On Sunday, one of the youth from church introduced me to ‘Flappy Bird’, a new game app. In the minute or so she showed it to me, I was hooked. I needed to beat my score. My score wasn’t even impressive. It was one. But I HAD to beat it.
This has led to some serious soul-searching. And now this blog post. (In the interest of honesty, I have invested a little time since Sunday playing it. But … umm … only for research…)
Question: What on earth is ‘Flappy Bird’?! Answer: It’s a very simple game.
You control a bird. Each time you tap the screen it flaps and rises a little. While you’re not tapping, it falls. So by timing your taps, you keep your bird from dropping to the ground and you guide it through gaps in the middle of Mario-esque green pipes. Your score is how many pipes you get past before hitting one. That is literally it.
‘Flappy Bird’ has gone viral and people are playing it all over the place. It can’t be because the gameplay is so fun. Or because it’s beautifully designed. Or clever. Clearly it has tapped into something in us that makes us just need to keep playing.
I think I’ve work out what that ‘something might be’.
‘Flappy Bird’ and the human condition
The makers of ‘Flappy Bird’ are geniuses. They have realised something that motivates us very powerfully, and played into it to get millions of downloads.
That thing is failure. ‘Flappy Bird’ is designed to make us feel like failures.
If you fail to meet it, you can’t stop on a fail, so you try again. If you match it, you came so close (just one more pipe!) and you know you can do it, so you try again. If you beat it (VICTORY!), you feel so good, feel like a champion and think nothing can stop you now, so you hit ‘Retry’ like a boss! And then you almost certainly fail. Back to the start.
Whatever happens, your efforts are never enough. You don’t want to stop on a loss. You don’t want to stop on a win because you want a bigger win.
Deep down we want to defeat our failures by our own great victory, but we never can. ‘Flappy Bird’ is so successful because it feeds on that desire, that feeling that if we try just a little longer, a little harder, we can defeat that failure and become a true champion. The problem is that once we do, the victory is long forgotten, the old target is gone and there’s a new target. And there are even more opportunities to fail to meet it.
‘Flappy Bird’ and Jesus
‘Flappy Bird’ isn’t the problem. Our failure is the problem. ‘Flappy Bird’ works because we feel like failures and we want to fix the problem. It gives us a failure that is just small enough we feel we might be able to fix it.
But the truth is, and some of you might be shocked by this, life isn’t just a game of ‘Flappy Bird’. I know. That’s a big claim.
The failures I make in my life, the failures I keep making, I can’t fix. As much as I might hit ‘Retry’, as much as I may think I’ve now got the perfect technique, I keep on hitting up against those big green pipes and flunking out. Maybe it’s only me that experiences that outside of ‘Flappy Bird’, but I doubt it.
I can’t fix my failures. But I know a man who can. Deep down, humanity knows it’s broken. We know we’re broken. But we can’t fix ourselves. Jesus can, though.
‘Flappy Bird’ plays off our desire to fix things ourselves, to win by ourselves. Jesus doesn’t. Jesus doesn’t say “Get to a new high score and then we’ll talk”. He doesn’t demand we get to a higher level or put in more hours practice. He says “It’s ok. You don’t have to fix it all. I fixed it for you. I got the highest score, and if you’ll let me, I want to load it into your account.”
I don’t know which you prefer, but I’ll tell you this. ‘Flappy Bird’ makes me sadder. Jesus makes me happier.