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The Seven Stages of Angry Birds

Posted on the 12 October 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost
The Seven Stages of Angry Birds

Angry Birds: A force for societal breakdown?

I blame it on Snake, I really do. Some of you may remember a time before mobile phones – or “smartphones”, as we are bound to call them now, giving them the sort of creepy semi-autonomous personality that will soon destroy us all – when the standard telephonic device of choice was the humble Nokia. It didn’t do much, apart from, well, make calls; it could store all of ten text messages; but what was so damnable about it was that you could play a game called Snake on it.

Snake was not very complicated. To those of us who had grown up with games consoles coming out of our ears, it was a mere bagatelle. But you could play it on a phone. Never before had we been accustomed to objects that could do more than one thing. You had your television, on which you watched programmes; you had your computer, your landline, and so on. This enabled us to compartmentalise our lives, as people did for centuries: you would take a call in the hall, and then return to your desk. For some reason (and whatever deep-rooted psychological insights that it reveals, I am not sure that I want to know them) the very fact that you could play a game on a functional thing was enthralling.

You are the King of the Birds, the Destroyer of Pigs, the Safeguarder of Eggs. Nobody can touch you.

It’s going to debilitate us all. I’ve recently become enmeshed in the ninth circle of hell, a place peopled by plants that shoot at zombies; where brightly coloured, very angry avian creatures hurl themselves with force at some green-pigmented porcines who’ve stolen their eggs. I have started to play games on my iPhone. I became so addicted to Plants vs Zombies that I had to delete it. I then had a brief, joyous period when I had nothing distracting; then a friend, like some demonic drug pusher, introduced me to Angry Birds.

Angry Birds, for those of you lucky enough not to know, is a game – although torture might be a more appropriate term – in which the aim is to knock down various structures (built by said invidious porkers) with a well-aimed bird. For the gamer, there are seven mental stages of Angry Birds. The first is a sort of innocent amusement, in which you laugh at the fact that you, a grown up, is actually spending time flicking irate flying creatures around on a tiny screen when you ought to be reading The Iliad or learning Persian.

The second is more serious: you come up against an obstacle in the game. There is no way you can work out how to get round it. You start tearing your hair, raking your cheeks, hitting the whisky bottle. You ask wise friends who’ve done it before. (I am sure that the programmers have done this on purpose.) You may even look up walkthroughs on the internet. And then, when, finally, euphorically, you’ve broken through, you reach the third stage: jubilation. You are on a high. You can do anything. You are the King of the Birds, the Destroyer of Pigs, the Safeguarder of Eggs. Nobody can touch you.

The fourth stage is quieter: you find an acceptance of your skill, of your ability to find the little cracks that will cause even the most elaborate pig fortress to collapse. This is a nice stage, a stage in which you can put aside the phone to deal with an email or something more pressing. The fifth stage is impatience. You begin to notice quite how many levels there are in the game. You find yourself wincing slightly inside as you reach for your phone on the tube over the poem you also brought with you. The sixth stage: anger. A real, pulsating, fierce wrath, that burns deep and hard. Once more, you’ve encountered an obstacle in the game, but this time, more fiendishly, you may have reached something you cannot pass on more than one level simultaneously. You hop, fruitlessly, from one to another, your gut twisting inside, your children dying around you and the world collapsing, but you don’t care because you need to get those bloody eggs from those damned pigs. This is not a nice level.

And the seventh? I’ve reached it now. It’s like Childe Roland trudging to the Dark Tower. It’s the weary horror of the true addict. The knowledge that the hit will never be the same again, that the high will never be as good as it was the first time, the acceptance of the fact that you will never, ever be able to finish all the levels, and yet you still desperately, keenly, want to.

And what’s worse, is I know that for the next few weeks, it will have me in its grip. And that, even if I manage to delete the game, as I did with Plants vs Zombies, something else will rear its ghastly head; not to mention the fact that it’s impossible to truly delete apps from your computer, as once you’ve bought them, they remain on your account.

So what’s the solution? Abandon smartphones altogether? In this world, that is impossible. I need mine, for work as much as for anything else. But perhaps, in society in general, we need to move towards a framework in which playing is separated from work; in which it is not done for an adult to fritter away his time flicking imaginary birds at imaginary pigs. We need to be able to keep the two apart: otherwise work becomes unbearable, and so – as any Angry Birds addict will tell you – does play.

As a society, we are struggling with new technologies: we need new mores to deal with them.

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