At 7:30 Thursday morning, I became one of the thousands of people to download the game Swing Copters — the highly anticipated follow-up to cult favorite Flappy Bird — which hit the app store late last night.
Between 7:30 and 7:45, I probably played the game two dozen times. I never made it past the first level. In fact, I never made it longer than three seconds, when my “swing copter” — a goofy little character with a propeller beanie and bulging eyes — would inevitably hit some obstacle and flash that unfeeling “Game Over!” sign.
And every time that happened, I faced a critical choice: to stop playing the damn thing and leave for work already, which many people would argue is the most rational option; or to click the play icon yet again, in spite of overwhelming odds, mounting frustration and no tangible payoff besides dubious “bragging” rights.
From the makers of Flappy Bird comes out a new game called #SwingCopters its so hard arghhhhhhh so stressfull lol cant even get 1 score 🙈😠— ✨Daniel Halawi✨ (@dan9700) August 21, 2014
Swing Copters is on iOS (US store). https://t.co/8m2Iz6hU5k My high score is 1. ONE. O N E. After like 50 tries. Flappy Bird X 10 difficult.— George Broussard (@georgeb3dr) August 21, 2014
In this regard, Swing Copters is more or less indistinguishable from its predecessor, Flappy Bird, also the brainchild of conflicted Vietnamese game-designer Dong Nguyen. Nguyen released that game in May 2013 to little initial acclaim. It was stupidly simplistic, as far as mobile games go: All you had to do was tap the screen to navigate a cartoon bird between rows of pipes. But it was also very, very hard, and new players had to endure a long period of defeat before they actually began succeeding at the game — which, needless to say, few did.
By last winter, Nguyen had become so horrified by players’ apparent addiction to the game that he briefly pulled it from the app store — despite the fact that it was, at its peak, making him something like $50,000 a day in ad revenue.
“Flappy Bird was designed to play in a few minutes when you are relaxed,” Nguyen told Forbes in February. “But it happened to become an addictive product. I think it has become a problem.”
Realistically, when you think about the pattern of typical gameplay, it is … kind of problematic. Perhaps the average Flappy Bird player doesn’t tap to the level of actual, medical addiction — reliving past games, obsessing over future ones, becoming agitated when they can’t play — but the very premise of the game is absurd. It’s so exceedingly simple, and so overwhelmingly difficult, that players must continue to consciously choose to play over and over and over again, despite overwhelming evidence that they’ll always be met with defeat.
In psychology, they call a reminiscent phenomenon the gambler’s fallacy — the mistaken belief that if you lose a lot in the beginning you’ll somehow win more later on. In popular parlance, we have another term: insanity.
So, yes, Swing Copters will probably be buzzy today, in light of its predecessor’s absurd success. You may be tempted, as I was, to actually download it to your phone.
But if you really want to beat the game, just don’t play it. Even Nguyen only has a high score of 8.