It’s possible you may remember games like Frog Fractions. Titles that start out as seemingly one thing, then morph into weird, bizarre interactive entertainment experiments.
If you do and are interested, and if you don’t and are curious a great example of this experimental genre is the web-based ‘Universal Paperclips’. A…strange and wonderful game that begins as a simple math problem; namely how to produce the right amount of paperclips for the most amount of profit while managing production cost, customer demand, and output.
That’s how it starts, anyway. From there it…lets just say you’ll never, ever, think about Paperclips the same way again.
It caught the gaming-sphere by storm, with write ups in Lifehacker, TouchArcade, VentureBeat, Kotaku, and more. Lifehacker’s article in particular dives deep into the mechanics, and a quick glance comments section alone will leave you cross-eyed and confused. This is a game about paperclips, right?
The bad news is this was a web-based clicker, so you’d need to be on your desktop or laptop in order to play and monitor your burgeoning business. The good news is that Universal Paperclips is now out on iOS. Get it here for 1.99.
Now, it’s fair to be weary. This is one of those icky ‘clicker games’ right? The kind of game you login to, tap furiously at for a few minutes, then return in a few hours to do the same thing over and over while the game drip-feeds you dopamine-inducing upgrades and gameplay ‘features’?
Well, yes. It is a clicker. But a *good* clicker. It’s been described by journalistic outlets as ‘hopelessly addicting’ and ‘click crack’.
Your humble author states Universal Paperclips is to ‘The Simpsons Tapped Out’ as a Boeing 747 is to sticking your arms out and running around in a circle shouting ‘I’m an airplane! I’m an airplane!’. Meaning they’re not very similar at all.
As you play, you’ll see why. The game expands and morphs and mutates into an overwhelming onslaught of data and information that’s equal parts mind numbing and enthralling to keep track of. It’s almost like participating in the back-end of a management sim. It’s just the numbers. no frills, no pzazz, just cold.hard.data.
Perhaps a better term for the genre, rather than ‘click’ is ‘unfolding games’, which has been used on reddit to describe games like this one, Cookie Clicker, Cow Clicker, Adventure Capitalist, the aforementioned Frog Fractions, and so on. Games that start as one thing, and through a set amount of time, grow and change into something entirely different.
Speaking personally, these games are often more fun to think about and putz around in than to actually play seriously. But clearly I’m in the minority as Universal Paperclips, which appeared to be a wildly successful experiment, has been turned into an actual, purchasable product. Judging by the reviews on the App Store, and the zeitgeist-ian fervor surrounding the game as a whole the appeal of Universal paperclips, is perhaps as omnipresent as paperclips themselves.
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