CLICK. CLICK. CLICK. CLICK. CLICK. CLICK. CLICK. CLICK. CLICK. CLICK.
March 11, 2019 4:43 PM   Subscribe

Confessions of an idle gamer [A.V. Club] “I have a confession, friends: I have clicked the cookie. [...] I have ground the realms, I have gleamed the cube of adventurous capitalism. I opened the candy box, I unleashed the hypnodrones, I idled my way through factories, painting galleries, and dungeons galore. Like some sort of bleary-eyed, carpal-tunneled foster father, I have raised trimps, kittens, penguins, alien bugs, and dozens of other adorable stand-ins for the hard reality of filling bars and steadily rising sums. In my darkest moments, I’ve even spent hours of my ostensibly precious life on games that don’t even bother to cloak their mechanisms behind some kind of cutesy conceit, serving as little more than a series of bars that steadily, inexorably go up. Very little of it has been fun in any traditional sense, and much of it has arrived with a grim sense of confinement and compulsion. But I’ve done it.”
posted by Fizz (30 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
*CLICKS*
posted by Fizz at 4:43 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


I have a hard time describing my feels about this. I don’t judge, I’m past when that came quite as easily as it once did, but I do verge on... worry? I say this as someone who dodged the cookies but fell prey to the potatoes.
posted by RolandOfEld at 4:47 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


oh god clicker heroes.

I feel like the real game is the metagame - that you have to run the numbers for every decision you make in order to try to make the most optimal choice at every turn. CH was both a speed run as well as an endurance run - there was a game within a game aspect where you had to run through the game many multiple times to move certain counts forward. It's addictive but god so ultimately pointless.

Unless real games like X-Com which, uh, have, uh... consequences? A point? I guess you can win X-Com at least.

Maybe clicker games just point out the fundamental pointlessness of all games.

THANKS CLICKER HEROES YOU RUINED GAMES FOR ME
posted by GuyZero at 5:06 PM on March 11 [13 favorites]


I used to have a real problem with idle games, only curtailed by my complete disinterest in them once all the mechanics were exposed and the only thing left was restarting to be able to reach certain numbers quicker.

Four things ended up breaking me:
  • Getting idle games on my phone - almost all of them are built so that they'll continue on even if you don't have it open, actively playing.
  • Playing Realm Grinder, which has a mechanic where you trade in the restart multiplier for new mechanics, and one of those mechanics involves a system where you unlock upgrades by fulfilling specific criteria that aren't known to you. You only get a percentage and have to suss it out, which sometimes requires you to build a certain way, and often requires you to unlock other upgrades first so that it's possible in linear time. It was so much fun, and watching as the increasing number gradually trivialised the system was crushing.
  • Playing Kittens Game, and discovering that I greatly preferred idle systems where instead of making numbers going up to values unachievable in reality, you get varying kinds of resources with different exchange rates. There's a lot fewer of those!
  • My standards having gone way up, and wary of how the expected mechanics in idle games obliterate interesting mechanics, I found my itch for idle games (what's the next discovery? what can I do now that I've waited?) was also scratched by spaced repetition systems. I'm learning Japanese vocab through WaniKani, I'm level 9, I know 350 kanji and about a thousand words, and I'm looking forward to clearing out more vocab so I have room to learn more.
posted by Merus at 5:13 PM on March 11 [13 favorites]


CLICK. CLICK. CLICK. CLICK. CLICK. CLICK. CLICK. CLICK. CLICK. CLICK.

CLUCK. CLUCK. CLUCK. CLUCK. CLUCK. CLUCK. CLUCK. CLUCK. CLUCK. CLUCK.

FTFY.
posted by The Bellman at 5:34 PM on March 11


I play Cookie Clicker occasionally. (Often enough that the Cookie Monster script is in my browser bar; not often enough to know what's been released recently. I play Clicker Heroes--although, again, not recently. (But have recently discovered the mobile problem with Clicker Heroes: none of the online calculators work without copy-pasting your save, which isn't possible with mobile.)

I've tried the paperclips, Candy Box (1 and 2), and A Dark Room (which has some additional activity that puts in the category of "crossover genre" because parts of it are very much not idle game mechanics). I have Adventure Dragon Clicker or whatever the hell it's called, which was made with some input by Orteil (the cookie clicker guy); I have the cookie dragon. (Aaaand the game's not even idling in the background; it hasn't been updated in a few years, and it was buggy before that. Dammit. I like the pretty dragon pictures.) I've played a few games designed with the Idle Game Maker, and finished Wall Destroyer. (Or at least, got all the achievements, all the bonuses... I suppose I could've left it collecting numbers, but there really is a "what's the point" feeling after that.)

I remember a couple of village-focused games that I didn't like because your villagers would DIE if you didn't put points into hunting or fire protection or something like that. Meh. No. Idle game resources should never vanish on their own. That's the point. You start with 0, and the numbers go up from there. If you let it sit idle for days or weeks or THREE AND A HALF YEARS, you're supposed to come back to more, not back down to 0.

