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Flappy Bird in his Natural Habitat

Flappy Bird? Moar liek crappy bird, amirite?

So why am I so obsessed with it? Why is everyone so obsessed with it? Why is it the number one free app on iTunes? Why am I asking you so many questions? You don’t know the answers.

Sorry about that.

Flappy Bird is, to put it in as favorable a light as possible, the cheesiest game you’re ever likely to install on your Apple or Android phone or tablet. The retro-styled game tasks, or more accurately vexes, you with guiding a fat yellow one-eyed bird that looks like it hatched at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant through gaps in green warp pipe graphics stolen from a Super Mario Brothers game.

Guiding to where? Nowhere, there is no goal, just an ill-omened trip scoring a single point per successfully-navigated gap until your bird smacks into one of the pipes. Which will come quickly, because the game has a difficulty level apparently intended to drive you into fits of frustration. You tap to keep the bird aloft, and you have to keep a near perfect rhythm to get it through the narrow gaps in the pipes. Usually, you will not. Zero, one, and two point runs are common.

While this is happening there is no change in the scenery, no music, and only a couple of sound effects, that also sound like they were stolen from other games, to accompany the journey. There’s a simply drawn city in the background. Sometimes when I’m playing I think about the people in that city. Are they watching me? Do they even care that I’m struggling? Why are they so cold?

Anyway, every time you die the game shows you banner ads. You die a lot, so you spend about half of the game time looking at the ads.

The App-store description is no help in getting to the bottom of the Flappy Bird phenomenon. It describes the game as “Flap your wings to fly …” and gives some helpful tips such as such as “Avoid Pipes.” It also says the game was created by a Vietnamese game designer called Dong Nguyen, who seems nice and is patient with all of the people screaming at him on Twitter. Through painstaking research I have discovered this is also the name of a Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant in Alhambra, California.

I have to admit, I installed Flappy Bird for the pettiest of reasons. A Facebook friend posted about how she couldn’t get past a very low score, so I wanted to beat that score and post a picture so she could see it.

Sorry, Katie.

But that doesn’t explain why, after the rotten deed was done, I kept playing.

My top score so far is 38. I’ve been trying for days to top it, but I’ve never gotten close to that groove again.

Maybe it’s a masochistic tendency. It’s frustrating, but it also feels good. Maybe when presented with an unreasonable challenge it just makes people want to try all the harder.

The unlovely impulse to beat your friends that I felt is also probably part of the appeal. It’s such a large impulse that people are more than willing to cheat, with Flappy Bird hacks abounding and people posting physically and mathematically impossible 9,000 point scores.

There’s no point in trying to figure out why it’s so high on the App store, though. A lot of pundits have tried that since the game’s rise and all of them are forgetting something. The App store is insane.

Anything that’s free and not too big a download can get to the top of the charts. After Flappy Bird, the second most-downloaded free game is some ad-choked nonsense about guiding a ball through pipes.  The third is another simplistic, difficult game by Dong Nguyen, Super Ball Juggling (or Super Ball Juglling on the title screen) that does for soccer what Flappy Bird does for aerodynamics.

You know, forget it. Some things you just can’t explain. If you want to experience the pleasure and the pain of Flappy Bird yourself, just find it on the store for your phone or tablet. Price is free/your calm and peace of mind.

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