A few days ago, I'm catching up on some last season television in preparation for the new season of shows that starting this week. While I'm sitting there on the couch, my girlfriend was busy on her MacBook Pro: this isn't odd, she's usually doing some work or browsing the web while we watch TV. What is odd is what she's doing on the laptop.
Furiously clicking her MacBook Pro's touchpad. I wonder if maybe she is playing Diablo III again? I ask her what she's doing.
"I got a golden cookie on Cookie Clicker," she replies.
What the hell is Cookie Clicker? She sends me a link to the game and the down the rabbit hole I go.
I'm greeted by a single, giant floating cookie. One click on that cookie gives me one cookie. A tiny cookie falls from the sky into some milk at the bottom of the screen. Who cares if I have one cookie? Over on the right side of the browser window, I see that I can buy a cursor for 15 cookies. Simple enough. Cookies continue to fall with every click.
I buy cursor, which clicks for me every 10 seconds. The little hand floats around the giant cookie, poking it every few seconds. Buying the cursor also gives me upgrades in the game's Store. For 100 cookies I can make the cursor and the mouse twice as efficient, or buy my first grandma. Grandmas bake cookies for me, faster than the basic cursor can click them. Let's get to one hundred.
'Achievement unlocked: Making some dough,' the game tells me at the bottom of the screen. There are achievements? I buy a grandma and the game adds a visual representation of the grandma in the center of my window. I get another achievement. She's baking 0.5 cookies per second. I don't even need to click to make cookies anymore! I can wait for her to get me to 100 cookies. But why wait? If I had two grandmas, I'd be going faster. But buying each grandma raises the price of grandmas, so you need to work harder next time.
This is how Cookie Clicker gets you. You click, you see your number of cookies go up. You use the cookies to buy things that will make your number of cookies go up faster, so you can buy more things to make more cookies.
Cookie Clicker is pure game design at work.
It's simple, but there's feedback for everything. In the early game, a '+1' pops up when you click the shining cookie. And a cookie falls from the ceiling into the milk, which gets higher as you play. One grandma sees your cookie counter go up slowly. Expand your cookie-making empire with grandmas, factories, alchemy labs, portals, and antimatter condensers, and you'll make more cookies per second. Everything you buy is visually represented on your screen, and even the upgrades you purchase change the look of your workers.
Cookie Clicker is game feedback at its finest.
This all started for me two days ago. My cookie-making universe produces 732 million cookies per second. That's the metric you share with others who have fallen into Cookie Clicker. Cookies per second is the benchmark, the badge of honor. Every time I click the Cookie Singularity - that's what I call it now - I get 29 million cookies. And for some reason I keep checking; in-between articles, I hop back in to see how many cookies I have. I need more to buy more antimatter condensers, the pinnacle of cookie-making efficiency. My girlfriend and I share our cookie-making progress when she comes home. It's a competition. Sharing your cookies per second is one part pride, one part shame.
My upgrades and achievements are a colorful array of badges. I have worker grandmas, cosmic grandmas, altered grandmas, and antigrandmas. Getting 100 factories gave me the 'Hollow the Planet' achievement. My milk is halfway up the screen and it turned red long ago. With the cookies falling in the background, the 100 cursors dutifully clicking, and the red milk, I thought Cookie Clicker was making some post-apocalyptic statement. Nope, the red milk is just raspberry milk.
I have no clue when I'll stop playing, but I'm surprised to find that I care about my little cookie world. It could be next week that I stop, maybe the week after that. But until then, I share it. "Join me in cookie heaven," I tell others. I gave Jaz the link to Cookie Clicker two days ago and it got him too. I gave it to another friend last night prior to recording a podcast. It delayed the podcast; I could just hear the clicking over his mic for a good ten minutes. And an almost silent, "Oh my god..."
Cookie Clicker is addictive fun.
It's ridiculous, it's pointless, but yet Cookie Clicker is strangely addictive. Or is that obsessive-compulsive? Either way, I'm hooked on this complete and utter waste of time. Indeed, so much so that it's raising a number of existential questions about the very fundamentals of gaming, which I'll write about at some point soon.
What I'm interested in seeing is how other people react to this stripped-down, no-frills slice of gaming... well... I don't really know what it is. I'm sure some will look at it and wonder why anyone would even bother to spend more than a few seconds with it. While others - as I've already seen - are drawn to its indescribable charms like a moth to a light. Quite how long it'll hold my attention, I really don't know. But I've had it ticking away in the corner of my screen for just over 24 hours, and I keep checking it, buying upgrades when I can, and pushing my cookie output ever higher. Because to me, this is highscoring simplicity at its finest: you can always do better. You always will do better. It's inevitable. It requires no real effort... yet somehow it feels rewarding and fun.
Like I said, I really don't know what other people will make of it - but I urge you to try it and see what happens. For me, it's almost like the gaming equivalent of getting a tune stuck in your head for days. It just keeps on running around and around and you don't know why - but it does it anyway. That's Cookie Clicker in a nutshell. The annoying gaming ditty that you just can't get out of your head.
Thanks Mike. Thanks a lot.