Flappy Bird was developed by dotGears and released in 2013 on Android and iOS. Five years later, the game is as elegant as it is socially prescriptive. An overnight smash hit, the titular Flappy Bird flaps up and down as it progresses through an obstacle course of pipes. Each tap on your touchscreen jolts your Flappy Bird up with some wonderfully wonky arcade physics. Time its descent perfectly and give it another tap to gear up for the next challenge once the obstacle is cleared.
The single-player mobile arcade game acted as a sort of foreshadowing to the modern day phenomenon of Fortnite, bringing in the era of gaming that has become as social as it is antisocial: the hours of painstaking deliberation giving way to the flash of gratitude when you can count yourself as better than your friends. Here lies the simplicity and elegance of Flappy Bird. While it is grounded in minimalism, it truly gains its wings when coupled with competition against peers.
Unfortunately, this incubator of competitive rivalry has roots in legitimate issues. Dong Nguyen, the creator of the game, seemed to realize the sort of evil that he was introducing to the world. After seeing the addictiveness of the game, Nguyen felt an insurmountable wall of guilt rising up at creating an app that he perceived to be morally reprehensible. Thus, as soon as it rose, Flappy Bird fell.
Plenty of games have risen to try to replicate the magic that Flappy Bird once commanded, but none of them have gained the same sort of relevance. However, this was one of the first smash hits of the social media era. It cemented its status alongside such giants such as Angry Birds and Doodle Jump, but the fall is always easier to document than the rise. Here lies the singular allure of Flappy Bird. Like Icarus, Flappy Bird flew too close to the sun in its own arrogance and was not able to withstand the spotlight. Flappy Bird lived fast and died young, but that sort of martyrdom is what the American public loves.
While I was unable to review Flappy Bird through the original app, I did use one of the many doppelgangers available on the App Store to get another dose of the one-tap-wonder. It gave me a few minutes of nostalgia, followed by a couple more of competing with my friends to see who could best harken back to their old days to conjure up the best score. It was fun while it lasted, but the novelty of the game has largely departed from when I originally played it.
There is still a sort of chic satisfaction to be had in the game, but it doesn’t have nearly the staying power that it once did. Why is that? I think it must have to do with the lack of social relevance that the game now commands. Without the proper network to bring the game alive, it served no purpose after I received my initial rush of dopamine. Alas, my high score of 18 was nowhere close to what it was when I poured countless minutes into honing my skills, but playing the game still conjured up splendid memories of old.