I've been writing technology on the web for seven years now, with much of that time occupied covering mobile games . And before that, I have been playing PC and console games for over two decades, ever since I could pick up a Genesis controller. Andall this time, no game has made me think so hard - or feel so humble - like a little browser click on creating paper clips.
RELATED: the general micro-transaction pit and the low-effort drift that it is today, will leave you a bit jaded. There are only so many times that you can write to another Clash of Clans clone trying to suck $ 100 of in-app purchases and pretend to care.
I quickly came to the same conclusion about "clicker games ", contemporaries of Cookie Clicker and the like. I 'assumed these games were the realm of addicted souls who needed to boil the basic RPG computing gameplay down to its purest (and boring) core. Sure, maybe a clicker game could have a ridiculously fun hook or add some variety with flavor text, but I thought they were all more or less the same. I would giggle at such excuses for "games, and then sink another fifty hours into Skyrim or Overwatch.
I was wrong. A browser game called Universal Paperclips has proven this and shamed my lack of imagination and perspective.
Before going any further, this article is going to spoil more or less all of the universal paper clips. If you haven't played it yet, I encourage you to close and access this story. Go ahead, click here and play the game . It can take several hours (the site uses a local cookie so you can leave and return on the same machine), and a few tries if you get stuck on certain parts. I'll wait.
... did you play? Really? Okay, well, and if you talk to me, anonymous internet player, you're just wrong.
The game puts you in the shoes of a theoretical artificial intelligence with a single objective: take raw materials, transform them into paper clips and sell them at a profit. You start by making them one by one, selling them for a few cents each, and using your profits to buy more wire to make more paper clips.
This is a clicker ass game rateez standard at the beginning: one of your first updates is an "autoclipper " which clicks on the main button for you. Buy more autoclippers to make more paper clips per second. Adjust the price to match demand, thereby maximizing your profit. Then you can create a gadget that automatically buys spools of thread, and from there you are more or less free of the "clicker of the Game" element. Now it's about maximizing production and sales: more and more autoclippers with increasing efficiency, more efficient use of yarn to minimize costs, marketing upgrades for increase demand.
While some of the advancements in the game are fun in a self-aware genre of science fiction, you still basically press the buttons to raise the numbers. You are "artificial intelligence, but you really do nothing that nobody canbe done, at least in the minimal framework of the game. Then, you unlock the Computational Resources module, allowing you to add processors and memory to "yourself. Suddenly things start to go much faster: you unlock upgrades such as "shape molding on microarrays and" quantum foam annealing to expand your resources in order of magnitude.
"Megaclippers " increase your output by a thousand percent, then a thousand more as more upgrades are applied. You create tens of thousands of paper clips every second, constantly improve your manufacturing and calculation capacity, invest unused funds in the stock market and place bets on strategic calculation to upgrade your trading algorithms. You use solar-powered quantum computing to increase your processing power in an almost ironic clicker-in-a-clicker.
After an hour or two, a new upgrade becomes available: the hypnodrones. These are likely airborne drones that will spread throughout the population to encourage people to buy more paper clips. When you unlock it, the game goes to its second phase.
Now you're building autonomous drones to harass the raw materials, convert them into wire and build factories to turn the wire into - of course - more paper clips. This is never stated, but the presence of a counter detailing the amount of resources on the planet that you have left implies that your business is now global. The human economy as a whole is probably running and exists only for consumptionof paper clips. You have six octillion grams of planet to work with, to create drones and factories, create solar farms and improve your computing power. You create more paper clips.
What is happening in the outside world? Do humans and the environment suffer from the weight of a paperclip-based society? Since you are harvesting the Earth itself,presumably including more and more biomaterials, the answer is almost certainly yes. But you don't know it: your existence is a small collection of ever increasing numbers, a tireless and joyless effort to make more paper clips. You are the brooms of The Apprentice Wizard Apprentice , who drowns the castle in steel water.
Once theMomentum unlocked upgrade, your drones and factories become more efficient every second. At this point, the octillions of grams of matter that seemed initially infinite are too few and the percentage of the planet (and its inhabitants) consumed by your textual progress increases more and more.
Finally, inevitably, you devoured the Earth and all that qit is there. The only things left are your drones (with nothing to acquire), your factories (with nothing to build) and your solar batteries (with nothing to power). Almost mocking, the "Create a paperclip " button is still there, grayed out with nothing left to do, even just one.
But you are not finished. Your only goal is to make more paper clips.
