookie-producing methods increases rapidly, and it isn't always worth it to save up for the item that produces the most cookies per second per unit if you could buy several cheaper items for the same price.
Then there's the question of how you plan to play. Despite the name of the game, it's very possible to play Cookie Clicker doing very little clicking at all, once you get your cookie empire established. Whether you're an active participant or not, your grandmas and factories and alchemy labs will keep churning out cookies.
In fact, you don't even have to watch the game if you don't want to. As long as it's open in a browser tab, you'll be earning cookies. Surf the web or play some other video game for a while, then check back on Cookie Clicker and marvel at how many cookies you now have to spend on new upgrades.
While we're on the subject, it's probably a good time to check on your bakery. Go back to that other tab you opened at the start of the article. Do you have enough cookies to buy a Grandma? Great! Go ahead and do that. Buy as much stuff as you can, actually, click the cookie a few times if you like, then read on.
There are advantages to doing more active cookie-clicking, if that's your style. Plenty of upgrades increase the power of your personal clicks, and a fully-upgraded mouseclick can potentially generate more cookies per second than just about anything else in the game. Then there are the golden cookies to consider -- clickable bonuses that appear on screen for just a few seconds, and which provide huge boosts if you're fast enough to catch them.
All of this adds up to a game that is both addictive and minimally interactive -- a strange combination indeed. When I first played this game a while back, what started as a diversion ended up becoming serious business. I'd have the game running in the background all day at work. I discussed strategies with my coworker. The two of us argued about whether it was "cheating" to let the game run in an open browser all night long. I felt that it was against the spirit of the thing, but I'll admit it's a difficult position to defend with any certainty. The game constantly auto-saves and closing your browser won't erase your progress, so it just felt right to me to close the game when I wasn't physically at my computer...but your style might be different. That's okay.
This game was a huge part of my life for about two weeks. I even made a spreadsheet to figure out the most efficient way to spend my cookies (you need to determine how many cookies per second buying an additional unit will produce for all the various cookie production methods, then you need to compare that to the cost of each unit, which increases depending on how many you already have, and...you know what? Never mind).
Say, how is your game going in that other tab? Want to check on it real quick? You probably should.
Can you buy any farms yet? Or maybe some upgrades at the top of the store? Maybe you should click for a while -- just think about how much you could buy if you just spent five minutes clicking that cookie!
Too Many Cookies
Are you still reading this, or are you just managing your bakery? I guess I'll wrap things up soon, since it's very likely you're already hooked. There's no time for reading: the cookies need you.
There is no end to Cookie Clicker, unless you consider reaching the arbitrary, game-breaking upper limits for items and cookie production an "end" in the same way Minecraft's Far Lands are a goal for some players. Until those extreme points the game just keeps going. The cookies just keep multiplying. It's a game that can rule your world for a brief, crazy period, and then eventually you'll either get bored of it and quit or you'll finally do a hard reset of your game, wiping all your data in a desperate effort to free yourself from your fresh-baked chocolate chip shackles.
I'm sure that to some people -- maybe even most people -- Cookie Clicker sounds like the dumbest game in the world. But for a certain segment of the gaming population, it pushes exactly the right brain buttons. It can give you just what you need from a game, stripped down to the essential core and covered with an alternately sweet and sinister coating.
A final word of warning before I let you go: contrary to what you might expect, it is actually very possible for someone to spoil the events that unfold in Cookie Clicker for you. I've avoided it in this article, but my advice is to avoid reading anything detailed about the game until you've played it for a while and discovered some of the secrets the game holds for yourself.
Goodbye, good luck, and good cookies.