Michelle Martin

Why so angry?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

I now have three different Angry Birds games on my phone. And I have achieved three stars on all the levels of two of them: the original Angry Birds and Angry Birds Seasons.

I guess that means that a) I spend too much time avoiding things like the dishes and cleaning the bathroom (and waiting for kids to finish their various activities so I can take them home) and b) respond to systems that offer instant feedback and increasing levels of difficulty.

But it’s not just me. My kids have downloaded various Angry Birds games to my husband’s phone and an iPod Touch, and, if Caroline and I are both at home, it’s a good bet that she has taken my phone to play endless rounds of Angry Birds.

My sister — whose not-yet- 2-year-old has been known to clear Angry Birds levels — has asked Caroline for help getting past a sticky level, and at her house, they play not only on phones, but also an iPad.

For anyone who has somehow missed this cultural phenomenon, the game consists of using an animated slingshot to launch wingless cartoon birds in an attempt to destroy various structures and kill the grinning, bodiless pigs inside. Or something like that. Why do the birds want to kill the pigs? Because the pigs stole their eggs.

It works because it is so very simple. Users can play a level in less than a minute. But if they are like me and fail to kill all the pigs, they have a very hard time not trying again immediately, over and over again if need be, until they clear the level and can move on to the next. Once a level is cleared, users can keep playing it to try to get higher scores.

It’s kind of like the widow who begs the corrupt judge long enough that he gives in and rules in her favor (Luke 18).

I suppose I could argue it’s somewhat educational — if I launch the bird at this angle, it will hit the structure in this particular way, having this particular effect (Geometry! Physics!).

That’s not why me and my kids like it so much. I think we like it because it rewards persistence. The more you try, the better you get at it, but it’s not so hard that you have to put in time learning the rules or how to do it. The instructions — such as they are — don’t use any words at all.

In a way, it’s a lot like life — not a lot of instructions, just learning by experience — and persistence pays. Isn’t that what we are called to do: keep trying to do better, no matter how many times we fail?

But really, there’s no need get angry about it.