In Cookie Clicker you start with zero cookies, no cookies at all. There is one big cookie on the screen but it’s an icon. It’s not a real cookie. It is merely a physical representation of your intent to bake a cookie. You can click on this big cookie to bake your first cookie. You can click on the cookie again and again, as many times as you like, to create more and more cookies. A little shower of cookies here. A handful of cookies there. Click click click. If you click fifteen times and bake fifteen cookies you can choose to buy a second cursor, which will automatically click on the cookie for you once every 10 seconds. That’s six cookies per minute, without lifting a finger.
And so Cookie Clicker begins playing itself. But you can’t look away. Things could be more efficient. More cursors could be employed. In two minutes you could even afford a grandma to bake your cookies for you. You could be producing a hundred cookies per minute if you put your mind to it. Imagine that. Imagine what you could afford. Imagine all those cookies.
It’s been two days. I’m producing about a billion cookies every four seconds. Help.
Cookie Clicker exposes some seriously flawed wiring inside our monkey brains, some part of some lobe that is pointlessly captivated by rising numbers and slowly inflating progress bars. Your cookie business starts out small, but grows exponentially as you spend your bank of baked cookies on better forms of cookie production: grandmas, farms, factories and so on. The number of cookies at your disposal isn’t so important because what you’re really trying to do is raise your cookie output, your CPM (cookies per minute), by investing in better upgrades and buildings.
At every point in your career the next level of production seems unfathomably efficient, a goal that once reached would put you on easy street as far as cookies are concerned. When all you can afford are cookie farms, your very first cookie mine is a world shattering gear change, a leg up to a whole new plateau of cookie production. Seeing your CPM booted upwards as you phase into new tech and watching your total number of cookies spiral upwards delivers an endorphin punch that lasts minutes. It’s a rush as potent as any I’ve felt playing an actual, real videogame, which is deeply concerning from an artistic standpoint. All those millions spent developing Grand Theft Auto when all we really wanted was to watch numbers go.
There’s additional fun to be had in unlocking the sillier later technologies and upgrades. It’s a shame however that they’re not hidden from the outset, so it’s not surprising when you start pulling in cookies by the thousands from the demonic Cookieverse or travelling back in time to retrieve millions of cookies before they’re eaten. But each time you progress there’s that giddy acceleration in CPM, some adrenal gland next to your kidneys spunking its excitement juices into your guts, sedating and elating you but demanding its next fix already. Sure, you’re using inside-out grandmas from the cookie dimension to up your bakerates, but you need to start condensing anti-matter into cookie dough. You need it.
There is something you’re working towards. I won’t say what, but things start to happen, dark forces begin to coalesce and your unwavering ambition in the face of ethics and humanity — your very love of cookies — may come back to haunt you. Is it worth playing that much Cookie Clicker to get to that point? No. It’s not worth playing Cookie Clicker at all. Every second spent with that tab open is a second wasted. You don’t need a review to decide whether or not to play Cookie Clicker. You open the tab and it will decide to play you.
(As a final note, there are occasions in Cookie Clicker when you’re compelled to return to the coalface yourself and click along with your army of cursor automatons. Rare, floating cookies appear randomly that, when clicked, empower you with a temporary bonus. One of these multiplies the number of cookies per manual click by 666 for 66 seconds, prompting a minute of frantic touchpad hammering that, if you’re in bed on a laptop at 1am, your flatmate will definitely think is the sound of you wanking.)
(As a final, final note, if you get bored of Cookie Clicker, why not try Candy Box?)