Time is Fool’s Gold: On Clickers and Grinders


Recently, for reasons only known to my subconscious mind, I opened solitaire on my computer after several years of not even a passing thought on the game. It then made me think of games that were meant to pass the time like solitaire used to be. Nowadays, it has been relegated to idle time in offices, and even that has been usurped by browser and mobile games for the most part. Those solitaire slayers are what I want to talk about, but from an outside perspective since I have barely touched the damn things.

Perhaps you can say that solitaire is basically masturbation without the genital stimulation and the resulting self-loathing, but that’s also like saying tetris is butt-play. In any case, that’s kind of what comes up in my head whenever I hear people talk about Clash of Clans or some nasty MMO in public. It’s not I hate those kinds of games since I myself have done

DISCLAIMER: The following opinions expressed are mostly out of conjecture, observations, and second-hand knowledge. If there is anything you may find erroneous or lacking, please leave a message in the comment section below about it.

MMORPGs and Other Grinders

Ragnarok Online I’ve always hated on these genres due to my first-hand experience with Ragnarok Online, having played it semi-competitively from May 2003 to January 2006. That was ages ago, but I could still remember those times vividly, from running with our guild, not being able to stay awake while farming, to the pseudo-ethical issues that popped up regarding bots and other shenanigans.

Ever since quitting that game, I’ve never really had an urge to play another one. I’ve always seen them as games that required minimal skill, only requiring time and persistence to play at a relatively high level. I couldn’t really care much for the social aspects due to not being much of a people-person and a team-player to begin with.

Perhaps it’s the social aspect that keeps MMOs from ever disappearing, even if it has languished since its heydays in the mid-2000s. World of Warcraft has been hemorrhaging players and new MMOs always struggle to get a foothold in the gaming market. They’re expensive to make and manage, so developers and publishers have moved on to stuff like survival sandbox games and what not.

There are exceptions like Path of Exile, but that’s because that game is really different compared to other online RPGs. If any online grinder from here on out is to make it, that game better have something either innovative or off-the-wall to offer or it’ll just be a waste of effort and resources.

Grinders devoid of that social aspect are pretty much Skinner boxes. There will always be room for turn-your-brain-off games like this; I myself enjoy a bit of Diablo III every now and then while listening to Ladytron (a combination I highly recommend).

Cow/Cookie Clickers

Perhaps one of the main reasons why Facebook got a sizable portion of its user base during the late 2000s (many of which from Friendster and MySpace) is all the browser games like Mafia Wars and so on. Then came Farmville, and all hell broke loose. Even middle-aged housewives (or especially them) who had time on their hands while their kids were in school (and without Ashley Madison to lurk in) would get on Farmville and go to town with it.

That’s how the term “cow clicker” came about. These games are just about clicking on certain things at regular intervals to yield some result, whether it’s progression or an in-game reward of some sort. There’s also “cookie clicker”, which adds even more humor to the designation as a very simplified Skinner box. At least with stuff like ARPGs, there’s exploration and character progression, but clickers usually operate in a much smaller space.

But they are indeed a kind of Skinner box, one that works prodigiously through the reward loop. They can get addictive for many people, even dangerously so. Here in the Philippines, with the mind-melting traffic jams we get in Metro Manila, it’s not uncommon to see a jeepney or taxi driver who plays Clash of Clans while driving. If you bring it up out of concern for safety, you might have to make the rest of your journey by foot.

Fallout Shelter

Now we get to what has been taking up a good bit of my attention as of this writing. Mind you, it doesn’t actually need a lot of attention to play well, even if friends would tell you otherwise on social media. Fallout Shelter is a cookie clicker and management sim combined into a self-contained mobile game. Sure, there are some in-app purchases, but they’re completely optional (even if you’re a Bethesda fanboy).

Fallout Shelter

Taking care of the vault can get tedious and hectic at times, especially when you’ve noticed that room placements aren’t perfect enough and are facing shortages that result in increasing amounts of rad poisoning that make you go, “Where did I go wrong?” If you have even a little bit of obsessive-compulsiveness, this game may be your Waterloo.

Despite being a mobile game that supposedly doesn’t need much babysitting, it can be a time sink for those who just can’t seem to leave enough alone. There’s no helping with the constant worry, especially for newer players. Those who have been playing it for a week or two then usually catch on with checking only twice a day or so.

But take care since “a moment” with this game can turn into 15 minutes of fiddling around on your phone or tablet, and a 15-minute recess can turn into a half-hour session of intense deliberation and detailing.


All games are time-killers in their own right, but the ones we’re talking about here are the the really big time sinks that turn mornings into evenings like black magic. Time sink games seem to have a really broad definition that is hard to boil down.

But the most apt definition for me is twofold—addicting and endless. Playing a game that you can’t seem to get enough of that has no real end is perhaps the very definition of a time sink game. I get that quite a bit from city builders and other sim games.

Meanwhile, Warframe seems to be a time sink as well. I haven’t really been bitten by the bug, but my friends sure play a lot of that game. Maybe MOBAs as well or whatever else is actually addicting; I myself have put hundreds of hours into StarCraft II.

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