Taking a moment away from clicking furiously on the giant cookie image on my screen, I can type the statistics numbers into my calculator and determine that twenty-three hundred and some number of days that the game considers me to have been playing this particular round is roughly… six and a half years.
Another calculation and I can easily see that to reach the next milestone in the game means I need to accumulate a “score” roughly equal to ten times the score I’ve accumulated in the entire six and a half years that I’ve already been playing. No problem.
I watch the window for a few more seconds, then relegate the browser game to my second monitor with the corner peeking out from behind some other more important documents.
Cookie Clicker will run forever. And ever. Even if I close the browser, turn off the computer, pack it in a box and open it up next year to blow off the dust: opening the game URL will load my save and calculate that some impossible number of cookies have been created in my absence. On and on. Forever.
This is what’s called an “idle game”. Cookie Clicker is as much about planning and automating the accumulation of cookies — the score, currency, and namesake of the game — as the player waits minutes, hours, days, weeks… years. Idle. Playing if often not even remembering that the game is still active. Counting. Accumulating.
Accumulated cookies can be spent on upgrades, multipliers, enhancements, game states, and more. They are the ultimate McGuffin. I can attest to this as having accumulated over 107 nonillion virtual biscuits — roughly 107,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 — over my six and a half years of playing, my web browser has yet to deposit so much as one into my mouth.
Yet I click.
But mostly just let the game run idly in the background as I do other things: work, play, read, write, sleep.
If I imply some sort of obsession here, don’t read it that way.
I’ve been replaying — or more accurately, reloading and continuing playing the same round of — Cookie Clicker for the last few days because as with many past visits to this modest not-an-obsession, I accidentally stumbled across a bookmark or started typing a similar URL into my browser or was otherwise reminded of this mindless, mouse-destroying pastime for long enough to revisit the game. Temporary obsession may be a fair assessment, but over a year had passed since I last loaded the familiar chocolate chip-laden disc into my screen and in that span I had all but forgotten about clicking cookies for fun and distraction.
The premise of the game is simple and addictive.
As you open a new window, a cookie floats on a bare dashboard. Clicking the cookie with your mouse cursor will produce a single cookie. One. You click it again. And about ten more times. Your ten cookies will buy an automated cursor that will hover over the cookie and click on the floating cookie once every ten seconds or so. Forever. You click more, obviously, then buy another cursor. Repeat.
The more you click, the more you buy, the more you automate, the more you accumulate. Soon you have enough cookies to buy a grandma who will bake one cookie per second… then enough to buy a cookie farm, then…
The game never really ends.
The more you buy, the more automated cookie production you add, the stranger things get, and always the more value your clicks create (I’m currently producing 46 septillion cookies with every click of my mouse and automatically 343 septillion cookies per second). Spectacular. Weird.
Cookie Clicker is not infinitely complex, obviously. Online there are those who have “finished” it — and it seems like that could be a strategic endeavour lasting decades at the frequency which I play — but for a game that can run quietly in the background and ignored for long stretches of time, returning to it for a few minutes at a time over the course of a day or a week, on a lunch break or while waiting for a call to start, it has a depth that is just enough to be worth appreciating. Re-appreciating.