Just a quick game. It only takes a second. I, I need to beat my high score. That stupid bird. DAMMIT! Ok this time I’ll do better. DAMMIT! Alright the ad distracted me. F*CKKKK! I was doing so good. NOOOooo!
I don’t know why I want to play Flappy Bird. Why it’s the first thing that pops into my mind during the cracks between day-to-day life, whenever something is hard or I have a moment to wait. But I just need to hear the sweet sound of those coins racking up, like playing Mario as a kid. Nothing else matters as long as I stay between the pipes.
I mean, I’ve played others before. Yet after so many smooth difficulty curves there’s something so seductive about Flappy Bird. It humiliates me, but I like it. It’s the dominatrix of mobile games.
The beauty is there’s no commitment. I don’t have to wait to see if I succeed. No investment lost if I fail. The reinforcement so utterly immediate, I crave the constant judgement. There’s no months of worry about a performance review like at work. There’s no necessary consideration about whether I saved enough lives to beat the boss like in other games.
Each pipe passed washes away all the sins before it.
Each time I start over, there’s no baggage to carry, no permanent record to weigh me down. Just that score, and the lust to exceed it. To beat my friends. To beat myself. To conquer something frustrating the rest of the world.
But to what end? Where am I flapping to? Will I one day float out past the sea of pipes and arrive at that distant city in the clouds? My Bespin paradise?
No. There is no congratulations. No secret ending. No cute victory animation to watch when it’s over. The pipes are infinite. There was no puzzle. No narrative. No point. It was designed to occupy our attention in the name of entertainment. For some, it delivered that escape. But there is no satisfaction. A new high score begets desire for a new high score. All we get is another dopamine hit.
Perhaps that’s why Flappy Bird’s creator Dong Nguyen tweeted “I will take ‘Flappy Bird’ down. I cannot take this anymore.” [Update 2/9/2014: Dong has removed Flappy Bird from the app stores.] The only way to win is not to play, and he knew we couldn’t quit on our own.