Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m doing it. It might be in the middle of watching a show on Hulu, during a particularly boring film lecture or while enthralled in the incredibly rare not-boring film lecture.
Suddenly I regain consciousness and realize that I’ve been sling-shotting multi-talented birds at green pigs for the past 10 minutes. Just like my new-found appreciation for the less-than-delicious cafeteria chocolate chip cookies and Kanye West, my addiction to playing Angry Birds certainly can’t be attributed to quality, and it definitely isn’t healthy.
For those who are blissfully unaware, Angry Birds is an iPhone/iPad app that you shouldn’t download. I had heard murmurs of the game when it was gaining momentum, but hadn’t investigated it — Blackberry Tetris fulfilled all my mindless gaming needs. Then over Winter break I was vacationing with my family, and needless to say was, in desperate need of entertainment. My mother’s suggestion: A game she had downloaded (“Downloaded? Is that the right word for what I did? Did I pay for this?”) on her iPad.
Talk about irresponsible parenting — it was almost like she suggested I take up an addiction to cocaine. Sure, an iPad app is cheaper and causes fewer nosebleeds, but I haven’t heard of rehab for people who like flinging farm animals at other farm animals.
Angry Birds didn’t consume me right away. Our relationship started healthy. If I saw the iPad sitting out I’d pick it up and give it a go, but was less than enthused. One day my sister passed me the iPad to get a different approach to a level she’d been stuck on for a while. I randomly tossed the birds with no particular strategy in mind. The yellow, triangular bird made contact with the jungle-gym of wood and glass, which came crashing down. One by one, the chain reaction crushed all the pigs and completed the level.
My heart raced. I couldn’t help but wonder if I had discovered another skill to add to my List of Talents — which up to that point consisted of “badly rapping along to Kanye West songs,” “laying on flat surfaces” and “eating Wheat Thins.”
Right there I should have foreseen the problem. Unlike Tetris, I had beaten a level in seconds. Little investment for a huge reward. It was instant gratification, and I was hooked.
My early success — in the most modest sense of the word — didn’t last long. I began to play more and more. Like in real life, I made decisions with no thought of consequences. No strategy, just non-stop action. I would play a level, lose and hit “restart.” Then lose again and click “restart.” Eventually, I didn’t even wait for the first bird to make contact. More time was spent resetting the game than actually playing it.
In a game like Angry Birds, however, my lack of strategy worked well. There are no limits to the amount of attempts at each level, allowing for continuous play. After playing a level for half an hour, the odds of winning are in the player’s favor. Every 50th time I attempted a level, I was bound to win.
New Years passed, and second semester began. Without an iPad, my obsession subsided. But Steve Jobs couldn’t let me go minutes without having my hands on an Apple product. The Mac App Store launched on Jan. 6. The top selling app? Angry Birds. For about $5, all the obsessive-compulsive, big-screen fun was mine.
Since the purchase, I can’t remember an occasion I’ve taken out my laptop without giving into the call of the Angry Birds icon at the bottom of the screen. If I calculated all the time I spent playing, the cost per hour of play is probably about 15 cents.
It isn’t fun anymore, but I can’t stop. Flinging birds is like playing a slot machine. It’s mindless and repetitive, and only offers an occasional payout that’s enough to keep me going.
It’s not just me who’s become addicted. Angry Birds recently overtook The Legend of Zelda as the No.1 selling video game ever — 75 million downloads and counting. Rovio, the company responsible for the game, recently announced an expansion of Angry Birds to myriad new platforms.
The appeal of the game is that you’re allowed to hit “reset.” In real life, consequences exist. We can’t restart the day whenever a mistake is made. We have to learn from them and hope that a chance to redeem ourselves and apply the lesson presents itself. But that’s easier said than done. In the meantime, I’ll be sling-shotting birds.
Andrew Weiner is an assistant editorial page editor.