I now know what it’s like to be addicted to drugs. That hyperbolic statement may seem out of place and a little insensitive, but bear with me. See, until this week, I wasn’t aware of the addictive properties of a new drug. It was only released onto the market weeks ago, and has already cost hundreds of hours of inactivity. Its chemical name is complicated, but users have taken to calling it by its new street title – Cookie Clicker. Here’s what we found out on investigation.
Cookie Clicker started as an experiment from Orteil, whose previous projects include trying to organise the whole universe into nested list form. From such a creator, another hyper-organised game that’s only slightly interactive was always on the cards, and Cookie Clicker is exactly that. The situation is this – You want some cookies. You click the cookie on the left of the screen and, lo and behold, a cookie is added to your total. After you gather 15 cookies, you can buy a cursor that clicks for you every ten seconds. And… wait, you can buy upgrades that make your buildings more efficient. And mines, and factories, and more upgrades, and – hold on a minute.
…and I’m back. See, this is the game that unwraps the bit of gameplay that drives itself like an icepick into your brain’s pleasure centres without even doing anything clever or creative. You just watch the numbers climb, and then use them to make more numbers. It’s incredibly simple, but the thrill of buying your first time machine and watching your cookies-per-second shoot into the air will not be matched.
Obviously, it was never going to be a graphical powerhouse, and as such simplistic menus and visual effects are the order of the day. However, Cookie Clicker actually has comparatively nice presentation next to the few other games in this ‘slow development’ genre, most of which are text based and one of which (Progress Quest) is merely a case of watching a progress bar repeatedly fill.
Now obviously, a game about watching numbers grow faster and faster would get boring after a while, so Cookie Clicker has a few other mechanics to keep players on their toes. Golden cookies will flash up on screen every few minutes and players can gain bonuses by clicking on them. These range from a simple injection of a large number of cookies, to an increased production rate, to a personal favourite which has the player playing a game of whack-a-mole with golden cookies, with the prize increasing each time.
However, the golden cookies are also tied to a rather darker aspect of the game, which only becomes apparent late on. The kindly Grandmas you enslaved to bake for you are not pleased about this, and once you start messing with dark upgrades costing billions of cookies, you unwittingly help them develop a malicious hive mind. This geriatriconsciousness will throw red cookies at you, which aren’t always pleasant. Your production rate may clog up, you may lose cookies, but you should never mess with the Grandmapocalypse. The Grandmas can be placated, either temporarily or with an expensive permanent upgrade, but they’ll never entirely go away. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Cookie Clicker isn’t fun so much as it flips a little switch in your brain that makes you need to play more of it. It can be a bit strange at first, but relax and keep clicking, and it’ll suck you in like a cookie portal on a x7 production bonus. Check it out here, and be prepared to lose several hundred hours of your life. All hail the Grandmatriarch.