The Great Flappy Bird Flap of 2014 (A Memorial)

flappy bird

My son River (four) has this thing that he does where he will sneak into our bedroom in the morning and steal my iPhone. Usually he’ll play Lego Star Wars or one of the awesome Rayman runners I keep on it- he has good taste in games. Last week, I woke up and I heard him in his room laughing and his sister, Scarlett (two) was in there giggling as well. I had no idea what was going on. So I crept down the hall to spy on them and they were both watching the phone, River tapping it furiously. Then I heard a familiar punching sound and I knew what was up.

They were playing Flappy Bird.

Like most of the world, I downloaded it out of curiosity to see what the deal was with this weirdly popular, out-of-nowhere sensation that was earning its creator $50,000 a day in ad revenue until he pulled the game from the App Store over the weekend. I thought it was goofy and kind of dumb, but not without an odd charm mostly owing to its ridiculous difficulty and notably Mario-like graphics. I meant to delete it.

But I’m glad I didn’t, because my kids were playing together and having a ball with it. I sat down and played with them. We all took turns. I’d get the phone and say “alright, this time I’m gonna do it” and then crash out on the first set of pipes. We’d laugh. Then Scarlett would take the phone and do the same thing. River would clear one, and it was like a small miracle. They loved that you get a Wreck-it-Ralph style Hero Medal (with no actual value) for setting a record. I tried to be awesome dad, getting through 11, 12, 13 and finally 14 of the pipes. They were impressed.  But there’s no way to do that consistently, regardless of your skill level.

It’s a “thing” for us now. When we have a minute or two, I’ll pull out the phone and we’ll pass it around, crashing and laughing about it. Every now and then, completely at random, River will say “Daddy, that Flappy Bird is too hard!” I can just imagine that in his mind he’s trying to reason out why he actually does pretty well with Lego Star Wars but can’t work out how to get that stupid bird through a a gap between some pipes that he probably recognizes from Super Mario Bros.

What can I say? We had  un and are having fun with a game that has confused, angered and mystified everyone from the mainstream media to hardcore gamers. I have more fun playing this silly, frankly crappy game with my kids than I did playing just about any multimillion dollar AAA game made in the last year. I think I’ve played it longer than I had either Killzone 4 or Assassin’s Creed 4 in my PS4. My kids do not care about the politics of it being ad supported or the maybe-maybe not appropriation of Nintendo-branded sprites. They aren’t worried if the game demonstrated some kind of “dumbing down” of video games. They do not see it as a general  barometer of how terrible and shallow mobile games can be. They do not view the game as another catastrophe in the casualocalypse that is supposedly destroying video games.

And you know, ultimately, I don’t either. Because we had fun playing a video game. It did exactly what a video game is supposed to do, regardless of quality, intent or depth. It entertained us. It didn’t try to make some grandly juvenile statement about The Way Things Are In America. Flappy Bird did not have a girl pack mule to escort in an attempt to show how not sexist the game is. There’s no DLC, IAPs or DRM. I was never called a “faggot” over a voice com every time I hit a pipe. Other than the ads, Flappy Bird might just have been a return to the kind of pure no-bullshit video gaming my generation grew up on- even if by accident rather than design.

Sure, Flappy Bird is a crude, single-mechanic game with no other goal than to see if you can get further than you did last time. It is punitive and intolerant of failure with a hard fail state. But you know, those qualities are perfectly in line with a lot of classic early video games. If it were 1981 and Flappy Birdd were housed in a cabinet festooned with gaudy artwork, there might have been  a Bruckner and Garcia song about it.

Flappy Bird probably won’t be (and shouldn’t be) remembered as a classic like Pac-Man or Space Invaders but like those games, it will be remembered as a fad. It’s a very different cultural time, and that fad lasted for all of about a week and a half before it apparently fizzled out. Was Dong Nguyen, the game’s apparently reclusive creator, a marketing genius that got in and cashed out before the backlash? Or was he really just some guy that made this silly game that somehow went viral and went on to millions of downloads almost overnight?

I almost don’t want to know. I want it to remain this kind of strange anomaly. I want to think that Mr. Nguyen really did pull the game because he wanted to be left alone to spend his unexpected fortune. I’m sure that some of the big IOS development houses are already either offering him jobs or trying to sort out how to duplicate the success of this short-sell, flash-in-the-pan phenomenon. Good luck with that, suits.

So Flappy Bird is gone after an 11th hour update that randomly changes Flappy Bird’s color and makes it night time over the mysterious city in the background. You can’t download the game anymore. It looks like there are already a horde of other Flappy games emerging on the App Store- and into the charts. You can already go on eBay and buy a phone from somebody for $650 with Flappy Bird installed on it. It’s obnoxious and absurd. But the whole Flappy Bird thing has been. That said, it’s made for a hell of a lot more interesting news then some corporate marketing bullshit like a “reveal” or trailer announcement masquerading as a video game news story.

Whether you hate the game, love it or are just bewildered by its success it doesn’t matter. I don’t really care about what it “means” for gaming and sensible people shouldn’t either. My kids love it, I play it with them and we laugh about it. It doesn’t really “mean” anything, don’t overthink it.  That’s really all there is to understand about the Great Flappy Bird Flap of 2014.

2 Responses to “The Great Flappy Bird Flap of 2014 (A Memorial)”

  1. mutated February 11, 2014 at 3:36 am #

    BUCKNER and Garcia, not Bruckner.

    That said, I did like the article, very true that video games are still about fun no matter how much we like to argue about their relative merits.

  2. drmcscott February 12, 2014 at 1:08 pm #

    Leasing a game with absurd online requirements that ensure you cannot play the game you bought(Sim City 5)

    Holding back a “true” ending as DLC (Asuras wrath)

    Releasing a beloved gaming classic on your mobile behind the most obnoxious cash grab with misleading user reviews (dungeon keeper ios corrupted edition).

    These are the issues (amongst many others) we should be making a fuss about.

    Some bloke getting lucky with his FREE crap playable game… not sure I understand outcry about this one.

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