This Game About Paperclips Says A Lot About Human Desire


I’m chatting with my friend on Signal when he tells me he’s running out of universe. He’s playing Universal Paperclips, a browser game created by NYU professor Frank Lantz, and he’s keeping me posted on his progress. For a long time there has been a number on his screen which says “0.000000000000% of universe explored,” and it’s never moved. Now, suddenly, it moves. Over the next few hours it speeds up, rising rapidly through the decimals to 1% and then 20%, and as it does my friend gets unexpectedly choked up. "Only a few moments," he says. "Hold my hand?" I emote squeezing his hand.

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This is a phenomenal read. I don’t play clickers, but seeing one laid out like a written narrative is really good.


I took the optimisation and addiction angles of this game to its extreme; I speed-ran the game. A handful of other individuals and I started to discuss the absolute optimal routes and strategies to take in this game, and for a while I obsessively played the game hoping to get a faster and faster time. My first play-through of the game without any knowledge took about 9 hours. My second playthrough, which I streamed, and was witnessed by Frank Lantz because he just so happened to search “universal paperclips” into Twitch while I streamed, took a little under 4 hours. We had a brief twitter conversation and wondered if sub-3 hours was possible.

A week later someone else had broken 2 hours. My personal time is still about 2 hours 16 minutes, which I’m happy with for now. Since then, two updates for the game were released due to the conversations us speedrunners and other folks had with Frank Lantz. I recently played the game again after a few weeks of not touching it to see how the changes affected my speedrun strategies. I still want to play the game, despite having “finished” it about a dozen times. I am a paperclip maximizer.


And how do you feel about that?


I played this for a while on my work computer but it was too addictive. I love how clinically sinister it is though.