Saturday, October 1, 2011

I played Angry Birds

Never Done: I played Angry Birds

It was the second day of rosh hashone, and Josh and I went to my favorite place on the Sheepscott River to do tashlikh. What was particularly wonderful about being there was that we arrived just as the highest  tide I have ever seen there was turning (yes, it's a river, but it's close enough to the ocean that it's tidal and brackish) and starting to recede. It felt like the metaphorically perfect place to do tashlikh. The tide itself was turning, along with the year, in time to carry away our off-cast transgressions. I did tashlikh using the Mussar mides (middot) -- for each one, I thought about what's still hardest for me, and I cast that away, and then I welcomed in the mides themselves.

Humility: seek wisdom from everybody
Patience: Do not aggravate a situation with wasted grief
Equanimity: Rise above events that are inconsequential
Truth: Say nothing unless you are 100% sure it is true
Decisiveness: When you have made a decision, act without hesitation
Cleanliness: Let no stain or ugliness on our self/space
Order: All actions and possessions should have a set place and time
Righteousness: What is hateful to you do not do to others
Frugality: Be careful with your money
Diligence: Always find something to do
Silence: Reflect before speaking
Calmness: Words of the wise are stated gently
Separation: Respect in sexual and intimate relationships

And then after a little hike and a little nap in the sun, we went on to Brunswick to a birthday party for a 10-year-old friend. We were the first ones there, and his mom was still upstairs showering, so we went and hung out in his playroom to play. The first thing he showed us was the brand new Tablet he had gotten for his birthday, and the first thing he showed us on the Tablet was Angry Birds. OK, how is it that it hadn't occurred to me that Angry Birds is wildly popular because it is FUN? It's not a fluke. It's not a conspiracy. It's just really fun. (This falls in the category of my discovering that books on the New York Times bestsellers list are really good books, like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.)

For those of you who have never played Angry Birds, you use a slingshot to fling birds at pigs that are trapped in buildings. The pigs have apparently stolen eggs from the birds, but that's not evident at the low levels of the game, where I started out. It's hard to describe why this is fun, or why it's funny, but it is. In fact, as I thought about how to describe it, I realized I don't actually know why it's so successful. So I googled, "Why is Angry Birds so popular?" and came up with this cognitive teardown of that very question. I love the section in this article called Mystery. The author claims that one of the things that makes it popular is the element of Mystery. I quote, and I propose that this element of Mystery is the nexus of spirituality and technology:

You probably do not know how to recognize it, but Angry Birds has it. To add context to this idea, mystery is all around us in the things we find truly compelling. The element or attribute of mystery is present in all great art, advertising, movies, products, and not surprisingly, interactive games. The idea of mystery in a user experience as an attribute for increasing user engagement is embedded in the idea of mystery (conceptual depth). We all experience the impact of mystery when we view a cubist period Picasso, recall the famous Apple 1984 super bowl ad, or listen to Miles Davis.  He is said to have described jazz as playing the spaces between the notes, not the notes themselves. Mystery is present when you pick up an iPad for the first time. Why are the icons spaced out across the screen when they could be clustered much closer together to save space. Why does the default screen saver look like water on the inside of the screen?
Mystery is that second layer of attributes that are present but undefined explicitly, yet somehow created with just enough context to consume mental resources in subtle and compelling ways. At its most basic level, experiencing mystery in what we interact with makes you ask the question, “Why did they do that?”.  What we mean here is, “Why did they do that? – A good thing, not “What were they thinking? – A bad thing.  If you think carefully about the experiences you have in the ebb and flow of life, you realize that the most compelling are those that force you to think long and hard about why a given thing is the way it is. For example, why did Frank Gehry create the Guggenheim Museum Bilboa using the shapes he did? The famous architect could have created any shape concept, but why did he choose those shapes? It’s a mystery – we do not know and probably neither does he. What we do know is that his creation is cited as one of the most important works of contemporary architecture. In the same way that a building can captivate millions of sightseers, the element of mystery (conceptual depth) can help sell a few million copies of a simple interactive game.
Angry Birds is full of these little mysteries. For example, why are tiny bananas suddenly strewn about in some play sequences and not in others? Why do the houses containing pigs shake ever so slightly at the beginning of each game play sequence? Why is the game’s play space showing a cross section of underground rocks and dirt? Why do the birds somersault into the sling shot sometimes and not others? One can spend a lot of time on the Acela processing these little clues, consciously or subconsciously. When users of technology process information in this way, it is very likely that they are more deeply engaged than without these small questions.


  1. I still have not played Angry Birds, but maybe now that I've FINALLY GRADUATED, I will add it to my list. :)

    I've also never seen all the mides all together like that. What a grand way to live! I feel like I should get them made into a nice poster and put it up in our house. We definitely used a few of them on our trip (patience) and definitely could have used a few more (decisiveness)!

  2. I would LOVE to play Angry Birds with you, graduate!!!!