In Defense of Bowling: Thoughts on Angry Birds

With over 200 million downloads as of May 2011, Angry Birds became a modern cultural touchpoint.

That’s incredible considering Angry Birds is by no means a technical feat nor is it an original game; in fact, it’s merely a remix of some old popular games. It’s popular because it wins on familiarity and on story. To wit, here’s a game that has similar play dynamics:

This is Breakout. Steves Jobs and Wozniak wrote this ‘original’ game for Atari. While your instincts may tell you Angry Birds and Breakout are night and day, you’d be wrong. They’re based on the same premise: send a projectile to destroy all of the static objects on a game board before you run out of lives. The game was rather successful and spawned sequels and hundreds of clones. (It’s been on every BlackBerry I’ve ever seen as “Brick Breaker”.)

Here’s another game of the same flavor: bowling.

Suspicious (yet probably still accurate) Internet data suggest that Angry Birds has about the same number of downloads (~200M) as the number of people who have bowled at least once in their lifetimes (~220M). And, given the proclivities of today’s youth, that number is increasingly in favor for the birds.

It leads one to ponder: if it’s basically the same game, why are the Angry Birds so ubiquitous? And yet, the answer is simple: emotion.

At the onset, you’re presented a problem: evil green pigs have stolen eggs from a cacophony of primary-colored kamikaze dodos. The outrage is enough to start a war, severe enough to forgo primal instincts of self preservation and use yourself as munitions; but, more importantly, it’s enough to stir, as the player, your latent need for righteous vengeance. Naturally, you are uniquely suited to aide the birds in their avionic havoc—and for which you are eager to comply.

Just watch the intro:

Damn those pigs. So smug. Ugh!

After this, sending a ball into a bunch of blocks isn’t nearly as exciting. This is because (for the non-autistic among my readership) you relate to anthropomorphic critters better than you can relate to a circle. You may have sympathy for the devil, but certainly not for a ball.

Behold:

Angry Birds is tried and true gameplay laced with emotion and familiarity: the story is familiar, the physics are familiar, and the only logical leap the game asks of the player is to forget that most birds can fly perfectly well on their own. But, in this case, they require a slingshot and your help, and don’t require a trip down to the bowling alley.

Like bowling and breakout and those before it, Angry Birds has been wildly successful, spawning sequels and dozens of clones. And toys.

But, for my time and money, I’d rather go bowling with friends—they tell better stories.

“Uh-oh”

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Etymologically, I’m infatuated with “uh-oh”. I choose to imagine its formation thusly:

Glory begins in an “uh”—the involuntary spasm associated with confusion or unfamiliarity, it’s a commonplace verbal crutch oft extinguished with any formal public speaking training. It’s negative space before a cohesive thought, like a dial-tone waiting for instructions. And, with regard to “uh-oh”, this monosyllabic overture intonates a forthcoming thought still too primitive for higher linguistics or verbiage. To the poor souls who utter it, their minds grope at the ineffable harbinger with horrifying deftness.

Notice singularity in purpose of the “uh” and the “oh”: there’s no space. A space affords a pause… and if there’s time for pause, there’s time for action. But, in this moment, action is meaningless, so the a hyphen is used only to service grammarians and readers. It’s certainly not useful nor pertinent for its utterer who, clearly, has more pressing matters to attend to.

“Oh” is the moment of clarity when dire incomprehension shifts into sharp focus. “Oh” isn’t acknowledgement of a mistake—that’s “oops!”—or understanding that everything’s going to be ok. Quite the opposite, in fact: the “oh” is the implicit acceptance that this, whatever it is that is now harrowing down upon your consciousness, is not good. This much you know. There is little, if nothing, to immediately do or solve, and your mind accepts the eventuality. What will happen will happen, and the most amount of action you can muster is to vocalize your fantastic impotence with a word so fatalistic that it does not employ a hard consonant.

Revel in the uh-ohs. They’re the only moments when you can resign yourself to the fate of your circumstances.

My iPhone’s travel log

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I know I’m totally late to the game with this one, but here’s my iPhone’s tracker log.

(Yes, my iPhone is named Dogberry.)