I like games where you just tap them sometimes and shift numbers from one spot to another.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 6:11 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


All these have much too much interaction. Progress Quest is my jam
posted by scruss at 6:16 PM on March 11 [10 favorites]


Q: Everybody on the forums is talking about 3D mode, but I can't seem to activate it. Is it all bunk?
A: The shading around the progress bars and buttons and so on gives them sort of a 3D feel.


from the Progress Quest FAQs
posted by Morpeth at 6:24 PM on March 11 [4 favorites]


Kittens Game is pretty much the only clicker game I've been able to stick with long-term. All the other clicker games I've played either show the limits of their mechanics really early on (Cookie Clicker is the most prominent example) or are games that have an ending (Universal Paperclips). As Merus described above, Kittens Game isn't just about big numbers (though it is definitely about that), it's about converting numbers into other numbers at the most efficient rates. Kittens Game is a constantly expanding optimization problem, and it always provides goals that, when hit, lead to some new optimization that then reveals new bottlenecks (often with resources you've already discovered!) that must now be conquered using different methods. And though even Kittens Game eventually runs out of new discoveries, the point at which you exhaust all the mechanics is likely much further into the future than your patience for the game itself.

Not me, though. I'm still trying to get to the point where I have enough chronospheres that every reset CREATES resources rather than destroys them. I've already gotten to the point where I can generate more time crystals than what I combust to jump into the future. I'm still beginning to explore the Dark Future stage. This game has been ticking away in my browser for months, maybe almost a year now. And this is me returning to the game and starting from scratch after a few years away; the last time I played this game, you could barely get into space before the game ran out of mechanics.
posted by chrominance at 6:37 PM on March 11


Right now it's Swarm Simulator that is sucking my life force, after a break of a few years. Right now I'm on a self-imposed challenge to get all non-ascension achievements in a fresh game without ever ascending, which someone on r/swarmsim said they did it in 18 months. I think it's doable in about 6, so I've got something to prove. I only need to interact with it once every 5 days or so, though I DO open it up a couple of times a day most days.

And now I re-opened r/swarmsim to find that link and the developer has just released a beta, hmmm. pleasepleaseplease don't nerf Hall of Mirrors! Oh, the notes say the gameplay is intended to be the same, it's a performance rewrite for extreme-endgame people. This is fine.

(there's also a mobile version with more stuff than the web version, but uh uh, I know I'm doomed if I put an idle game on my phone)
posted by the antecedent of that pronoun at 7:22 PM on March 11


These are good for audiobooks, podcasts and lecture recordings. They keep that part of my brain that gets distracted occupied. This is a good thing! For a 20 hour long audiobook, I know my mind will wander many times, so I have a distraction prepared that requires zero thought. It also fulfills that subtle pleasure that would have me pop bubble wrap until doomsday.

Currently Warframe is playing this role, if you accept the conceit that it's essentially a clicker game. After a few hundred hours you can grind levels on auto-pilot, with your mind free to focus on a podcast. The space monsters may just as well be cookies.
posted by adept256 at 7:41 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


The promise of these games is always that at some point I can just let it run and only check in intermittently. What always seems to happen, though, is that they game throws in some periodic time-specific bonus or something, where I suppose I could ignore it and play like I wanted to, but then I'm just throwing all of those points away. So, this thing that I intended to be a light distraction when I'm not busy ends up restructuring the time that it is not taking outright.
posted by ckape at 10:25 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]


> Unless real games like X-Com which, uh, have, uh... consequences? A point? I guess you can win X-Com at least.

Maybe clicker games just point out the fundamental pointlessness of all games.

THANKS CLICKER HEROES YOU RUINED GAMES FOR ME


Like you said, the real game is the metagame. The consequence is addiction; the point is the feeling of progress; and the winning move is to not play the game.

Maybe clicker games are just pointing out all games' fundamental escapism to a place where achievements are more easily and/or predictably obtained.

Now games are ruined.
posted by Arson Lupine at 12:15 AM on March 12 [5 favorites]


> I feel like the real game is the metagame - that you have to run the numbers for every decision you make in order to try to make the most optimal choice at every turn.

At some level, aren't most games fundamentally optimisation problems? There are outliers like rhythm games where it's purely about mastering a skill, or IF where it's purely about unlocking content, but for me at least it feels like the majority of games are about mastering a skill to improve your optimisation. Even with the outliers I'd be tempted to argue that it's a meta-metagame optimisation of your own choices.
posted by lucidium at 4:03 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]


I half-heartedly want to write a JRPG idle game. Your only input would be playing dress-up with the characters using loot drops, setting their busy schedules, and shipping love interests and rivals for maximum angst (numerically measured, of course, and used to trigger special moves) Otherwise, you watch your characters attempt to survive life at an anime highschool while occasionally stopping to beat up the monster of the week in a pyrotechnic magical battle.
posted by Eleven at 4:18 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]


Idle Universe. The abstractness of the concept felt at ease with the absurdity of the game play.

