feature image via shutterstock
The very first tap game I ever played — although I didn’t know it at the time — was actually Lindsay Lohan’s foray into branded iPhone gaming ventures, “The Price of Fame.” Here is what Stef wrote about it in 2014:
In Lindsay Lohan’s The Price Of Fame, you meet a red-haired cartoon that might be Lindsay right away, and then you immediately begin accumulating fans. You do so by swiping them up to the top of your screen, over and over and over again. That’s literally it. The fans will accumulate on their own, but slower(?), and the object of the game is to accumulate a lot of them. You can cash in your number of fans for publicity stunts, meaningless belongings or members of your entourage, all of which help you… acquire fans at a higher rate.
That’s it. That’s the game. Make the numbers big so that the numbers can get bigger.
That’s generally the model. In a clicker game (or tap game, or “incremental” game, what have you) you tap on elements on your iPhone screen to accumulate some kind of in-game currency with which you can buy bigger, better things to tap on, which will earn you more currency; the cycle continues. There’s no larger goal or even medium progressive goals to work towards, unless the goal is “a different context in which to continue tapping;” there are no adversaries to oppose, unless the adversary is something you tap on. Usually there are some parts of the game that continue on their own even without your tapping, an “idle” element of the game, so that you can turn it back on after your class or job or nap and see that you’ve still accumulated something, but not as much as you would have if you had been assiduously tapping.
If you are a well-adjusted person with other rewarding hobbies and consider your time and energy valuable — or if like me you have carpal tunnel syndrome and value the health of your wrists — this sounds boring and dumb. However! If your mental health is, say, middling at best, and life outside of your iPhone also feels like an experience of frenzied activity that nonetheless never seems to be moving forward toward a clearly defined goal and which you’re worried would be revealed as obviously pointless if you thought about it too hard, clicker games have clear appeal. They’re just like your everyday, but at a comfortable remove! They’re like eating at Applebee’s, or watching the The Big Bang Theory. You aren’t proud of it, but it’s reassuring; you know what to expect, and it doesn’t ask much of you.
In that spirit, here is a brief journey through the clicker games that have, if only briefly, buoyed me through ennui, ranked very subjectively by how effectively they distracted me from the always-looming malaise that dogs my every step!
This is a good game to play for about ten minutes if you are interested in the premise of creating a sort of sentient capitalist ghost town, in which no one actually lives but in which the buildings themselves generate money at a frenetic pace, which you can then use to build more buildings. Why are the buildings here? Who do they serve? Why does a giant blimp float through every once in a while? I would tell you, but again, this game is only interesting for maybe ten minutes, and did not merit entry into long-term memory. I do not wish to build away, or to build in any other capacity.
I downloaded and played this game while staying with my completely bananas Tea Partier father in the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania, as an adult, in a tiny twin bed and the lamp turned on very low because of some weird paranoia that he would notice I was up too late and I would somehow, at the age of 27, be punished. The gameplay is predicated upon, as its name implies, the commercial egg industry. Your clicks build a series of various henhouse structures for your hens, who lay eggs until you earn enough money to proceed to the next level and… repeat the process, laying a very slightly different type of egg. It is with a heavy heart that I inform you the appeal of working toward laying very slightly different types of eggs is not enough to eclipse a lifetime of maladaptive coping mechanisms and also the AC always being turned up really high for no reason.
AbyssRium (aka “Tap Tap Fish”)
A very aesthetically satisfying game, the gameplay seems designed to be pleasing and relaxing; it’s a nice break from all the frenzied hyperspeed apps. You are the proprieter of a lump of coral in the middle of the ocean, and are tapping to raise enough energy to support adding various sea life to the ecosystem of the coral. You’re also literally in an abyss, if that’s thematically appealing to you. The music is pretty soothing, so even if you never want to click or tap on anything, you can put headphones on and watch your tiny digitally rendered fish swim about in their preprogrammed paths that sometimes take them directly through rocks or coral in an engagingly glitchy way, that’s fine too. Maybe the only downside of this game is how badly it wants you to take screenshots of your fish and send them in to the app designers to be posted on their instagram. What do you want with my imaginary fish, Big Data? Get your own fish. These are mine.
Tap My Katamari
You can probably sort of imagine the trajectory here. I was hoping to somehow find some mobile version of Katamari Damacy, a great and weird sort of pleasantly nihilistic collection game. Tap My Katamari is a literally two-dimensional version that unfortunately pales in comparison. You move your katamari forward by, you guessed it, tapping; but you can only move in the one direction, without steering at all or choosing what you pick up, and your katamari never really gets bigger no matter how much you roll into it. Perhaps worst of all, the iPhone game doesn’t include the withholding, manipulative father figure of the console version, which if I’m being uncomfortably honest was part of the appeal. Instead, the king/father figure is fairly helpful and supportive, floating in to give you tips rather than mock and threaten you. If I wanted that, I’d do what I assume we all do in that situation and rewatch Buffy in order to pretend Giles is my dad.
