I haven’t gotten anything done since lunchtime today because of “Paperclips,” a silly free game you can play right in your browser.
“Paperclips” casts you as the overlord behind a paperclips business. It starts as a weirdly compelling time-waster — but it’s not long before the subtle, postmodern horror of the whole thing sets in.
At first, it’s all very hands-on. Every time you click the button, you make a paperclip. Your goal is to make paperclips as fast as you can, and price them at a level so that demand doesn’t wildly outstrip your supply or your materials on hand.
Before long, the game offers you the AutoClippers, a tool that automatically makes paperclips without your having to push the button. And then you get WireBuyer, which automatically purchases more wire for you to make paperclip as supplies run out. Pretty soon, it’s more efficient to let them go than to make paperclips yourself.
And it keeps going from there, to hilarious levels: Eventually, your paperclip making machine will offer you the ability to hypnotize your customers into buying more paperclips, generate a catchy new advertising slogan, and even automatically invest in the stock market.
At a certain point, the game basically plays itself. Your biggest job becomes to task the AI with solving problems like global warming or world peace (seriously). Otherwise, it just chugs on automatically making paperclips and picking stocks.
And yet, it’s weirdly addictive. At the time of this writing, I’ve been playing for about three hours, and I’ve made over 700 million paperclips. And yet, really, I’ve done nothing at all.
So play “Paperclips.” You’ll enjoy watching the number of paperclips go up and up and up, as I do. But also, take it as a warning of how unnecessary humans may one day become, as thinking machines evolve from the subject of satire like this and become a crucial part of the global economy.