Bonus points: wife chiding me in the middle of the night, "are you seriously playing that stupid tapping game at 3am??"
posted by museum of fire ants at 4:42 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Yeah, clicker games have genuinely damaged my enjoyment of "real" video games, because they've made me so much more aware of the various treadmill mechanics that are built into pretty much all of them. Anything with a loot grind, or experience points, or a tech tree, or skill or weapons upgrades, or achievement points, or... eh, it's all just varying degrees of window dressing on Make The Numbers Bigger. Except for the ones which are Slow The Player Down.

It's kind of a bummer, it's like somebody took me backstage at Disneyland and now instead of the dancing fairy tale characters all I can see is mechanical pistons under rubber skin.

YOU ROBBED ME OF MY SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF, CLICKER GAMES, DAMN YOU.

I still play 'em, though. But only browser-based ones, and only by giving myself permission to cheat and rummage around in the source code until I figure out a way to speed things up. Most of them make this pretty easy, there's often a single variable controlling how often the game updates its state, which you can speed up by a few orders of magnitude. Or failing that you can always just directly edit whatever arbitrary number you're trying to make bigger. It's a win-win: I get a little practice using the developer tools, learn a bit about how other coders do things, get to see whatever the upgrades or achievements are, and I only lose half an afternoon of my life to them instead of six to eighteen months.

Does that count as metagame?
posted by ook at 5:16 AM on March 12 [5 favorites]


Internet rock bottom for me is when I spend months at a time trolling reddit to yell at redpillers. When I play Clicker Heroes, it's just like being one of the guys at the AA meeting who takes up smoking instead. I'm going to break level 10000 on my next transcension. Feels good, man.

My clan name is Team Skwirl.
posted by Skwirl at 5:16 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]


I feel like the real game is the metagame - that you have to run the numbers for every decision you make in order to try to make the most optimal choice at every turn.

It's all about the meta.
posted by Fizz at 5:23 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]


I may have Cookie Clicker open in another tab. That tab stays open. Currently on just over 616 billion prestige points.

Now thanks to this thread, I've got Candy Box in another tab. I haven't played it for ages, and I'd forgotten how much I love its weird progression and dry humour.
posted by Dysk at 6:01 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]


Part of me feels like clicker games are what heroin feels like to a codeine addict; it's a distillation of everything you love in video games that will husk you faster than you can say "sunk cost" and leave you feeling cold when you go back to traditional games.

Universal Paperclips wasted two whole days for me, and I wasn't even mad about it. There is a nagging sense of shame and self doubt, though. Gacha games are a bit like that too.
posted by trif at 8:38 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


the winning move is to not play the game.

Also EVE Online. I miss you PINTO folks, I miss you, I really do. But not enough...
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:57 AM on March 12


I used to play all of these (and oh man I loved the shark one), but then I spent a couple weeks making paperclips only to choose the wrong ending and now I feel sadder and wiser and don't click.

But I'm sure I'll be sucked back into another one if it's just stupid enough, so there's that.
posted by Mchelly at 10:52 AM on March 12


I half-heartedly want to write a JRPG idle game. Your only input would be playing dress-up with the characters using loot drops, setting their busy schedules, and shipping love interests and rivals for maximum angst (numerically measured, of course, and used to trigger special moves) Otherwise, you watch your characters attempt to survive life at an anime highschool while occasionally stopping to beat up the monster of the week in a pyrotechnic magical battle.

Yes, please do make an idle game out of the rough setup of my current writing project, I'd be way into that.
posted by Caduceus at 9:21 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Is there an easy ‘Make your own clicker game’ framework that regular people could use? Asking for, um, reasons.
posted by Mchelly at 10:07 AM on March 13


Dunno how it is to use, but there's Orteil's (of Cookie Clicker fame) Idle Game Maker.
posted by Dysk at 10:18 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


"At some level, aren't most games fundamentally optimisation problems? There are outliers like rhythm games where it's purely about mastering a skill, or IF where it's purely about unlocking content, but for me at least it feels like the majority of games are about mastering a skill to improve your optimisation. "

No, not at all. Speedrunners are really the ones who play a game with the aim of optimization, most people playing games are just trying to be entertained. Doing things as efficiently as you can isn't very fun in most games, often it would actively detract from the enjoyment of it. Certainly it isn't a primary concern for the majority of games out there and it's not at all unusual for a game to be more fun or a better experience by taking paths or doing things that are incredibly janky or unintended.
posted by GoblinHoney at 10:34 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Goddammit now I'm playing the kitten one. Fuck.
posted by uberchet at 3:19 PM on March 13


I played the kittens game again for a while the last couple of days, but the Theology roadblock is still boring and allowed me to quit again.
posted by tavella at 3:21 PM on March 13


> Doing things as efficiently as you can isn't very fun in most games, often it would actively detract from the enjoyment of it.

Maybe I'm weird, but the constant optimisation is background radiation fun to me. I mean, I set my own goals and aim to do unintended or broken things plenty of the time, but I'm still always looking for corners to cut and tasks to multi.
posted by lucidium at 5:34 AM on March 14


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