Why The Heck Is Everyone Playing 'Flappy Bird'?

Why The Heck Is Everyone Playing 'Flappy Bird'?

Start. Tap. Tap. Tap. Taptaptaptaptaptaptap. Tap. Tap. PING! Tap. Tap. Punch sound. Sad Whistle.

Curse your slow fingers, shake off another small piece of dignity, then press Start again. Just one more time.

If you're not already tortured by the exercise in futility that is "Flappy Bird," here's what you need to know about the hottest new mobile game: It's a seemingly effortless, highly addictive iPhone and Android game. Players have to get the bird through the green pipes by tapping on the screen and making him flap his wings.

Oh, and, everyone you know is playing it. The app has reached the No. 1 spot on both the App Store and Google Play over the course of the last week.

If you haven't tinkered with it yet, give it a try. Just try not to pay heed to the hundreds of reviews warning you to turn back now before all hope is lost. Only some people's lives turn into dark pits of despair and broken dreams. Odds are you're going to be just fine. Just kidding. You're going to hate yourself.

flappy bird

The game's basic premise is quickly uprooted by its warped sense of physics. Pipes are closer than you think they are. The bird always falls or rises faster than you need it to. Your fingers can't relax enough to easily make it through obstacles, and then, just when you're settling into the rhythm of the game -- BLAM! -- there's an ad that pops up on the bottom of the screen and totally breaks your focus.

So how has this endlessly frustrating, seemingly glitchy game topped Snapchat and Facebook apps in downloads this week? Don't ask the developer, Vietnamese indie developer Nguyen Ha Dong, who recently said he's put absolutely no effort into marketing any of his three games, all of which are currently in the top 10 free apps on the App Store.

It's likely the natural "shareability" of the game has led to its enormous success.

"Flappy Bird" is the Sisyphean bastard child of two different game genres: "masocore," Mario's goth cousin that glorifies highly challenging, trial-and-error gameplay usually broken into levels, and "endless runners," the self-explanatory name of the genre that brought us the highly successful "Temple Run."

"Flappy Bird" is both, and neither, of these genres; it breaks both categories down to their barest elements to create a new style of game. And, if the 490K-plus ratings on the App Store are any indication, this new genre seems to be going over pretty well with consumers.

So how has this contributed to the game's virality? A few reasons:
  1. Infinite loops put you into a "just one more round" mentality. You know how your mind is entranced by infinitely looping GIFs? "Flappy Bird" works the same way. There's no change in scenery or levels to work through; the only difference between the first pipe and the hundredth is the tiny number ticking off how many obstacles you've cleared. This makes it easy to start from the beginning once you've suffered a defeat.

  • Each game is short and senseless. You'll die in "Flappy Bird" in 30 seconds or less. Every time. That is, unless, you're a pro, in which case we don't care about your superhuman talents anyway. The game's brevity makes it perfect for standing in line, riding on the subway, or waiting for the elevator. You know you won't get caught in the middle of a round that you can't pause and walk away from.
  • It's impossible to beat, but it doesn't expect you to care about that. You can't win "Flappy Bird;" there is no end. While the game seems to have proved that our collective tolerance for futility and frustration is very high, eventually, even the most determined players will give up and delete the app ... but not before telling all their friends about the super hard game they've been playing.
  • It's really starting to remind you of something else you've played. Those green pipes? That music? The coin sound you hear when going through pipes? Gameplay style may be totally different, but this is starting to look a lot like Mario. And nothing works up the gamer nostalgia quite like a certain Italian plumber.
  • It's really easy to tell how badly you're doing.. "Flappy" is having none of your convoluted, confusing scoring methods with multipliers and triple letter scores and whatnot. You don't get 100 points for successfully navigating through a pipe. One pipe, one point. It's easy to understand, and it's oh-so-easy to brag to your friends when you nab a new high score.
  • Basically, the game is so senselessly difficult that you need to tell everyone you know about it.

    So is "Flappy Bird" the new genre to watch? Probably not. Who knows what future updates will hold, or what the inevitable "Flappy Bird 2" will look like, should it ever arrive, but the success of the original seems to come down to a very specific and perfect formula, built for two things: senseless difficulty and virality. This perfect combination comes together in an easily shareable game that no one is very good at but everyone wants to talk about.

    But as the Atlantic points out, "Flappy Bird" continues, seemingly unaware of its own success or of the trauma it seems to be causing mobile gamers. "'Flappy Bird' is not amateurish nor sociopathic. Instead, it is something more unusual. It is earnest. It is exactly what it is, and it is unapologetic. Not even unapologetic—stoic, aloof. Impervious. Like a meteorite that crashed through a desert motel lobby, hot and small and unaware."

    So gamers, keep plugging away at your high score, and developers, keep trying to mimic its success. Just don't expect "Flappy" to care about your failures.

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