In the time it takes you to read this article, you could have earned two million points in Time Clickers.
We like to talk about games having addictive gameplay. “I played Civilization V and I couldn’t stop until I played just one more round, “ or “ I stayed up all night playing Diablo 3,” or “I played so much World of Warcraft that my wife left me and took the kids.” Until you’ve played a game like Time Clickers, though, you don’t understand what addictive really means.
Time Clickers is an example of a game genre that requires virtually no skill and often, no actual input from the gamer. Called “clicker games” or “idle games” because they run themselves, they’re extremely popular among casual gamers. In Time Clickers, you begin by shooting a three dimensional pistol at some red blocks, earning points. Before long, you earn enough to hire a team member to do the shooting for you. The points begin to spiral higher and higher, and you can earn upgrades for your gun, additional members for your team, and special abilities, all with the ultimate purpose of earning more points and watching the counter spin up into the millions and billions and beyond. Close the program, and when you return, it’s still clicking away, your team is still shooting the blocks and you’ve earned millions of points that you can use to level up. It’s entirely simplistic — that’s an understatement — but it’s fun. As in, confusingly, life-purpose questionly so. Take that, Destiny, with your hundred million dollar budget.
Clicker games — at least the good ones — manage to distill a core gaming experience, the action-reward loop, into simple reward with minimal action, repeated infinitely. And if, in the end, you have a chilling moment of existential alarm — “Oh my God, I just wasted two hours of my life clicking numbers higher” — try not to dwell on the discomforting reality that it’s true of all games, from Dark Souls to Call of Duty.
Now, if Time Clickers is a little too “gamey” for you, what with its levels and 3D gun and all, you can try Trimps, in which the game tells you that you’re collecting wood and food, until you have enough to build a trap, in which you can trap Trimps (whatever they are) and assign them to do things like gather food and build structures. Trimps is entirely blocks of text and click boxes. There are no cute graphical representations of anything. Trimps also does not play itself, it requires player input and choice. If Time Clickers is Call of Duty, then Trimps is Civilization.
At the top of the clicker game food chain is AdVenture Capitalist, which bridges the evolutionary gap between pure clickers and “real” games. In AdVenture Capitalist, you click on a progressively more expensive and sophisticated series of businesses. The point is to earn enough to buy more of a type of business and progress on to the next, There are upgrades and bonuses to increase cash flow, and you can even spend real money on gold to speed things along. Like Time Clickers, you can hire managers for each business that will essentially play the game for you. AdVenture Capitalist has a smarmy 1950s art design and bills itself as “the game you play while playing other, better games!”
If you’re thinking, “these sound like the stupidest things ever,” two things: one, you’re right, and two, you’ve probably not played them. AdVenture Capitalist and Time Clickers are both available on Steam and Trimps can be found on the Kongregate website. All three games are free to play.