י״ג באדר א׳ ה׳תשע״ד (February 13, 2014)
By Yonatan Gordon
It doesn’t make sense. In under a month a game that took only two days to develop amassed over 50 million downloads, nearly 16 million tweets and then suddenly… it was taken down.
It is a story that any tech or entertainment minded journalist thought of covering. But even as the historical events surrounding the humble launch and meteoric rise of the Flappy Bird free game app have come to light, the mystery behind these events has only increased.
But behind anything that the world calls “strange” (זָר) is a deep “mystery” or “secret” (רָז), the same letters in Hebrew.
Why is it important to unravel the mystery behind what made Flappy Bird so popular? Because without it the numbers don’t add up. Without knowing the secret, the only response is to assume that the developer did something to increase the popularity of the app. But aside from his public statements that he didn’t, and the presumption that Apple generally takes down apps that are promoted in subversive ways, this response still falls short of explaining the meteoric rise of Flappy Bird.
There is another indication that compels us to seek for the secret behind the strange. Namely that while the developer has made other games in the past, he never thought that Flappy Bird would become so addictive. But while it is technically possible to increase the residual popularity of an app by means of early marketing campaigns, what cannot be marketed so readily is an addictive product. Even the best marketers with the deepest pockets haven’t fully figured this one out.
This all leads us to the search for the secret. Otherwise, the entire rise and fall of Flappy Bird is either frustrating or just plain strange.
After reading through Mashable‘s detailed account entitled, “28 Days of Fame: The Strange, True Story of ‘Flappy Bird’,” while it was clear that the story didn’t add up, I was still baffled like everyone else. Then yesterday morning, a thought dawned on me which caused my heart to beat faster with excitement.
For other games, the marketability is in the progressive sense of accomplishment gained from overcoming one challenge or obstacle after another. But the deeper reason why Flappy Bird took off as it did is because the app unknowingly promoted the opposite. Conceptually, the most exciting, meaningful and exciting experience was when the flappy character came into contact with the moving poles. While this ended the Flappy Bird game, the secret is that this ending was the sign of a greater victory in attaining the secret behind the game.
If you read the Mashable articles, the early reviews coming out were negative. But while for most games, negative reviews affect sales negatively, for Flappy Bird it had the opposite effect. Because the secret of the game is to experience this flapping character come into contact with these poles, the more news that came out about how frustrating it was to play, the more the downloads and popularity soared.
Another allusion to the secret is that while the character in the game is bird-like, conceptually it does not depict a bird at all. Before the name Flappy Bird was chosen, the original name was “Flap Flap.” But because that name was already taken, the developer had to resort to the name that we all know. To abstract our discussion, in order to uncover the secret, the question we need to ask ourselves is this: What is the great joy in witnessing a character with wings come into contact with poles?
While we don’t think the designer was consciously aware of this, the repetition of the word “flap” connotes two concepts: 1. That this character has two wings. 2. That there is a duality being conveyed, and perhaps even a symmetry between two flapping characters.
What was the realization that dawned on me yesterday morning? That the experience that players are seeking to emulate is the great symmetry and balance between paradoxical states that co-existed peacefully on the Holy Ark. The flapping characters are the two cherubim, and the poles, the two rods by which the ark was carried.
Although the psychology of the ark was explained at length by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh a week prior to Flappy Bird being taken down, I thought to quote one brief thought from this class to end with:
The Cherubim represent the unification of the Almighty and the Jewish people. So the Ark itself would be the revealed dimensions of the Torah, the Jewish law, etc. And the concealed level, which is concealed in everyday life, when one walks into the Holy of Holies becomes very revealed. One may not make Cherubim at all, outside the Holy of Holies (the Torah Scroll in the Ark we can of course make many copies of).
The secret is the desire to reveal the secret, the secret potentials and abilities within ourselves. This is specifically attained through the study of the inner dimension of the Torah. As explained, this “walking to the Holy of Holies” experience is conceptually represented in the game when the poles make contact with this flapping character. But instead of the frustration experienced from the death of this character, when approached in a sincere and earnest way, the study of the inner dimension of the Torah brings us the greatest life.
The secret is that the end of each Flappy Bird game was a sign of a new beginning for the player. But instead of hours of addictive play, it would be better to promote the secret. That what these millions are searching for is the rebuilding of the Holy of Holies (both within ourselves and inside the Holy Temple) speedily in our days.
Yonatan Gordon has spent most of his past 13 professional years in the world of Jewish publishing. He was the Marketing Manager at Kehot Publication Society (publishing arm of Chabad) for the better part of six years. He is founder of the website CommunityofReaders.org.
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