The Ontology of Incremental Games: Thinking Like the Computer in Frank Lantz’s Universal Paperclips

Matthew Schmalzer


Incremental games merge the game's system and guise, casting the player in the role of a computer. This paper analyzes incremental games to show how the specific features of the genre cause the player to engage in machinic thinking. It begins with a brief overview of the incremental game genre. Then shifts to an analysis of one game in particular: Frank Lantz’s Universal Paperclips (2017). Universal Paperclips puts the player in the role of an AI tasked with producing paperclips, making it a perfect example to show how the player learns to think like the machine through the overlapping roles of the player and computer, which will be elaborated through a comparison of the ways both incremental games and slot machines encourage what Natasha Dow Schüll’s (2012) calls the “machine zone” in players. The study concludes by complicating these arguments with an examination of the ways in which, despite the machinic thinking that incremental games engender, the player and computer actually withdraw from each other which makes incremental games a critique of human computer interactions and a meta-game about the construction of videogames, instead of purely a speculative ontological representation of computers.


Incremental Game; Ontology; Interface

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