The last week has seen the meteoric rise and fall of Flappy Bird. I first heard of Flappy Bird on a Tuesday, and by Thursday the creator of the game announced that he was removing it from circulation. As far as simple and addicting flash games go, no game has ever inspired such joy and such rage as Flappy Bird. But how can one explain the tragic trajectory of Flappy Bird’s success and, ultimately, failure? What does our love and our hatred of Flappy Bird say about the human condition? What are the implications of Flappy Bird on reality itself? Brace yourselves, dear readers, as we embark on an exploration into the deep depths of this cruel and short-lived game.
The player avatar and titular character of Flappy Bird, is, of course, the bird. However, this pixelated avian calls into question the very concept of “bird”. Indeed, the “bird” of Flappy Bird appears less like a bird, and more like a beach ball with fish lips. Moreover, this creature has no seeming birdlike traits or motivations. According to Michel Foucault, our system of language creates almost arbitrary categories, overemphasizing the similarities between objects and ignoring the differences. By presenting such a tenuous “bird”, is Flappy Bird urging us to abandon our current system of animal classification? Would the “bird” of Flappy Bird be better classified as a different organism? Should we classify organisms at all?
Moreover, Flappy Bird questions our concept of “the pipe”, through the endless stream of Mario-esque pipes that scroll onto the screen from the right. Unlike the universe of Mario, in which pipes have some meaning, due to Mario’s occupation as a plumber, the pipes of Flappy Bird are out of place and even bizarre. How did these pipes come to be hanging from the sky? Why do they enter ceaselessly onto the screen? Is there a purpose or a deeper meaning to the pipes? Through the use of Mario pipes, not only the character of Flappy Bird, but the setting is deconstructed and dismantled.
Indeed, Flappy Bird seems to call into question the idea of “the game” itself. There is no progression in Flappy Bird. There is no winning, only losing. There is no success, only failure. One could argue that Flappy Bird is not truly a game, but an endless exercise in futility. In this way, Flappy Bird mimics the cruelty of life. In the world of Flappy Bird, as in the world of the human, there is no “winning”, only an endless series of obstacles that will one day cause failure. It is almost comforting to know that Flappy Bird contains nothing unexpected. The first pipe is the same as the last pipe. Is Flappy Bird the only predictable thing in this cruel and inconstant world?
Of course, the questions incited by Flappy Bird may never be answered, as the creator of the much-hated game has chosen to remove the game from the market. This action has created the same kind of confusion that was incited by the game itself. Can the creator of Flappy Bird really control its use? Or does Flappy Bird belong to its users, not its creator? If Roland Barthes’s belief that the birth of the reader occurs only at the death of the author is true, does the creator of Flappy Bird need to relinquish his control over his game to facilitate the birth of the player?
A nuanced reading of Flappy Bird leaves more questions unanswered than it solves. However, our exploration into the world of Flappy Bird has revealed not only a simple flash game, but a complex commentary on the entire gaming industry, our taxonomy of species, and life itself. Despite the death of Flappy Bird at the hands of its own creators, Flappy Bird lives on in the hearts, and cell phones, of its players. I, for one, will continue playing Flappy Bird, in the hopes that one day I may beat my record of nine points. Flap on, my friends, flap on.