Platform: Browser (PC)
Cookie Clicker is a free web game created by Orteil where you click on a cookie. You get cookies for every click, and those cookies can be spent on things like extra cursors, grandmas, factories, mines, and so on, increasing your cookie output. The prices for these items increase as you buy more, allowing for a constant progression. It’s such a simple, some would say stupid, game, but it has a growing community of dedicated clickers.
Is Cookie Clicker an interesting game? What differentiates it from mechanically similar games like Farmville? Well, there’s no paywall to start. You are able to purchase all 9 items, assuming you have enough cookies, at the start of the game. There’s no cooldown for buying items or clicking cookies, unless your finger falls off, in which case there would be a slight cooldown when switching fingers. None of the mechanics are limited to the player. There’s also no incentive to get cookies. There is no win state, no badges to showcase on social networking sites. There are achievements, but they have no major effect on the game, nor can they be shared with others. This is likely to turn off a lot of people, but the result of this tradeoff is a staggering amount of freedom.
With a seemingly simple structure and no player guidance whatsoever, Cookie Clicker welcomes experimentation and the pursuit of personal goals. You could try min/maxing everything to increase your cookie output, or you could pursue dumber goals. I’ve attempted a playthrough purchasing only cursors, the slowest form of cookie output, simply because I like the way they hover up and down, creating a pulsating ring around the cookie. I’ve attempted a painfully slow playthrough where I only allow myself to click the cookie 15 times, just enough to purchase one cursor, then relying on items to bolster my cookie output. This isn’t to say that the developer plays no role in the game. There are also frequent updates tweaking prices and powerups, fostering a dedicated community.
Sounds a bit like Minecraft, doesn’t it? At least in its early stages of development. Both are open-ended, deceptively simple games with limitless potential for player expression and constant updates. Where Minecraft fails compared to Cookie Clicker is its debilitating feature creep and weak interaction with its community. Constantly adding more features without explaining them fully made Minecraft impossible to play without use of a fanmade wiki, and while achievements were ostensibly an attempt to guide players, they were a weak offering. Cookie Clicker triumphs by perfecting its formula rather than making it more complex; keeping it simple, but not stupid.
Is Cookie Clicker post-modern? Does it use its premise and mechanics to make some bold statement about games or the game industry? Is it a scathing indictment of the practice of selling glorified Skinner boxes piecemeal to an unsuspecting, cattle-like public, willing to starve their children and themselves in the ironic pursuit of intangible food? It’s possible. One of the repercussions of making a game so vague is that it encourages speculation. Even if no statement has been made by the creator suggesting an ulterior motive, people will attempt to find some hidden meaning, or some justification for the ostensibly simple product. Who knows? Maybe there is some hidden meaning to it. Perhaps if you gaze long into the cookie, the cookie will gaze back into you, mocking your clicks, your sore fingers, your empty stomach, your worried family members, smiling contentedly all the while?
Sounds a bit like Cow Clicker, doesn’t it? Unfortunately I can’t make an accurate comparison between the two, seeing as I never played it and it no longer exists. So why not compare it to Little Inferno? Both are a twist on a well-worn formula, encouraging constant progression toward an unknown goal, leaving an uncomfortable feeling in your gut. Where Little Inferno fails compared to Cookie Clicker is by bludgeoning its message over your head. Throughout the game you are being told through letters about the collateral environmental and psychological damage brought about by obsessively burning everything you can get your hands on. At the end (SPOILERS), you burn down your house and are forced to walk around the world you helped ruin. There’s a message about the dangers of wasting your time playing silly games and how time is precious and it’s told in the preachiest way possible. With Cookie Clicker, there is no great revelation, no great secret. There are only cookies.
Try Cookie Clicker. It’s definitely not for everyone, but it’s free and it’s interesting. One thing’s for certain: people will be talking about it for a while, and you won’t want to miss out.