A Filmmaker Thinks He Can Turn Clicker Universal Paperclips Into A Movie

A Filmmaker Thinks He Can Turn Clicker Universal Paperclips Into A Movie

Clicker-ish game Universal Paperclips may be getting a feature-length film treatment, The New Yorker first reported this week. Intrigued and a little confused, Kotaku spoke with the filmmaker over email to get more details.

When the average person thinks of a video game movie, they might recall Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children, Resident Evil, or Mortal Kombat. Universal Paperclips, a 2017 web-based game with no graphics or apparent characters, is a pretty odd inspiration for a film.

The player first creates one paperclip at a time by clicking on a box, and as they gain more money, they gain access to features that help them finance, market and finally automate their paperclip factory.

Its creator, NYU Game Center professor Frank Lantz, says the player is actually an AI. At the end of the game, after the cut-and-dried mechanics slowly give way to more advanced simulations, the AI is finally able to convert the entire universe into paperclips. In 2017, the game went viral.

The filmmaker who decided that Universal Paperclips would make great movie fodder is Alberto Roldán. He’s made short films such as Everything & Everything & Everything and The Opportunist, which premiered respectively at the Toronto Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival. He stumbled upon the game when somebody posted it on Facebook.

“Part of what makes it such a good game is that it’s storytelling method **does not work** in any other medium,” Roldán told Kotaku over email. “You can’t replicate the addictive thrill of watching the number of paperclips go up on a podcast or a book, you know?

“But as I thought about it, I realised there were elements of it that were adaptable — it’s about a topic that people are interested in, but with a really fresh take. I liked that it was about real-world scientific thought told through an absurd lens. The way it continually upends your expectations was also thrilling.”

It’s still unclear how the movie will adapt these elements, but Roldán disclosed a little to The New Yorker:

“As you play, you keep getting these increasingly large multimillion dollar gifts to sort of placate your ostensible keepers. We know who these characters are in our modern world: Hyper-rich tech titans who are not super interested in questioning the thing that has enriched them — with the justification that they are healing the world at large.”

Roldán demurred when asked for a script excerpt but says that it’s nearly finalised and that he’s spoken with some interested producers. It will be exciting to guess what Universal Paperclips might become.


    • That’s an interesting thought experiment but I’d argue that their AI is not competently designed (one of their criteria) if it doesn’t have reasonable restrictions in place. Like: “we only want to produce x paperclips per day” and “the maximum cap for paperclips is y”.

      I’d assume the film maker is thinking along the lines of the wiki article where the game is just a spark and it’s really a film about unintended consequences and science running amok.

      Unless it’s Michael Bay in which case the paper clips are really aliens and the film features a ton of explosions and a plot written by a 3 year old 🙂

      • Sure: like most thought experiments, it is trying to get you to think about how to avoid the unwanted behaviour.

        I mostly brought this up since the article quotes someone saying that the idea wouldn’t work in any form other than a game. That seems a bit weird given that the game draws strong inspiration from a non-game source.

        • I think people assume “film based on” means that it’s going to be faithful to the material. ie: they expect a film about someone watching a webpage increase paper clip count rather than looking at the idea behind it.

          Heck another alternative would be a “The Office” style comedy set in the heady world of paper clip manufacturing 🙂

  • It’s not exactly a hard premise to make a movie out of.

    An AI is designed for a singular purpose but given the ability to self-improve. The AI starts improving itself in small ways, slowly increasing its efficiency exponentially. Humans realise that the AI doesn’t share human values, it only wants to improve its efficiency. Then you either have the humans trying to shut down the AI which would cause it to retaliate since it affects its ability to do its task. Or the AI decides humans are either a part for its machine or unnecessary and eliminates them, leading to the AI continuing its work in silence until the heat death of the universe.

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