See “Build Away,” above. This at least has little cars and denizens of its universe, but also its price points for buying/building new things are pretty high, which requires actually kind of a lot of tapping. Yes, I want to blitz away any possibility of self-awareness or being present in the moment, but also I have stuff to do, Bit City, and carpal tunnel. I can’t be tapping all the livelong day here. Also at one point an ingame “goal” I was supposed to achieve was having four Starbucks at the same time in my city of only a few blocks, which is an extremely depressing thing to work towards, even for me.
The App Store kept telling me this game existed in a very pointed way, the way someone does when they keep telling you something is an option because they want you to do it but think it was your own idea. I kept resisting downloading it because it didn’t feel like it would be engaging enough to make me forget that ultimately I’m just sitting there tapping my phone screen endlessly like an idiot. I was right, and this is pretty forgettable. You have a team of very tiny and hard-to-see warriors who fight giant monsters one at a time, like a martial arts scene in a movie, in different cartoon environments. I can kind of respect it from a purist point of view, and the ceaseless yet manageable parade of one (1) single monster at a time makes me wonder if this is what life would feel like if I was able to unitask, and ever focus on just one thing in a meaningful way for a functional unit of time. Probably not!
This one is cute and I play it a lot on planes because somehow it doesn’t use data, usually while listening to a podcast; each takes about half my attention and by combining them I can avoid even a moment of terrifying reflection or mindfulness. Remember in “All I Really Want” when Alanis puts in that beat of dead silence and is like “HERE, can you handle THIS?” Did that really blow your mind when you first heard it? Yeah, me too. Anyway, this game is endearing without being saccharine; you’re building a tower of various magical fantasy merchants staffed by little characters with alternative lifestyle haircuts, with the eventual goal being a service that rescues fairy tale princes. Somehow the magical fantasy aspect helps me not think about how constantly upgrading these little shops to produce more profit mimics the endless grinding jaws of capitalism, which usually somewhat bothers me in games like this. After you rescue enough princes, you go build another tower elsewhere. There are little challenges sometimes. I can’t really explain why this hasn’t gotten boring for me over the course of ten different towers. Maybe she’s born with it; maybe it’s the comfort of endless repetition with extremely minor differences in each iteration.
I’ll be honest; I don’t really understand what’s happening in this game. The opening text reads “Hi! This is Animarium! A mystical world with strange creatures. Moroons are living here. We are training and creating the energy. By the way, I’m Blue Joe, let’s have fun!” Okay, Blue Joe, why not. As far as I can understand, you have “hired” a bunch of wacky cartoon creatures, presumably because they’re unlikely to unionize, to create energy which you later use to hire more of them — to what dark end I do not know. There are some other features that sort of float off in white space and which you can interact with to get different perks. There are green items called “pills” you can use for stuff, which is a little weird but ok. The whole thing sort of feels like a portion of Yellow Submarine that got cut for time, not least because I think it might be intended for children. This game might be good for if you were ever recovering from surgery and immobilized on painkillers, a situation I’ve only been in rarely but have a lot of entertainment ideas stored up for.
A game that begins with a classic story premise — one character spreads the seeds of mutant giant vegetables over the earth during a UFO abduction — and revolves around a group of friends who wander the earth, pulling the mutant giant vegetables out of the ground. There are a lot of moving parts to this that I don’t really understand — you can use special powers and get free wallpapers? — but maybe that’s just me; I am a simple woman. I’m just here for the giant turnip. This is a cute game, and if you like cute things, or threatening/sexy vegetables, you will probably like it.
Almost A Hero
This is the one of these that I am still playing most frequently, at least for now; it is basically a better version of Tap Titans, where you can do more interesting things with your little fighters and the art is stronger. I like it in part because it requires little to no clicking of your own unless you really want to; the “idle” functionalities are pretty strong. Also it has several badass lady characters, one with a giant sledgehammer and one who throws poison knives at the endless wave of high-fantasy enemies that never cease because the whole point of clicker games is to be ceaseless, and so that’s neat. I think I might like it because while clicker games inherently don’t really go anywhere, this one has all the outward trappings of a narrative — characters with names and little bios, the basic structure of misfit heroes on a fantasy quest — so you sort of feel like something is happening even when it’s not. “Playing” this might be a misnomer, really; it’s less like a game to me at this point and more like a Tamagotchi-style app where I occasionally check in on my tiny, violent children and see if they need anything, like weapons upgrades. I hope they’re warm enough!