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Flappy Bird lives on in our hearts, if not our phones

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, at 3:08 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, at 7:43 a.m.

Photos

My 13-year-old son probably couldn’t tell you what’s happening in Syria, or the name of the Federal Reserve Chair, or the extent of the crisis in South Sudan.

But minutes after the creator of Flappy Bird removed it from the App Store, Jack had heard the news.

“Can you believe that?” he said, shaking his head. “Good thing you downloaded it when you did.”

It was as if I had staved off alien invaders or a nuclear holocaust. Thank goodness we have all that canned tuna and bottled water! The power is out, but our generator’s humming. Aren’t you glad I warned you to PREPARE YOURSELF?!

Now the game is gone, at least for now, in what is either the most idiotic or ingenious app marketing move of the 21st century.

But I have it.

That bouncing bird lives in the games folder on my phone, in all its exasperating, addictive glory. When future archeologists chip away at the sediment that engulfs us – the ash and pumice of whatever Vesuvius destroyed our modern Pompei – they will find me clutching my iPhone, one fist held aloft, face frozen in a perpetual grimace:

Curse you, Flappy Bird! they will hear me screaming. I can’t take it anymore!

I didn’t realize the game’s power when Jack first showed it to me, tapping his thumb on the iPod screen to guide the little bird through passageways between green pipes.

“Oh,” I said, nodding. “Let me try it.”

“Just a sec,” Jack replied, tapping his bird through the pipes course – ba-ding! ba-ding! ba-ding! ba-ding! – until it landed suddenly with a nosedive SMACK! into the ground. “It’s pretty hard.”

Whatever, I said. “I just want to try it once.”

Here’s the thing: One does not simply play one game of Flappy Bird. Like Temple Run and Fruit Ninja and Tetris before it, Flappy Bird mocks us with its maddening simplicity. Author and game designer Ian Bogost recently wrote in The Atlantic:

“Flappy Bird is difficult because that’s how it is. It is a game that is indifferent, like an iron gate rusted shut, like ice that shuts down a city. It’s not hard for the sake of your experience; it’s just hard because that’s the way it is. … Flappy Bird just exists. It wants nothing and expects even less.”

That article, titled “The Squalid Grace of Flappy Bird” and subtitled “Why playing stupid games staves off existential despair,” is proof we take our apps seriously. And that’s OK.

After two dozen unsuccessful tries to clear the first hurdle on Jack’s iPod, I downloaded the game onto my phone and we sat there, my son and I, tapping and shouting and soaking in the vast frustration of human experience.

Flappy Bird is a stupid little game, but it teaches persistence and humility. It illustrates the Japanese proverb, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” Flap-flap-flap, SMACK, nosedive, game over. Flap-flap-flap, SMACK, nosedive, game over. Again and again and again and again.

Not surprisingly, Jack’s talent far surpasses mine. He devoted a recent snow day to his quest for Flappy Bird dominance, and when he finally logged a high score of 158, he posted a screen-grab on Instagram and typed, “NOW I am the best in the school.”

My high score remains a pathetic and embarrassing 9. But I don’t mind.

“Playing Flappy Bird is like fixing an unfixable drawer pull,” Bogost wrote. “One that will never reattach correctly, one that you know will never do, but persisting in the face of such torpor nevertheless. Flappy Bird is a condition of the universe.”

And we play on.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

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