Multitasking is pretty much a given for most of us, especially if we aim to operate as functional members of society. Treading proverbial water at school or work means developing the ability to get multiple tasks done as efficiently as possible, and this rarely leaves time for leisure. So how, then, are we supposed to get our gaming fixes while still going about our lives as normal?
Idle games—that is, games that you can open in a browser tab and leave running in the background—are perfect for folks who need to squeeze some leisure time in between day-to-day tasks. They are more readily accessible than their PC and console cousins, since you can play them anywhere an internet connection is available. Thanks to this, they are easy to pick up and put down as needed. Being able to leave the games running also allows us to go off and do other things expected of a human being (activities such as “eating” and “spending time” with ”friends,” for example), without fear of having our game’s progress stunted. Indeed, it’s just a little bit more satisfying to get distracted by the real world, and then come back to your idle game to find that you’ve leveled up several times over and need to distribute those points.
Multitasking is not just the domain of those seeking to get their gaming fix, however. Idle gaming is also a great way for those with anxiety, depression, or attention deficit disorders to calm themselves and focus on other tasks (those of us who knit during lectures or while listening to books and podcasts know this far too well). These background games require just enough attention to keep us mildly stimulated, but they are not demanding enough that we feel that we can’t leave them alone.
So, what makes a great idle game? After a bit of research, I found that a few characteristics made me keep the game tabs open while I worked: the game’s “idleness,” the ability to progress, game management, and replayability. Obviously, an idle game wouldn’t be labeled as such without some degree of “idleness,” but idling too much takes the game experience away from the player and doesn’t allow us to make it our own. Progression is key to most games, and provides a feeling of accomplishment that keeps us coming back for more. Game management is just as important as how idle the game is, and needs to be balanced just as carefully—too much of a management aspect removes the appeal of having an idle game that we can just check on every once in a while. Finally, replayability needs to be kept in mind: what compels us to check on the progress of our idle games when we have a precious few minutes of free time?
Let’s have a look at a few idle titles and see how they fare against this criteria!
The most balanced of the titles I tested, Battle Without End, is a very pretty, well-designed delve into idle gaming. It is not image-intensive, and the amount of information the player is presented with can be a bit intimidating when you first give it a whirl. Fear not! Its idleness makes for a very forgiving learning curve, and you can explore the menus at your leisure without fear of penalty to your game.
Battle Without End provides the joy of playing a fantasy RPG without the need to micromanage each and every battle. Each fight melts right into the next one, the text in the lower left flitting by with each sword strike, spell, and victory. If you die in battle, you are immediately resurrected and given the chance to try again without any fuss.
The main appeal of this game is the ability to customize and change your character. At the beginning, you choose your race and age before you are thrust head-long into the world to battle city rats and foxes. The approach to combat is refreshingly fluid; spend your AP on mixing and matching skills, and equip the weapons that suit your character’s combat style best. Get a faithful pet companion on your adventure, and sell the equipment that gets dropped in battle when you remember to. When your character reaches the ripe old age of 40, you are rewarded with a title (“The Old”) and you have the option to “rebirth” your character as early as age 20 to start with a new race, all while keeping the stats, equipment, and pets from your previous game.
This is an incredibly well-designed title that helps you customize your idle gaming experience to a satisfying degree. Whether you’re just looking to check the game a couple of times a day or would prefer to watch your battles scroll by for an afternoon, Battle Without End makes for a great idle gaming experience.
Idle farming games are the brunt of what you’ll find when you go exploring the Idle genre at Newgrounds or Kongregate. So bountiful is the farm-themed subgenre of idle gaming that it might take one quite a while to find something worth coming back to (and I assure you, I have seen some shit while doing this research, you guys). Enter the aptly-named Idle Farmer, a simple game with simple objectives.
Idle Farmer is the most demanding of the small selection that is presented in this article, but fortunately it’s more or less optional. As a farmer, you buy plots of land, plant seeds, and sell vegetables in town. You can give the mayor a tithe to help vendors in town prosper, which in turn helps you upgrade equipment and fertilizer to yield better crops. A traveling merchant can come into town to place orders, which you can take or leave at your leisure, and you can even chat up the ladies in town and marry one of them so they can help you raise chickens. It’s all very straightforward, and can very easily be left alone to favor more important real-world tasks.
Truly succeeding in this game, however, requires your attention: actively clicking on crops and chickens makes you harvest them faster, manual clicking is required to travel to town to sell your crops and upgrade your vendors, and you have to pester your wife to make you omelettes to help give you buffs that help you harvest faster when you’re idle. Despite that, the player’s progress is not hindered through idling, so leaving it in a tab in the background still yields satisfying gameplay results.
Arguably one of the most popular idle games out there, Cookie clicker is the most truly idle of the selections presented here. True, Cookie Clicker does require some management, but nothing so involved as equipping a character with weapons or going to town to sell your crops. No, this game’s objective is far more simple: make more cookies.
What kept me coming back to this game, aside from its clever visual design, was discovering its secrets and piecing together the suggested story behind becoming a prolific cookie maker. You can purchase grandmothers to bake your cookies, for example, but if you purchase too many, there are consequences that involve strange cookie-consuming elder gods. You can appease these gods and their grandmother proxies for a price, or you can fight off the creatures that would eat your cookies manually whenever you click back to your Cookie Clicker tab. Furthermore, if you’re unsatisfied with your paltry mouse-clicking abilities, you can always check the wiki for help, or install an uncanny helper.
The selection of idle games out there provide a wide range of gaming experiences from silly to serious, ugly to beautiful, hastefully made to carefully constructed. One only needs to go sifting around Newgrounds or Kongregate to find the game that suits their multitasking needs!