Eulogy for a flapping bird
I used to hate Flappy Bird. It is one of the most frustrating, swear-inducing games I have ever played.
In all my playthroughs, I have yet to notice a reasonable pattern to the pipes, which makes predicting how to master the game all the more difficult. This mechanic of seeming randomness is also one thing I’ve come to love about Flappy Bird.
As someone who is immersed in reading about metagaming – the discussion of game strategies and the culture outside the game that has built a new culture – my time with Flappy Bird has forced me to stop overthinking how to play the game.
It has pushed me to try mastering it on the terms it dictates: to clear obstacles with skill, persistence, and a little faith in my ability to tap.
Bert, Putin, and space ninjas
Flappy Bird was not the first game of its kind. Given the game’s popularity, it’s enough to say that it will not be the last.
Aside from iOS and Android clones – games that have recently been built to capitalize on Flappy Bird’s popularity and demise – there are a number of games available on web browsers and computers that take the base game and run with a particular theme.
VladiBird is a Vladimir Putin inspired browser clone of Flappy Bird. Given the Winter Olympics and the Russian government's anti-gay stance, it likely made some sense to the creators of VladiBird to not only throw in a Sochi Olympics inspired background, but to also make this levitating Putin dodge obstacles made of men’s buttocks.
On the far more wholesome end of the spectrum, the Sesame Street Workshop has come out with their own clone of sorts. Flappy Bert stars well-known Sesame Street character Bert as he’s carried along by a bird. Bert and bird must be flapped along by mouse clicks – presumably due to Bert’s weight making flying impossible for the bird –as they avoid multicolored pipes.
For the more online gaming subset, free-to-play action game Warframe recently patched in an easter egg that introduces a Flappy Bird-like minigame if you try to log in with Flappy as your game username.
Users will control one of the game’s titular warframes, an armored combat suit called the Zephyr, as you usher it past obstacles. Most online video streams of people playing Warframe now have them making swear-filled videos of themselves trying to acquire the highest possible score they can in Flappy Zephyr.
Watch one Flappy Zephyr attempt below (caution: swearing in video):
Much has also been written by game critcs about Flappy Bird’s popularity, enough for someone to aggregate thoughtful writing on the game as part of the Flappy Bird Think Pieces blog.
It is there where I found some thoughts that made me reevaluate about Flappy Bird. These pieces were enough to make me try the game again and discover a new respect for the casual “flapping-bird” genre of gaming.
The joy of flapping
For example, while some players may have grown overly fond of, or perhaps addicted to, playing Flappy Bird, there is some psychological basis for why Flappy Bird makes people want to keep playing long after the game has exhausted someone’s patience.
Greg Stevens of The Daily Dot reports on a feeling, called “flow,” described by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. The “flow” feeling comes about when a player reaches a balance between stress and reward in an activity.
Combined with the idea that playing Flappy Bird releases adrenaline (from stress) and dopamine (from being rewarded), the article reasons that Flappy Bird can bring out a sense of neurochemical feeling of euphoria or joy that’s normally associated with accomplishing grander tasks, such as completing a painting or writing a song or an essay.
The culture of addiction
While Flappy Bird does have compelling qualities, some have reasoned that it is addictive. In fact, Dong Nguyen, the creator of Flappy Bird, took down the game because of its success and because he felt “it was just too addictive.”
On Forbes, Charles Custer notes that this “too addictive” quality may seem harmless to some sectors of society, but may have different cultural implications in Vietnam.
While in the West, the idea of being addicted to a game is the image of someone playing a game overnight instead of going to sleep, in Asia it has a more sinister tone. Custer cites a report about a Vietnam teen allegedly killing a 7-year-old girl for her earrings so he could “fund his online gaming addiction,” according to Vietnamese police.
While there is a stigma against video games in certain countries, the cultural nuances in Asia may point to Dong Nguyen’s perception of addiction being a more worrisome idea than in the West.
Trust in the fall
While game addiction is one important thing to monitor, especially in certain types of people, I’d like to end with the idea that uplifted me the most while reading up on critical appraisals of Flappy Bird.
Brendan Keogh on Unwinnable has what is perhaps the most poetic description of why Flappy Bird is compelling in its simplicity: it is about a bird whose faith in his flapping and trust in his falling allows him to fly farther than he ever could dream.
Flappy Bird stars a bird who was never meant to fly – his body’s too large for his wings – yet does so through frantic flapping. Instead of gliding when he stops beating his wings, he nosedives, only to regain altitude with a tap and flap of his tiny wings.
The game, Keogh reckons, is about falling as much as flapping. “The moments you tap the screen to spring upwards are secondary to all the moments you force yourself to not tap the screen, the moments you hold off.”
The game is about repeatedly falling, and trusting that you have the skill to know exactly when to tap to clear the next obstacle. “Second-guess yourself,” Keogh writes, “and your instinctive, defensive tap will smash you into the ceiling.”
Flappy Bird may be gone but what it started, not only in terms of similar-minded games but also in critical examination of the game itself, may have elevated the game into the clouds of legend.
To Dong Nguyen, I wish you all the best. May you eventually make a return to game development with a game you can feel comfortable showing the world.
To the good Flappy Bird, I wish you a safe journey. May you fly freely beyond your wildest dreams. – Rappler.com