Flappy Bird and flutters of fame

At 7:04pm on the 8th of February, Dong Nguyen announced that he was to remove his creation, the most popular game of the year, Flappy Bird, from the App Store. Twenty-two hours later, it was gone. No more consensual misery would be inflicted on the casual gamers of the world; no more $50,000 a day; no more media furore.

The announcement came via Twitter and was quickly covered by news sources all over the world:

“I am sorry ‘Flappy Bird’ users, 22 hours from now, I will take ‘Flappy Bird’ down. I cannot take this anymore.”

“It is not anything related to legal issues. I just cannot keep it anymore.”

“I also don’t sell ‘Flappy Bird’, please don’t ask.”

“And I still make games.”

flappy-bird-game-screens

Flappy Bird is a rudimentary game. It’s not complex; in fact, it’s ridiculously simple by design. Its gameplay centres around navigating a bird through obstacles on a 2D plane by tapping the screen. 1 point is awarded for each set of obstacles successfully navigated. That’s it. But the one important feature was that it’s ludicrously difficult. The punishing nature of the game sent people berserk and turned them obsessive. My personal high score was 1.

“Wood burns because it has the proper stuff in it; and a man becomes famous because he has the proper stuff in him.” 
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Flappy Bird was huge, but this wasn’t always the case. It is said that the game was on the App Store for months before it received the attention it did. No one knew about it for ages. But then, from silence came a buzz, from the buzz came a hum, which turned into a crescendo overnight. I woke up one day, my Facebook feed was filled with people venting their frustrations and others gloating over their ‘high scores’. Friends were challenging me to beat their score. What was going on? Nguyen creation had gone viral.

So what would possess a man from humble beginnings to turn his back on one of the biggest sensations of the year? Why would he discard a year’s worth of income being paid into his account every day? Was it his rumoured legal altercations with Nintendo? Was it the torrent of attention he was receiving from the press and public?

“What is fame? The advantage of being known by people of whom you yourself know nothing, and for whom you care as little.”
– Lord Byron

Fame is a strange thing; our obsession with it is even stranger. People want to be famous: some will stop at nothing to be in the public eye. In today’s era of reality TV, PR leviathans and social media, people can literally become famous overnight. That’s what happened to Dong Nguyen. The viral growth of his game propelled him into the spotlight, where he received the full wrath of what the world can offer. From praise to abuse to alleged lawsuits, Nguyen received all the attention that some can only dream of.

Except Nguyen didn’t want it. He rubbished report of legal complications with Nintendo. His exasperated tweets revealed a man that was wrought with despair over his rise to fame. He simply could not take it.

“Happy is the man who hath never known what it is to taste of fame – to have it is a purgatory, to want it is a hell.”
– Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Much has been said about the effects that fame has on people. How do they deal with it? Some people bask in it, while others struggle. Kanye West clearly loves it while Eminem said it hit him like a tonne of bricks. For Eminem, fame comes at odds with everything that he does. To produce hit after hit is going to have the effect of attracting attention. Yes, people strive to be successful, but do they all strive to be famous? 

Well, some people do. But others detest it. Kurt Cobain of Nirvana is one of the best examples of a man who was thrust into unwanted fame. He was outspoken against his fans and tortured by the people that made him what he was. Parallels can be drawn with the rise and fall of Cobain and Nguyen; both were thrust into the spotlight through doing what they loved, whilst not wanting the attention. Cobain was tired of the limelight and unfortunately cracked. He took his life, and with that the human incarnation of the 90s grunge scene was gone.

“It’s not my fault. I never wanted the fame involved. That’s a totally different story.”
– Kurt Cobain

Nguyen was going through the same kind of trauma. The popularity of his game was too much for a humble game developer from Vietnam. Fame is not for everyone – it can have tremendous psychological effects. Some resort to escapism through substance abuse or worse, while others bask in its light. Fame isn’t inherently destructive, but it can have its costs. Fortunately, Nguyen found a way out. Let’s hope that he can enjoy some time away and go back to doing what he loves most.

“In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes.”
– Andy Warhol
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