I stare into my iPhone like a madman stares into a fire. The incandescent glow of my phone, while soft, pains my eyes as those hauntingly familiar words are burned yet again into my corneas: ‘Game Over’. Poised with limited options by my ornithopter overlord I touch the ‘Ok’ button and submit my self, my spirit, my time, to another attempt to reach that etherial ending. In the brief respite allowed to me by the time required to load another round I look over at my striking fiancee – she too, is hypnotized by each flip and flap of the puffy, one eyed animal she holds in her hands – I am cuckolded by Flappy Bird.
My screen flickers to life again and I press ‘Start’. A now familiar scene unfolds in front of me, its impact remaining as powerful as the flames of a newly risen phoenix. ‘Get Ready’ reads the text on the screen, but I’m never prepared for the utter bleakness which presents itself so grotesquely, like the smeared lipstick and shoddy makeup of a Victorian harlot. This unspeakable bleakness in the guise of a colorful cartoon landscape stretches across the screen: green grass, rolling hills, and a shinning cityscape rises up to the fluffy white clouds and blue sky. Such a perfect landscape to the unwitting, casual observer, but anything more than a quick glance reveals the vast emptiness hidden in plain site. The endless desert crowned by that horrid green grass, practically smirking as it accelerates quickly to my left and out of sight, perpetually in motion. Juxtaposed to the wasteland below are the sky and clouds above, never moving, unnaturally frozen like mannequins taunting me with a taste of the real but unwilling to participate. And finally the skyscrapers, each finger housing dozens of tiny, complex digital lives completely independent of me or my actions so long as this game entertains my gaze. I am their life-force. I am their everything. I am their God.
My moment of virtual sonder is broken as I try to comprehend the emptiness which lies beyond my line of site. The infiniteness of what I cannot comprehend deprives me of any sense of self I have left; I break, lost against the nothingness around me. Engulfed by a black could that surrounds this impossibility I scream and I cry; I reach out for something – anything – to catch me, guide me to where I need to go. “What am I supposed to do?”, I shout, but it is only a whisper in my head. Despair sets in and I begin to doubt my own presence in this virtual world. I am not a God, I am nothingness itself.
Hope flickers in the image a tiny little hand. I stare at The Hand as a blind man stares at the Sun, trying to comprehend its meaning. The wise, omnipotent Hand, guides me to ‘Tap‘ the screen, and as my finger bows to the Hand’s demands, my soul bows to the will of the game. I am compelled.
The magnificent bird on screen flaps to life and I feel my heart pump with each flutter of Flappy Bird’s wings. My taps are too strong, too frequent and Flappy soars up through the sky. I am struck with a brief moment of pause as I glance upwards towards Flappy’s current target, an ad banner, resting atop the screen like a balloon waiting to be popped. The advertisement catches my eye as it displays an image so offensive, I am nearly crippled with disgust. It is a match three game, an enthralling adventure through a land so sweet, so coated with ostentatious candy aesthetics that the vulgarity of its mere presence before me is offensive. Curiously, located somewhere deep in my sub-conscious a vision is laid out before me whereby I am laughing, tapping, and crushing my way through that candy-coated hell. My stomach drops as I realize I am considering abandoning Flappy Bird, the God who crushes Kings. I quietly condemn the carnivalesque consumerism which has ruined my art, and praise Flappy Bird for giving me the strength to carry on.
Gathering myself together again I refocus on the task at hand. I release my tap, and Flappy Bird dives back down through past the first set of green pipes. The pipes are spread like enormous tentacles of a mean, green, perhaps familiar looking monster. I proceed to maintain a pace through each gap the likes of which no man, woman, or machine has likely ever witnessed. I know my success is temporary; with each gap cleared the sound of success rings in my ear like church bells tolling, anticipating my death at any moment. But I refuse to succumb to the appendages of the green monster, and my confidence swells with each gap cleared. I have crawled out of the depths of emptiness contained within and arisen; my scars, my wounds, they are my unprecedented understanding of this work of art. I can now see myself in the game. Flappy Bird is just a visage, I am the true character in this game. There is no Flappy Bird – I am Flappy Bird.
And then it ends, instantaneously and irrevocably. Echoing in my ears is a pop, followed by a slide whistle. I am reduced to nothing; the cartoon soundtrack of my death lampoons the notion that I ever existed at all. I yet again stare at the ‘Game Over’ which mocks my spirit. Hundreds of questions roll through my mind, the loudest of which simply asks “How long will you keep playing?”. I begin to weep uncontrollably and I throw my phone in an indiscriminate direction. The phone stops short of my living room roof before descending back towards earth. In my mind’s eye I feel myself tapping an imaginary screen, pathetically attempting to flutter the phone upwards with some newly discovered telekinetic prowess; however, unsurprisingly, my imaginary taps are futile and my phone smashes to the ground. I hear a non-existent slide-whistle mock me.
I have been defeated by Flappy Bird. I have accepted its inevitability. I have chosen to wade no more in the pool of ignorance and disgrace, but follow my flappy guide, who like a phantom flag-bearer, silently heralded in the postmodern age of interactive media. This work of art has asked for nothing from its audience, instead it gives itself fully and un-remorsefully to the masses, like a cloth to wash the colorfully mass-produced waste off society’s face with the dark, bleak emptiness with which our society so unrelentingly admonishes.