Angry Birds: Philosophical reflections on a video game

“Angry Birds” is an exceptionally successful video game.  Both the free, lite version and the paid one are among Apple’s top apps.  It has a story line of sorts; pigs steal the birds’ eggs and the birds try to punish the pigs (aka ‘kill them’); the pigs try to protect themselves.  Kids apparently love it, and sells a blue Angry-birds t-shirt for girls/women. 

There are also several features that could inspire, in succession, reflection from a philosopher. No doubt there are more, and if you can think of some, I’d love to hear about them.

1.  If you think about conditions for perceiving objects and tracking them through space, you might have asked whether you need stability or some sort of sortal.  The birds particularly have different causal properties and odd kinds of stability.  If there are sortals, they are odd, hybrid ones.

2.  Practice makes you better, but I don’t think it is possible to articulate what you are learning, at least not in any informative way.  One learns to be more accurate in hitting a target, but it is very difficult to say what that consisted in.  Thus one gets a nice case of knowing-how to think about if one works ones way through the growing literature of the knowing how/knowing that distinction Ryle drew.  If you are particular to resisting intellectualizing human capabilities, you might want to look at the recent Noe article on this in Analysis.

AND THEN, the feminist reflection.  We are told that all sorts of things, such as stereotype threat, can degrade one’s performance.  It’s often presented a bit mysteriously.  You start off on an exam, the threat is triggered, and your score is lowered.  In a game like Angry Bird, the effects of fleeting negative thoughts can be dramatic and immediate.  Think “O I can’t do this,” and you won’t be able to.  “I can’t figure out a strategy for this,” is going to quickly incapacitate you.

Finally, it can get hard to put down.  One is quickly inundated with rewards (points and celebrating birds) or punishments (failing scores and the grunts of self-satisfied pigs).  What is going on as one finds oneself caught up in it?

And, believe it or not, it is actually fun.  Solitaire is my normal game.

5 thoughts on “Angry Birds: Philosophical reflections on a video game

  1. Actually, I think the sound effects are the best part of the game! And, if you unlock a certain number of eggs, you can go to a special level where you can cheep out Beethoven’s 9th.

  2. I think that, related to (2) (and perhaps part of what you were suggesting), there are interesting ways in which the sensorimotor character of the game on modern phones (getting a feel for the right angles and distances) shows the extent to which cognition itself is something that can be done with our bodies themselves — the sensorimotor feel of the launch is an essential part of the skill. It’s a sort of visceral thinking, cognition with the body itself.

  3. Incredibly, I think Angry Birds is an anti-capitalist attempt to bring back the idea of personal sacrifice into revolutionary politics!

    You “suicide bomb” buildings to try to kill the (green) capitalist pigs (pigs mean capitalists and sometimes policement). They stole the eggs of the birds. Is there a greater crime than stealing our future? You also get points for maximum property damage!

    Suicide bombing has gotten a bad rep recently but hollywood films are still jam packed with heroes sacrificing themselve for the common good. (Will Smith blowing himself up in I Am Legend to kill the maximum of zombies for example).Of course, Angry Bird is right! There’s nothing inherently wrong with sacrificing yourself for your children.

    I’m laughing of course, but it’s incredible how much extreme leftwing (and right wing unfortunately) philosophy you can find in video games. It’s a fun philosophical exercise finding this stuff. Video games are not known for their moderation!


  4. Josh, I love your interpretation. The fact that the birds have different sizes, abilities, etc, also makes it clear that diversity makes them stronger.

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