How a 1980s calculator game inspired a creative reinvention of the incremental app.

When we were kids and class was dull we would play this pointless game. Clearing the memory on our calculators we would tap the number one and then, with an exchange of glances, we would hammer away discreetly at the M+ button while our teacher droned on about glaciation or Shakespeare or whatever. On a good run, forty five minutes of geography could get a dedicated tapper to fifteen thousand. We nicknamed it “Incremental” and although it was barely a game — in fact it sucked — it passed the time and for us that was what counted.

Three decades later, sucky games seem to be everywhere. Garnished with cookies, pizzas, jewels and brightly coloured candies, disguised as cities, farms, factories and kitchens, incremental games are an omnipresent addiction. In our something-for-nothing culture it is shockingly attractive to spend hours doing something that ultimately gains nothing.

Like its predecessor, Incremental is barely a game; you simply tap to increase your score. But the real reward of the game is in its playing, in many ways the game of Incremental is how you play it.

Each tap generates a graphic element and these graphics grow and shrink, glow, fade, pulse and move, rise and fall according to their own particular characteristics creating mesmerising and occasionally surprising visuals.

“When I’m bored, I drum my fingers on the table. Nothing happens. With Incremental, I drum my fingers on the screen and I’m transported into a beautiful little universe”

Incremental is an antidote to the passive addictiveness of the production line app. It encourages you to engage with the creation of momentary, fleeting art.

Like the little songs you sing when you are doing something creative, like training wheels for the imagination. People who have shut down their creativity need to have it awakened again. Incremental is a creativity gateway drug.”

Incremental, the little app you didn’t know you needed, is a free download from the App Store. It is advertising supported but you can make a one-off in-app purchase to permanently remove adverts.