Recovering from Flappy Bird-flu

“This is stupid,” is a common first response to Flappy Bird, a notoriously simple, mobile game made for Apple and Android users. This response is typically followed with “Help me; I can’t stop” and involuntary spasms when not playing.

In the game, one tries to navigate a poorly-animated bird through a series of pipes by tapping on the screen. The bird rises with each tap, and falls in between taps. If the player waits too long to tap, the bird plummets to the ground—or into a pipe—and he or she must start over. The first question is: Is this even a game? Yes and no.

Given the complete absence of a strategic or critical thinking component, I would have to say no, this is not a game by modern standards. In an age of highly detailed, three-dimensional games with realistic physics, it seems counterintuitive that there would be a place for this pixelated, avian oddity.

Over 50 million people downloaded the game following its release. Then, according to an interview with Forbes, the game’s creator, Dong Nguyen, suddenly decided to remove the game from online app stores, citing the game’s addictive properties. So just what, exactly, is behind Flappy Bird’s widespread popularity?

Simplicity is the obvious answer—simplicity in both aesthetic and function. Not only is Flappy Bird reminiscent of the original Super Mario Bros game for Nintendo, but it takes us back to the days when all players cared about was the number counter in the top corner of the screen. It strips away all other frivolous things like levels or characters or turning (why would you take away turning?) so that one can focus solely on what is truly important—beating others’ scores.

What is more, is this competition can become internalized with the player’s focus shifting toward beating his own score. This mindset can lead to a self-defeating attitude based on unrealistic expectations.

For instance, if a player achieves a high score, he expects himself to always perform at that level; if he does not, he feels dissatisfied.

The biggest problem with Flappy Bird is that it feeds off a player’s innate desire for competition.

Perhaps it is because we are biologically wired to be competitve. If a friend gets past one set of pipes, a player will naturally want to get past two, and so on. Perhaps it is because we crave the social reward for having achieved a high score.

The important thing is for the individual to not allow themselves to be consumed by the game.

Don’t forget there is a life outside of that four-inch screen.