Meet Flappy Bird, the Game That Doesn't Love You Back

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You probably have a friend or two who has wasted some of their life—more than they ever wanted—playing Flappy Bird. And no matter what we or your friends say about this terrible game, it won't stop you from playing.  

The game which, at times, feels like it maybe took 12 brain cells from creator Dong Nguyen and a fart of interest to make, is currently the top mobile game on the iTunes and Android charts. In it, you navigate an ugly little bird between pipes (that look like they belong in Super Mario).  It's not terribly attractive, not terrible fun to play, and is altogether an unsatisfying experience, but people cannot tear themselves from the game. Here's why:

It's Very Difficult

After playing around with Flappy Bird on my iPhone for about ten minutes, the highest score I got was a two. I've never gotten a two on anything in my life (maybe there was an errant AP test or something, but everyone except native speakers failed that Spanish one). And that two just sits there with its ugly pixelated curve and just stares at you, daring you to play more and more. 

One of the reasons that my score is so low is that the game's controls are very sensitive. It'd probably be easier to have an option to hold down the button to move your round little bird up and down. Or maybe it'd be easier to have the bird have a resting position. But, then that wouldn't be as fun.

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"Playing Flappy Bird is like fixing an unfixable drawer pull, one that will never reattach correctly, one that you know will never do, but persisting in the face of such torpor nevertheless," The Atlantic's Ian Bogost writes. "Because the game cares so little for your experience of it, you find yourself ever more devoted to it," he writes.

The beauty of the difficulty is that it ensures everyone has (more or less) the same experience. There's no need for spoilers or strategy guides, because no one ever makes it far enough to see anything other than their tiny bird plummet to its death. It also makes this game easier to talk about—talking about how you hate something (God, that Jeopardy guy) is easier than talking about how much you love it. 

When people chat or share their experience about the game, it's a streamlined, smooth, simple, easily-accessible conversation about how difficult and annoying it is. 

Flappy Birds Apparently Cheats You 

I haven't gotten far enough to know if this happens, but apparently the game will "make" you hit pipes that you weren't going to. Forbes contributor Paul Tassi explains there are "collision boxes that will have you striking surfaces you believed you were nowhere near."  

Even if you master the art of controlling your bird and have the gentle touch to guide it through its pipe-ridden life, this game will always defeat you. And it puts you on the same level as all the bad Flappy players. But ... but ... there a chance it won't cheat you next time, right? Wrong. It's even less-satisfying than the cruel randomness of a Dots board without a square right off the bat. 

Flappy Birds Sets the Accomplishment Bar Really Low

The beauty of making such a difficult and rigged game is that getting a "good" score is easy. Keeping it together for about five seconds could probably get you a four, which feels like its in the 99th percentile. Eight puts you on the varsity team, hitting 10 would make you an all-star,  and anything in the high double digits be hall of fame status. That idea—keeping your spastic finger and sound mind under control for about five seconds—walks hand-in-hand with the difficulty level to keep you playing more and more. 

... and That Makes It Perfect to Share


If you look at the number of ratings Flappy Bird has on iTunes, you'll notice that it possesses over 400,000 rating. Moreover, there are over 4,700 pages of reviews for the App. Each review tries to outdo the previous one by being funnier, wittier, smarter, snarkier with headlines like "Satanic Games" and "the death of me." The same type of company-seeking misery is also alive on Twitter and on sites like Buzzfeed

Intentional or not, the game is tailor-made for our viral, inside-joking, instant-result, and boast-happy world. Announcing your terrible two-score makes you one of the people and part of the conversation. It's your humble-brag badge.

You will not have fun.  The game does its best to ensure that. But fun was never the point anyway. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.