It is just a game

I accept the first mistake. I accept the second one as well. But after the third mistake it started. Slightly but noticeable my frustration has increased. I am angry. My tolerance threshold has almost reached the peak. I take a deep breath and breath out. Another try… I failed again. I am exploding inside, and I just want to throw the phone against the wall to feel released. My mind stops me from doing it.

All the physical and emotional arousal is triggered by looking at and touching a screen, which displays a cute little animal and a monotonous but colorful and familiar background.

Yes, I am talking about “Flapping Bird” or how Ingo Bogost would describe it; “the stupid game”. I agree with his statement. Your only task is to tap the screen to make the bird flap, it then rises somewhat before immediately plunging. That will help you to navigate the bird through small gaps between two pipelines. After every successful passed gap, you get a point. The game is over if you touch anything with the bird.


It sounds incredible easy, but it is not. I managed to pass five gaps after having played 1h. The next days no development was seen. I felt at least a little bit relieved when I read on that website, if you score 10 points or higher, you’re doing better than 97.97% of all games.

However, I am wondering how millions of people can keep playing this game including myself, even though the fun factor is very limited, and you experience more frustration than pleasure.

According to Hunicke et al (2004) creating a game that is fun for a player should consist of some aesthetic components, such as sensation, fantasy, narrative game as drama, challenge, fellowship, discovery, expression etc.

  • Sensation: That means the game should somehow demonstrate pleasure for the player.
  • Fantasy: For instance, adapting as a new character (roleplaying).
  • Narrative Game as drama: Every level should present a new piece of the story.
  • Challenge: Game provides some obstacles, such as time pressure.
  • Fellowship: The game provides a social framework. For instance, players in one team share information with each other.
  • Discovery: The game provides new game elements within the game such as new territories.
  • Expression: A game should provide self-discovery for the player, for example by being able create his or her own character.

These aesthetic elements make a game far more interesting and more pleasurable. If I consider these elements and the game flappy bird, I barely can find those elements in the game. The only sense of pleasure that you experience is after having reached your high score, but that happens incredible rarely. In addition, there is no underlying story behind the game and not to mention the non-existing levels. Thus, there is no discovery possible and the monotonous screen does not really provide spectacular or unexpected elements for the player, which would make the game more attractive. Additionally, there is no sign of social framework. You just play for yourself and thereby against yourself. By this I mean you want to get more points than your current high score. Furthermore, the game doesn`t provide self-discovery, but the only element that it does provide, is challenge. The challenge is incredibly tough. The difficulty does not increase slightly, so that the player would have the possibility to slowly adapt to it and can see his development. The game starts very difficult and maintains difficult over the whole game.  

What makes the game so attractive?

I personally think it is all about the existing aesthetic elements; challenge and sensation. In my case the expectation of the challenge and the actual challenge that I face in that game made me continue to play. By this I mean that I expect the game to be very easy, since the task is to just pass the gaps by tapping the screen to make the bird flap. However, the reality is different, it is immense difficult for me to just pass five gates. Nonetheless it does not stop me from keep playing because I think every round: “Now it will work, the task itself is very easy!” The frustration raises and by reaching the own high score you satisfy the frustration for just a moment. The satisfaction will stay for a few seconds because the next rounds are full of failures again. The moment of satisfying the frustration, is in my eyes, is the key of keep playing. You want to have that feeling again. It is kind of an addiction, that is why I deleted it immediately.

In conclusion I believe the game is based on its actual immense challenge, the wrongly perceived simple challenge and the related sensation.

For my next blog I would like to write about the experience with a video game that includes some of the mentioned aesthetic elements from above. Since I have never played video games it would be great if you could recommend me some games. Thanks’!