How "Flappy Bird" broke hearts

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014


FROM global hit to some sort of collector’s item, the mega-popular Flappy Bird game has been officially taken down by its creator from online stores—add, “for now”—if you are one of those in denial after news of the game’s quick demise. But as of this writing: game over.

Oh yes, like love that comes and goes, some are either broken by the news or relieved.

But anyhow, this story will take a quick look at how this game captured millions of hearts worldwide; and then left everyone hanging in the air, wondering what really happened.

But before the posthumous analysis how people developed a love-hate relationship with the bird with no name, here’s a quick lowdown on the game.

Flappy Bird is (was) a game created by Vietnamese indie game developer, Dong Nguyen and it has been downloaded 50 million times.

The game play is simple (or too simple—deceptively simple). A player just has to tap the screen to allow the bird to fly. One tap equals one “pop” that allows the bird to rise in the air. Tap rapidly and you get what you give, the bird rises high up. Stop tapping and the bird just crashes. Then there are the pipe obstacles, which you need to navigate the bird through.

That’s just about it. Hit the ground or pipes and the game ends. A single point is awarded each time the bird flies past a pipe. Amass a whole lot of points and brag to friends.

Nguyen’s game, before he took it down for personal reasons, raked in $50,000 daily. In an interview with The Verge, the developer said that “the reason Flappy Bird is so popular is that it happens to be something different from mobile games today and is a really good game to compete against each other.”

Anyway, here are three random theories how people all over the world fell in love with the game:

Nothing like delayed gratification

It holds out gratification like a good football match.

A thrilling football match, unlike basketball, may go on for hours yet only rewards a team with a single point or two. The ball game may provide too much tension for the audience rooting for their respective teams, that by the time their favorite striker scores a goal, fans go ballistic after holding their breath for 30-35 minutes of watching the ball go up and down the court.

“Viva!” They scream, shout, dance—they gather as much oxygen as possible to make up for the amount they lost watching the game in suspense.

The game Flappy Bird, taps into that sense in a much more miniscule way, of course.

The higher the player’s score goes, the better possibility of him not breathing.

In fact, the heart seems to involuntarily stop beating so as not to distract the player’s finger-tapping rhythm. People pay a good buck to get scared at cinemas.

Flappy Bird gives you the suspense for free.

The level playing field

“This looks pretty, easy. I can beat the top score of 10 points easily.”

A guy tells himself after the girlfriend shows him the game. Sure enough, the boyfriend can’t even get past one pipe obstacle during his first try.

The game looks pretty darn easy when one lays his eyes on it at first. How hard can tapping and timing be?

The game creator must have had a grand time with testing the game on people, watching their reactions how they could lose to a pixilated cartoon bird.

In the end, the game invites the hardcore and the novice gamers alike and brings them to a common handicap level. Everybody can tap, and everybody can practice enough timing. No thinking, no RPG strategies, no cheats—anybody can beat anybody with this latest bird game.

Audience impact: Nostalgia points

UNFORTUNATELY, the game has its share of cons. Some game developers are crying foul for the lazy design. It obviously borrows design elements from the super-popular computer game in the 90s—Super Mario Bros. Yes, the pipes and even the whole, 2D design approach. But then the whole idea of putting an “ugly” game in a “sophisticated” phone makes the game somewhat nostalgic and endearing. This game is a modern day miracle.

In an age when everybody tries to come up with games that offer much gloss and glam, Nguyen was lucky to hit the jackpot.

But then did he, really? If it is indeed true that he grew tired of the success and attention he was getting, then fame and fortune apparently isn’t for everyone.

Whether this game will go on history as one of the videogame milestones achieved by indie developers, or go out as one of the most irritating games ever invented—whatever the case, enjoy the game on your mobile devices while you won’t be switching phones or tablets.

Goodbye, Flappy Bird.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 12, 2014.

Lifestyle

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