A Love/Hate Relationship with 'Flappy Bird'

by Erik Kersting

10 February 2014

I love Flappy Bird because it isn't easy. I hate Flappy Bird because it isn't easy.

I love Flappy Bird because it isn’t easy. I’m sick of casual games that don’t challenge the player in any feasible way. Flappy Bird, while easy to understand, is not easy and requires muscle memory, quick thinking, and skill in order to succeed. Even better, the difficult gameplay is not a detriment to people playing and enjoying the game. Often a casual gamer will fail and give up, Flappy Bird is fast paced enough that the player doesn’t get sick of failing but rather feels compelled to get better. The game’s difficulty isn’t based on luck, but rather any time that the player dies, it is their own fault and no one else’s.

I hate Flappy Bird because it isn’t easy. It seems all anyone talks about in relation to the game is its supposed “difficulty”. Some even compare it to Dark Souls, one of the harder games of the past generation. Dark Souls is a great game that most critics and gamers reduce to just “being really hard” but it has a fantastic plot, great controls, a great community, and amazing moments. Flappy Bird‘s “amazing moments” come when you top your previous high score. It shouldn’t be compared to Dark Souls just because the games are more difficult than most of today’s games. Flappy Bird may be difficult, but it is difficult in a way that leads to dull, boring, repetitious gameplay.
I love Flappy Bird because the controls are so simple. There is literally only one button and that one button only does one thing, makes you flap your wings and hop in mid air. Every jump is exactly the same height, so you never have to worry about how long you hold your finger on the screen. Anyone with eyes and the ability to press the screen can play Flappy Bird.  Like Wii Sports, Flappy Bird‘s simplicity can introduce whole new groups of people to video games. For the casual gamer, simplicity is king, and it is difficult to get much more simple than Flappy Bird.

I hate Flappy Bird because the controls are so simple. You can’t control how high you jump, so the gamer in me that loves Super Meat Boy, Super Mario Bros. 3, and Super Smash Bros. feels forgotten when I lightly tap to try to hop just a short distance instead of the stupid full hop that it forces the player to perform every time they click the screen. The game is so simple that it won’t be anything more than a passing fad. There is no depth to the game at all.

I love Flappy Bird because the developer is making mad dough. It not only encourages indie developers to keep making their games, but also inspires people that are not in the industry to consider a career in games. Indie developers need to remember that this can be profitable if you make a good enough game. Us critics need to remember that. As in literature, film, and music, often the most interesting concepts come not from the AAA titles, big movies, best sellers, or triple platinum albums but from the indie games, indie movies, small-time authors, or indie music that inevitably influence the main stream.

I hate Flappy Bird because the developer is making mad dough. It only took him a few days to make the game and other developers spend way more time for way less. It discourages indie developers from creating new and exciting games and encourages them to create repetitious, boring, and banal games that might just capture the casual gamers attention. If Flappy Bird inspires the indie community, it is a step backward, not a step forward.

I love Flappy Bird because it hearkens back to 8-bit games. I love those old school graphics, and while many indie games have 8-bit graphics, Flappy Bird feels like one; it doesn’t just look like one. It has that classic difficulty that we don’t find in games anymore. It has that aesthetic of discovery that I miss from NES games. Today’s games just give you everything on a silver platter. Flappy Bird, like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Battletoads makes you work for your victories, thus making them so much sweeter.

I hate Flappy Bird because it hearkens back to 8-bit games. I’m pretty sure the sprites from the game are literally stolen from Super Mario Bros. 3. I’m so sick of indie developers making games that try to rip off the same nostalgia for older games instead of creating a new experience that will give the player something to create nostalgia out of. It’s simple in a way that Super Mario Bros and The Legend of Zelda are not, and it reduces the feeling of “victory” to just the idea of a high score.

I love Flappy Bird because it is addicting and popular. It shows how video games can infect and influence mass culture. I love seeing people playing Flappy Bird and socializing over a video game instead of turning their nose up at a night of playing Mario Golf. The more video games get accepted in broader culture, the more my criticism of them becomes valid, and the more diversity we will see enter the field of video games. The more we can destroy the stereotype of “nerds” and “geeks” from our social construction of gamers the better. People should think of games in the same way that they think about literature, film, and music.

I hate Flappy Bird because it is addicting and popular. It represents the absolute worst subsection of video game culture. Its victories are hollow and disingenuous at best. Its popularity only seeks to do video games a disservice as it doesn’t have any narrative complexities, pull any emotional heart strings, or show the absolute beauty that video games can possess. Instead it is just a waste of time that will be forgotten in ten years. I wish casual gamers would play The Last of Us, Super Mario 3D World, Gone Home, or Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, all of which are fairly easy to pick up and play, but also explore interesting ideas and have real things to say. Flappy Bird won’t bring anyone into the medium, but rather perpetuate stereotypes that already exist.

Everything that is good about Flappy Bird sucks, and everything that sucks about Flappy Bird is good. It is a great game and a terrible game, and I don’t know how to feel about that.

Addendum:  It has come to my attention that the creator of Flappy Bird, Dong Nguyen, has taken Flappy Bird down due to the stresses the game’s popularity (and subsequent criticism) have caused him. It is always worth noting that in a situation like this we shouldn’t hate the creator of a game, no matter how simple or dull the game, and blame or berate them for popularity of the game they created. There are loads of similar games that get released on mobile devices every day and every once in awhile one hits it big. It isn’t Dong Nguyen’s fault his simple game caught fire and became very popular or that he started making a lot of money from it. We must remember that it is us, the players, who downloaded, played, wrote about, and contributed to the popularity of the game.

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