I’ve played plenty of stupidly frustrating games over my decades of gaming. Dragons Dogma, Angry Birds, Candy Crush, Temple Run, Call of Duty 2 (0n veteran difficulty), the list is endless. A few days ago I downloaded Flappy Bird, and it’s jumped to the top of my ‘games that make me want to tear out my hair or punch random members of the public in the face’ list. There’s something about frustrating games that really grates on me. It’s not the fact that they’re difficult, or that I can’t do them. Nor is it the fact that I spend so much time trying to succeed but always inevitably fail. What really gets me is the fact that I keep on trying. I can’t put my finger on it, but something drives me to say ‘one last go’ at least seven or eight times before I actually give up, and giving up takes some real doing. It’s never truly giving up, either. Give it a few hours, or even a few days, and I’ll be right back at it, trying to crack that difficult boss or, in the case of Flappy Bird, mindlessly tap my way past the first level.
To be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t even say that I enjoy playing some of these games. I think it’s more the impossible challenge that drives me on. The hope that I might one day succeed, even though every game ends in the same pattern of frustration and anger until I’ve calmed down enough to try again. The difference with Flappy Bird, however, is that there’s no hope of winning. I’m not even sure if you can win. At least with Call of Duty, for example, eventually (after dying five or six times) I’ll advance to the next check-point. With Flappy Bird the only achievement is beating your own score, usually by only one or two points. In that instance you’re overwhelmed with a sense of achievement, until you decide to beat the new score and the feelings of frustration and anger start all over again. There is no end, at least until you see fit that is. My girlfriend, in a moment full of deep, philosophical thought, quoted Einstein’s definition of insanity – “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. I think, in defining insanity, Einstein also defined Flappy Bird. At least for me, anyway.
So where does this leave us? Apart from slightly balding human beings with high blood pressure and not much to show for our lives other than a high score and a few difficult to crack achievements / trophies, that is. Difficult to crack games do fill me with a sense of achievement. I think, without that sense of achievement, I wouldn’t bother playing video-games at all. But then games like Flappy Bird are slightly different. They’re not difficult to crack because there is nothing to crack, apart from your will of course (and possibly a couple of knuckles if you’re prone to punching inanimate objects through rage). I don’t really see the point in these sorts of games. I wouldn’t call them fun, and they’re not really enjoyable and if it wasn’t for the fact that my girlfriend still plays it, I would have put Flappy Bird down a long time ago. The only reason that I play it at the moment is in the hope of beating her high-score (because I’m a competitive sod and not at all a gentleman). If it wasn’t for having a competitor, I wouldn’t play it. I think there’s some sort of insanity in attempting to beat yourself. At least trying to crack your friend’s high score (or that bastard who got the high score on the Pac-Man machine and chose the name ASS to be a permanent reminder of your inability to gobble up tiny blobs of pixels), gives you some sort of social interaction. An opportunity to boast at the water cooler the next day. Trying to beat yourself at a game that can’t be won seems like a dreadful way of spending an hour or so, in my books.
But maybe you disagree. Maybe you love the challenge of out-doing yourself. Perhaps you relish the opportunity to one up yourself, to teach past you a thing or two about repeatedly tapping a screen. I’m more than happy to play a frustrating game that has an end, a glimmer of opportunity to succeed, even if that game eventually gives me stomach ulcers.