Flappy Bird: A 21st Century Addiction

Creighton senior Theresa Reid is an avid "Flappy Bird" gamer.
Creighton senior Theresa Reid is an avid “Flappy Bird” gamer.

Theresa Reid’s journey to 165 began with a tap. Well, more like tap-tap-tap-tap-tap.

Reid, a senior psychology student at Creighton University, downloaded the mobile game-du-jour on the advice of her best friend and roommate, Libby Snyder.

One, two, three taps later, the St. Louis native was hooked, addicted to the wildly popular game Flappy Bird.

Flappy Bird is a mobile game for smartphones where a small bird must navigate a perilous labyrinth of various-height tubes. It seems deceptively simple. The bird flaps until it hits a tube; no power-ups, increasing speeds or extra lives. The bird’s altitude is determined by tapping on the screen.

So Theresa tapped her right thumb, sending her bird up and down. After a three-hour gaming binge, she had a high score of 23 and a new hobby— something to do when waiting for the shuttle or when she needed a break from applying for post-graduate volunteering programs.

Then her world changed. She kept playing. Tap, tap, tap. All day, she would tap. In between classes: tap.  Her brothers and roommates began to get competitive. Tap-tap-tap. They would boast about their high scores. Tappity-tap tap tap.

One day, Theresa was tapping away while talking to her roommates. (Did she ever talk to them without tapping? No.) She hit a high score of 75. Instead of a celebration, Theresa was faced with a “come-to-Jesus” moment.

“We did stage an intervention,” said Snyder, Theresa’s roommate who originally introduced her to the game.

Snyder said that she knew her friend was addicted after an outing to the movies. When driving back from the theater, she noticed Theresa was growing antsy. Like, “really antsy.” Why? Because Theresa hadn’t played Flappy Bird in a few hours, and she doesn’t like playing in the unpredictable bumpiness of a car.

Theresa's roommate Libby Snyder, pictured here, originally introduced Reid to the game. Snyder has a high score of 17.
Theresa’s roommate Libby Snyder, pictured here, originally introduced Reid to the game. Snyder has a high score of 17.


It took some persuading, but the roommates got through to her. “She deleted it,” Libby said, with a hint of pride in her voice.  For five long and tap-free days, Theresa did not play the game.

But she couldn’t resist that little yellow bird. Once a new edition came out, Theresa had to check out the new design. And like an addict back to her old ways, Theresa tapped with a vengeance.

Tap, tap, tap. Higher, lower, up, up, and a quick down. Tap, tap, tap

She tapped like there was no tomorrow, like more than the life of a little imaginary bird depended on it.

One day, while lounging on her bed and listening to Kanye West songs, Theresa blew her personal best out of the water.  She saw the score and screamed. One hundred sixty-five.

“I screamed and opened my door and I was laughing,” said Theresa. “[My roommates] were both like ‘shut up’…but I think that it was jealousy.”

Why is Theresa so insanely good at Flappy Bird? What is her secret?

Turns out, this isn’t her first foray into the online gaming world. In high school, Theresa was exceptionally adept at a video game called Helicopter, which is very similar to Flappy Bird. As roommate Libby puts it, “Theresa is extremely practiced in the art of navigating a flying object through a series of haggard tubes.”

A look at Flappy Bird.
A look at Flappy Bird.

But the mental side of Flappy Bird is where Theresa has had her work cut out for her. She likes to play while being slightly distracted, because overthinking is bad for flying birds. Theresa recommends remaining calm, avoiding panic and never, never, never double-tapping.

Snyder says that she has started seeing Flappy Bird as a metaphor for life.  According to her, seeing how everyone is trying to get ahead in life is relatable to “Keeping up with the Joneses.”

But Theresa doesn’t agree. (And after all, Libby only has a high score of 17.) “It doesn’t hold any deeper meaning for me,” she said.

Reid said she feels “pretty proud” about her current high score of 165, but she thinks she can get higher. “I’m pretty, like, embarrassed that my life has come to this, but…I feel like a champion,” she said. “But I also feel like I can do better,” she said, emphatically. She hopes to reach 200 soon.

When asked about the long-term effects of this newfound obsession, Theresa is realistic about the power Flappy Bird has over thousands of people worldwide. She remains adamant, though, that the game hasn’t changed her.

“It ruins lives,” Reid said. “But no, it hasn’t ruined my life yet.”


2 thoughts on “Flappy Bird: A 21st Century Addiction

  1. Gary February 16, 2014 / 11:01 PM

    I thought the creator of this game deleted it. The stress of hyper attention after it went viral “ruined” his simple life. That seems a great corollary to your story. The guy that made it hates what it did. Reid loves it even though it really does nothing.

    • Amanda Brandt February 16, 2014 / 11:26 PM

      Yes, the game is deleted. I really feel for the creator, as I would be overwhelmed in his position. But, I would argue that if it makes Theresa happy, then it does do something and serve a purpose.

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