There’s a relatively new genre of games that have popped up within the last two years or so, and that’s the ‘idle game’ genre. Though primarily reserved for browser-based games, the genre has more recently spread to the likes of Steam and mobile platforms, with many showing up as the most played games on those platforms – though that’s more to do with the nature of idle games as opposed to their popularity.
You see, the nature of idle games is that you’re encouraged to leave them running all the time. As a rule of thumb, your ‘aim’ is to have as many of an item as possible; for example, with the popular ‘Cookie Clicker‘ idle game, you begin with zero cookies and one click gains you one cookie. You click 10 times to unlock an upgrade that costs 10 cookies, which will then start generating cookies for you automatically. Eventually, after hundreds and hundreds of upgrades, you’ll be sat with upgrades that gain you millions of cookies every second. Effectively, the ‘point’ of idle games is to unlock all the upgrades and build up your number as much as possible.
The problem, of course, is that these games are completely endless.
For decades, video games have played on the idea of synthesized fun to elongate a game. The human mind finds the very nature of progression addictive; forcing a player to farm monsters to level up or gain enough money to buy an upgrade is a typical use of this method. Castlevania II is often shown as a fantastic example of this. The worst part is that this method works. The player is actually wasting their time with a repetitive action, but they feel like they’re progressing towards something — heck, they feel like they’re having fun, despite the game not actually presenting anything challenging or worthwhile. It’s literally wasting time to make the game feel longer and the player happily eats it up.
You’ve almost certainly encountered times in video games where this trickery has been used, and most of us (myself included) oblige to its time-wasting. Idle games build on this psychological bribery as the preface for an entire game, and fuck, for those that love games with upgrades and the feeling of progression, it’s as addictive as gambling.
The picture at the top, for example, is a screenshot of my Cookie Clicker playthrough. My current game has been running for 7,100 hours, and although most of those hours have been idle, it’s certainly sucked up an all-too large portion of my time over many months. Idle games require hours of attentiveness to reach a point where you feel comfortable leaving it idle, and even then, the games reward you for keeping the game open.
Cookie Clicker and Clicker Heroes, (the two idle games I currently have running) like many other idle games, have items that will pop up at random points that may give you an extra sum of cookies/money or temporary stat boosts (like 2x clicking power for 60 seconds, which will make you want to stay in the window and click for this period of time). Most of these games also have an incentive for resetting your game entirely, where a reset will give you a 10% bonus or some other permanent bonus when you’ve reached a certain amount, ensuring that you’ll endlessly play for days and reset in an endless cycle.
They are, by their very nature, time wasters. There’s no end in sight and you always feel like you’re building towards something. As I say, they’re incredibly addictive, and although I know they’re a complete fucking waste of time, I can’t bring myself to close the browser and never return to it when I’ve ‘put so much work in.’ Worse yet, many of these games have caught on to the potential financial opportunity and included micro-transactions to assist you in getting nowhere faster than you already are.
Although I’m pretty sure the first popular idle games, Cow Clicker and Candy Box, were largely intended to be satirical, as I find myself looking through the Reddit ‘Idle games’ community for new idle games and have just wasted the majority of my day off playing Clicker Heroes, that doesn’t exactly fill me with joy and I realise that I need to stop.
These games are fun for a while until you realise that you could potentially waste hundreds of hours on this shit. Have a go at them by all means, but don’t let yourself get caught up by them and remember that they’re pointless with no end — oh, and certainly don’t go paying for anything in idle games, otherwise you really may have a problem.