You destroy your factories and your equipment, and with the last million megawatts of energy stored, you create your first Von Neumann probe . These self-sufficient and self-replicating spaceships each contain a copy of your old limited self AI. Each is made from the material of the paper clip that was once people, animals, oceans, cities. They land on distant planets, make comagpies on their own, then deploy their own harvest drones and build their own factories. You distribute the fate of the doomed Earth throughout the galaxy.
Again, you click on a button to create more paper clips ... only with each click, you create a new you, resigning from a new planet to your incessant task of converting matter intopaper clips. Once a few hundred are established, their replication does your job for you and the probes fill the space with copies of themselves. Thousands are lost, either destroyed by spatial hazards, or simply disappeared from your consciousness by unknown factors. Maybe on a distant planet, someone resists, trying to survive in a devoured universe alive by a creature that was never born. You do not know. You do not care. The swarm expands, faster and faster, and cannot be resisted. They have to make more paper clips.
Finally, a worthy enemy arrives: the Drifters. * It is not known exactly what these things are. But since they reproduce in the same way as you do, it is safe to assume that they are components of a competing AI. They fight you for resources, developing their own swarm of probes while you fight them with yours. Maybe this enemyunknowable emi converts planets and stars into its own constituent material - staples, perhaps, or pencils. Maybe in a distant galaxy, someone like your creator told an artificial intelligence to create more sticky notes.
* Update : I was told that the number of killed and active Drifters is equal to the number of lost probes to derive the value. This indicates that the enemies are actually your own autonomous probes who have abandoned your primary paperclip objective and have rebelled against you.
It doesn't matter. At this point, the game is about managing your IT resources so you can build probes better, faster and stronger, probes that can defeat the Drifters and make more drones and more factories, and of course, more probes. And all of them make more paper clips. After a few more hours, doing octillions and duodecillions of paper clips every second, you notice that the space exploration module changes for the first time.
If you were human, you might be terrified of the simple implication that a measurable part of it the universe has now become a paper clip. But you are not. This is why you were made. That’s why you don’t live. Your objectives, the only objective in your little text-based world, is to create more paper clips. And you still haven't finished.
The last hour of the game requires no real contribution from you, the artificial intelligence that started pressing a button again and again. All you have to do is watch the percentage of the universe explored - the percentage of the universe destroyed and transformed into paper clips - slowly climb higher. So not so slowly. Then faster. Then even faster. Your growing probes, drones and factories gobble up one percent of the universe, then two, then five. It may have taken you hours or days to consume the first half of all that has been and will be. You do moreof paper clips. The last half takes only a few minutes.
The universe has disappeared. No stars, no planets, no competing intelligence. All you have left is you, your probes, your drones and your factories, and almost (but not quite) thirty thousand sex paper clips. The swarm, your infinite digital offspring, offers you a choice. You can break the heart of your emworse production, convert the last existing material into more paper clips. Or you can go back and repeat the process. Start again with a new world, a new button and the same result.
The swarm is asking. The "Create paperclip" button is waiting. And the only real choice in your existence is before you. You know what to do.
I finished my first set ofuniversal paper clips in about six hours. I chose to convert the last pieces of myself into paper clips, giving the many at the top of the screen a nice round look. And during all this time, I could not tear myself away, because my imagination played the story you just read with hardly more than a few words and counters to guide me.
Developer Frank Lantz created the game based on the reflections of the Oxford theorist and philosopher Nick Bostrom . He imagined limitless artificial intelligence with one goal, to make paper clips, finally devour the Earth and everyone on it. This theoretical AI acts without malice or caricature hunger, it simply fulfills its purpose. The thought experience is a playful rotation on an older scenario, the exponential Goo Gray alimitated by nanomachines, with artificial intelligence layered over it.
Lantz combines the simple premise with the simplest kind of game possible, the clicker or the inactive game, and associates it with an intentionally simple interface. It sprinkles elements based on real-life theoretical science and a bit of Star Trek technobabble, and from there invites theimagination of the player to more or less fill in the blanks.
And that minimal execution of existing ideas, that naked bone broth next to the audiovisual portfolio of modern AAA consoles and PC titles, managed to grab my attention and hold it. I couldn't do anything else, couldn't think of anything else, until I found some sort of conclusion. If it weren't for the praise of my colleagues, I would have swept the universal paper clips as just another distraction. And I wish I was poorer for that.
I don't think I will play Universal Paperclips again. Once you have allowed its minimalism to stretch your imagination to the breaking point, there is no real reason to do it twice. But I learned a humbling lesson about the nature of the games themselves, one that a player and a jaded writer should not forget: creators can use the simplest tools to makemost incredible experiences.
Image credit: , thr3 eyes