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Cookie Clicker is Deeper Than You’d Expect, Somehow

(Cookie Clicker web version)
(Cookie Clicker web version)

(This review contains spoilers of middle and late-game events.)

 The premise of Cookie Clicker, an incremental game created in 2013 by programmer Julien Theinnot, seems like hardly anything significant. You start with a big cookie on the screen that you click to get more cookies; then, you use those cookies to buy things that automate the cookie-making process. The game is available for free as a browser game, a mobile app still in the beta phase, and on Steam for five dollars- this paid-for edition is generally the same as the browser game, but with a few perks such as a soundtrack. (This review will focus on the browser game edition as it is the one I have played.) The ultimate goal is simple: Get as many cookies as you can.

 However, instead of the thirty-minute cure for boredom you initially assume the game to be, it gradually unfolds into a very layered game with hundreds of hours of content as you plunge your world into cookie madness. As of now, Cookie Clicker, still being updated, has twenty different buildings, including portals, time machines, fractal engines, and clones of you- all made for the sole purpose of generating more cookies. There are over 600 achievements to acquire, four minigames (and more to come), five seasonal events, and an ascension system where you gain prestige the more cookies you make. This prestige is unlocked by resetting your progress, where you gain a percentage boost in cookies per second and can unlock a tree of “heavenly” upgrades that stay with you in your future runs.

 I have interviewed Caitlin Hainje, a friend I’ve gotten to play the game with, about her thoughts on the game.


Other than the premise, what stood out to you about Cookie Clicker?

Hainje: The Grandmas. (pause) It’s very slow, and it’s kind of addictive to try to increase the amount of money that you can make a lot faster, but it does take a long time for the process to go. It’s a very simple game, but it does manage to catch people’s attention a lot.

Do you think this game has any point beyond ‘cookies’?

Hainje: It’s a deep symbolic representation of late-stage capitalism and monopolizing the industry.

What do you think draws people into this game so much?

Hainje: I think the gameplay is very simple, but at the same time, it makes you want to continue playing so that you get more stuff and that you can make more money. And there were a lot of upgrades and stuff, too, so, achievements that keep people interested. 


 Hainje has not made it as far as I have, but she makes some good points, and in fact, mentions a few criticisms I also have about the game. After the first day or so of gameplay, progression slows to an irritating crawl for a while, with the combination of wanting to see what’s next while not having enough to do in the moment being a drag. For this reason, in my opinion, the early-game phase is easily the worst part of Cookie Clicker. However, once you get enough prestige, the game speeds up significantly.

 Hainje’s mentioning of how the grandmas disturb her is actually foreshadowing for one of the most notable moments of the game- that being the Grandmapocalypse. Grandmas, elderly ladies who bake cookies for you, are one of the first “buildings” you unlock in the game. Cookie Clicker’s writing is very jokey and satirical, and as you make more and more cookies, you begin to noticeably harm the world around you as society comes to revolve around cookies that nobody even needs, and the grandmas are vocal about this. Messages from your grandmothers such as “You disgust me.” and “You could have stopped it.” begin appearing on the news ticker.

 Eventually, after unlocking a research facility for your grandmothers, you unlock a strange-looking upgrade titled “One Mind”. Buying it results in strange changes; your grandmothers become furious and red-eyed and your wallpaper morphs into eerie depictions of elderly ladies. Red “wrath” cookies begin appearing on your screen that, when clicked, either give bonuses or debuffs (replacing the usual golden cookies, which always give bonuses). Most importantly, you begin attracting Wrinklers, fleshy bug-like creatures that accumulate around the big cookie, chipping production from you. Through further grandma upgrades, these effects increase in severity until you trigger the full-blown Grandmapocalypse; your grandmothers congeal into a mass of eldritch flesh, wrath cookies completely replace their golden counterparts, and Wrinklers appear at uncontrollable speeds.

 This is frightening at first; however, in a twisted turn of events, this event is actually good for advancing your gameplay. Wrath cookies have the chance to boost your production by x666 for a few seconds, which is one of the best bonuses in the game. Wrinklers give back more cookies than they consume, becoming a key part of cookie production. Eventually, you get the option to reverse the Grandmapocalypse permanently, but it comes at a -5% cookies-per-second penalty; for the sake of cookie production, you are actively incentivized to not save your own world.

 The Grandmapocalypse is the peak of Cookie Clicker’s absurd comedy in its writing and gameplay. Being made to choose between preventing the universe’s doom and getting more cookies harps on the concept of infinite production and becomes a deconstruction of idle games as a whole. Cookie Clicker is often referred to as a satire of extreme unregulated capitalism, and while the game never states outright what it’s “commentating” on, it’s easy to see how this conclusion is reached.

 Going strong since 2013, Cookie Clicker is still actively being updated, with more features to come. The game was strongly influential for the idle game genre and spawned many more popular games in its likeness. In both gameplay and story, this game about cookie accumulation is more layered than you would ever anticipate.

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About the Contributor
Charlotte Dykes
Charlotte Dykes, Writer
Charlotte Dykes is a 17-year-old senior at Bonner Springs High School. She is involved in the school's Scholars Bowl and is a member of the local orchestra. She enjoys analyzing media as well as writing her own stories. In her free time, other than writing, she enjoys playing video games, drawing, and hanging out with her friends.

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    Emily DykesFeb 13, 2024 at 12:15 pm

    This game sounds rather menacing with the Grandmapocalypse and all. LOL

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