Nested, the rise of the non-game

cookie clickerAddiction is the unrepressive impulse to do something. Well, I’m guessing, because I haven’t looked it up. You see, I’ve been too busy playing Orteil’s Cookie Clicker.

Disclaimer : I will now insert a link to Cookie Clicker. If you value your sanity or your productivity don’t click on it. This is not a joke. Seriously, don’t.

Cookie Clicker is a very special kind of game. But is it really a game? It’s a website (or an app) that puts a cookie in front of you and lets you click on it. Each click generates one delicious chocolate treat. With enough of these, you can buy a cursor that will auto-click for you. The more you buy, the more steadily your biscuit income grows. With more cookies, you can buy grandmas, cookie farms, mines, space shuttles and even portals to the Cookieverse that promise even more. It seems very simple, and possibly pointless. It is. Yet, the website generated 18 million connections in only a month.

What is the difference between this and the Namco classic Pacman? Both are based on the principle of accumulation – of points for the yellow dot-eater and of you-know-whats in Orteil’s work. Both have no end – if you make it through Pacman’s first 256 mazes, the game will crash due to technical limitations and become unwinnable. So why am I so reluctant to call CC a game? Because it is, as I write this, playing itself in my browser. It is making what I will call progress for lack of a better word, without my input. Is that an acute satire of capitalism? I don’t know, but I click. Click click click.

If you succeeded in reading up to this point, it’s either because you followed my advice and did not click the link, or because you’re waiting to generate enough dough to buy a new upgrade. If yours is the first case, will you also resist the added appeal of black chocolate and Walter White? In Clicking Bad, a game inspired both by CC and the hit series Breaking Bad, you are cookie-clicking meth. It’s a bit harder as you’re responsible not only for producing, but also for selling your creations. This game can also play itself, but you’ll have to take some time to kickstart it.

Sorry for those of you I’ve lost between those two tabs in their browser. I have to tell you that you’re trapped in a Skinner Box, an elaborate system of rewards and punishment that keeps you coming for more. You’ve probably either heard of Zynga’s FarmVille (or, more recently, Candy Crush) from a friend’s Facebook Timeline or experienced it first-hand. The strength of those programs is that they use slot machine mechanics in place of gameplay to grab and keep the player hooked.

But fear not, I may have an antidote: playing similar, but less addictive games. Aniwey’s Candy Box is like an early narrative CC. The accumulation part of the game is automatic, but to progress in Candy Box, you must go on quests. More importantly, the game evolves, allowing you to discover new possibilities, objects, and places. Thus, the pleasure comes from discovery and progression, not from Pavlovian conditioning.

If you are scared by those self-playing games, you can safely try Nested, which is the ultimate non-game. It has none of the visual appeal of Orteil’s later work, CC. When you launch Nested, you are presented with the word “universe” that somehow opens to reveal the names of its components. Each revealed galactic supercluster can then unravel galaxies of its own. You can travel all the way down, through planets, continents, oceans, minerals, atoms, qwubbles and then to a smaller universe that you can open to discover smaller superclusters. Along the way, there are nice little touches – you can read the thoughts of a bunch of nanobots in the Citadion in the Dyson segment, or find the Lasagnaverse in a citosyne molecule found in the genome of a praying mantis from a valley in Greenisia. It is quasi-poetic in the inclusively abstract way of primitive videogames, where the world is built by the mind from limited graphics, yet it exceeds the all-encompassing scope of modern videogame blockbusters. You’ll finally grow bored and quit Nested. This is just logical: you’ve never played Nested. But maybe Nested played you.

Wanna learn more?
Cookie Clicker, the passion of accumulation
– The aptly-titled Candy Box sequel, Candy Box 2
Why Pacman can’t count to 256
– The freemium economic model – monetization of emotions
– A semiotic analysis of #cookieclicker from @orteil42 and other non-games : Cursors clicking the Big One


Cookie Clicker, Clicking Bad et Nested : comment expliquer le succès de ces jeux vidéos secondaires et développés avec trois francs six sous ? Peut-être parce que ce ne sont pas vraiment des jeux. Ce qui est incroyable en tout cas avec ces nouvelles formes, c’est leur capacité d’attraction, leur potentiel addictif. Je vous mets au défi de cliquer sur un de ces liens et de ne pas y perdre quelques heures…

By Félix Arcade

Photo credit : Cookie Clicker

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