How idle clicking games took over my life

I am reading about the technology behind 3D printing, while I listen to the soundtrack to Einhander, while I wait for my lollipops to hit the astronomical numbers I need. I go from article to article, reading and listening. And waiting. Finally, 70-something minutes pass and I can finally feed my mill. And though it is an hour later than I usually stay up, I can finally go to sleep, comforted in the knowledge that—some quick calculations in my head later—I will earn about 60% more candies while I sleep for the next seven hours. But then I stay up another 10 minutes so I can afford that next Antimatter Condenser, so I can bake up trillions more cookies while I sleep. My obsession with these idle games has reached new levels of disruption.

I laugh at the game’s jokes and feel empowered by any significant jump in my CpS (cookies per second). 

It was so much simpler when I began. I read about Cookie Clicker online and my curiosity was piqued. I started clicking away, buying Cursors and Grandmas and buildings. My mind raced with the math—do I buy this Factory now or wait a few more minutes for the Mine? Or is it more efficient to buy that rolling pin upgrade? Hours pass, as I click and wait and occasionally surf. I laugh at the game’s jokes and feel empowered by any significant jump in my CpS (cookies per second). I am really getting somewhere in this game and I only need a few more portals for that next achievement and I am the master of a cookie empire.

But slowly my nights begin to change. Everything I do has an added value beyond the intrinsic one: Watching the latest episode of Homeland provides more than some drama, it gives me the quadrillions of cookies I earn during those 50 or so minutes I am distracted. Playing Borderlands 2 with my friends for 2 hours gets me over the hump for the next huge upgrade. And when I am too tired to watch TV or read a book or play a video game, I go to my PC and I click. And accumulate. And achieve. The next few nights are much the same. I pause the film we are streaming on Netflix so my wife can run to the bathroom. I run to my cookies. Getting that building an hour earlier than I planned may mean I can get one last upgrade before I go to sleep…

It’s a Thursday morning and my writing load is light today. I am in the endgame with my cookies, having read about all the nuances on Wikia, I know I just have to wait and accumulate cookies to earn Heavenly Chips for when I restart from the beginning with a bonus multiplier. While I wait to hit 2 Quintillion cookies, I decide to look into other idle games that are worth my time. It takes only a few minutes to find some. Clicking Bad lets me be like Heisenberg, with a system that is quite similar to Cookie Clicker, but with a bit more complexity. With an hour or two, I get that up to the point where I have to wait some time to make any really progress. So I jump to another while I bake cookies and cook meth, a new release called Candy Box 2.

The sun sets. I call my wife and tell her I didn’t get a chance to go to the store, so she should just bring home some take-out Chinese for dinner. I queue up the next gaming podcast I’ve neglected for months and I make another trip through the Caves. That octopus kicks my ass again, and I know I need to kill more trolls, or perhaps I should try mixing a berserk potion at my cauldron, and is that a puzzle hidden on the cave floor? I get completely lost in this ASCII-rendered RPG. My dinner is getting cold, but I finally got that shark fin I needed so I can take a one-hour pause to eat and watch TV with my wife. You know how many cookies/drug money/lollipops I am going to earn in that time?

I wake up in the middle of the night to relieve my bladder. I spend 5 minutes managing my three idling endeavors. And then I go back to sleep. It’s the next day. I write. I eat. I click. Candy Box 2 is complex and clever and I am loving it. The other two games I keep going, despite getting to ridiculous heights numerically, because the creators are still updating them and I want to be in a good place with my cookies/meth when the next bunch of activities appear. Some friends come over to watch a Blu-ray. I keep them waiting a few minutes to “check work emails” before we start the film. That night, after they leave, I finally eat enough candy to get strong enough to make it inside the Castle. The night goes on. And a week goes by.

I haven’t gone out with my wife in weeks. Perhaps this clicking has gotten out of hand.

I’ve won. I have all the candy in the world. My elation and sense of achievement lasts a day. And the next game beckons. A Dark Room starts simple and then the scope of this clicking game broadens until it becomes a post-apocalyptic epic. It replaces Candy Box 2 as my third idle game. It’s not too long until I am balancing hunters vs. furriers vs. miners and saving up ore to craft some steel armor before I go adventuring in a ruined city. It is a surprisingly epic game. I have fallen behind on my second playthrough of Beyond: Two Souls. I haven’t gone out with my wife in weeks. We mostly do our hobbies in our respective rooms, rather than doing anything together at night. Perhaps this clicking has gotten out of hand.

A new week, and I turn over a new leaf. I have finished another clicker. I briefly try a few others, but none really grab me. I still spend a few minutes in the morning and a few minutes before bed looking over cookies and drugs—there are updates still to come—but my heart is barely in it. Halloween brings some new content to my cookiescape, but it takes less than a day to exhaust it. Besides, more and more news is coming out about the next-gen consoles, my freelance writing picks up, my days become busy. My life is back to writing about videogames and technology. It’s back to the worlds of wearable tech and game resolutions and launch lineups. I leave those idle worlds to the margins of my browser tabs and the margins of my days.

And then I pitch a story about these clicking games to Kill Screen and I prepare to write the article. Maybe I should get back in touch with those two games that are still running. And there is that strange Sandcastle Builder game I’ve wanted to take a second look at. It couldn’t hurt to start a new idler right? To get back in touch with that sense of wonder and achievement while writing the article? I can manage it better this time around, right?