Life before Angry Birds

I remember a time I could sit down to a dinnertime pork chop and not think, “Serves you right. You never should’ve thought that helmet would save you.”

If I could remember it more clearly, I’m sure there was a time I didn’t look into the trees around my home in search of kinship and a blue bird that would explode into three separate, sentient, ruthless entities.

I am almost certain there was a time I could walk with my family through a park without throwing myself on every little black, round bird and screaming, “Run! It’s going to blow!”

That was all before Angry Birds. My friend Mark got me hooked on the time-killer during a long poker game. He handed me his iPhone with a mischievous glint in his eye. He just wanted to give me a little fix. He didn’t realize he was setting me up for a life of misery and depression. Oh, he’s tried to help in the intervening months since I beat Angry Birds. Late one night, he sent me a text with what I’m sure he thought was a methadone for my madness. At 2:18am, the message read, “New addicting game: Jailbreaker.”

I couldn’t run fast enough to the App Store. It was crazy how one person had told me about this app, and then it became my favorite thing. That’s the effect of word-of-mouth though. It can do amazing things. Of course, that’s great for marketing, but the developers did also do some marketing themselves, such as using an app marketing platform to produce campaigns for the application to raise awareness. All of that helped the game to become one of the best-rated apps on the app store. I downloaded Jailbreaker and slapped the vein on my inner arm a couple of times. By 2:30, I was jumping over buzzsaws and siding through panes of glass. By 2:45am, I was slumped against a wall, sweating and crying. It wasn’t the same. The fix wasn’t right. My little jailbreaker couldn’t drop an explosive egg from his tail, and if he couldn’t do that, what the hell could he do?

What the government has yet to realize about Angry Birds is the effect it can have on families. I was once a happy, nearly-well-adjusted father. My life felt full and full of meaning. My indiscretions with the iPhone game were just the stuff of weekend warriors, a bump here or there, a Friday lunch cocktail, a one-time rave built around the 30-something set. Then I caught myself playing while waiting for my car to be washed. Flight attendants were forced to make me to turn off my phone. My wife caught me in bed one night. My son asked me if he could try.

No amount of shame could stop me. Level by level, episode by episode, dead arrogant pig after dead arrogant pig, I played on. Before long, I’d reached every junkie’s sweatiest nightmare: the Angry Birds “Coming Soon” screen. I kept tapping the front of my phone, but nothing happened. I looked up to the sky, as if a programmer would hand me down another episode…just for me.

It wasn’t to be. I had finished the game. There was nothing else. I was hoping that the app developers would create another version, but nothing ever showed up.

I woke each day with tasks in front of me, but there was no joy. Every second of downtime was filled with a sense of longing. There was no way to waste time. I became exceedingly and embarrassingly productive. I worked mercilessly, taking no breaks–not even to go to the bathroom. I couldn’t bear the idea of loading up my phone only to see the “Coming Soon” screen again.

It was over. Until it wasn’t.

My friend Shane spent most of the last few months getting healthy. He was working out, cutting back on the booze, and directing himself toward a productive life. I nearly cried when I learned he was a Bird junkie, too. At the beginning of the summer, Shane announced via his Twitter account that Angry Birds had put out an update.

Again, I ran to my phone and the App Store. I clicked on the updates, but there was nothing. Nothing at all. I looked closer at Shane’s post and discovered he was just discovering the boomerang bird.

“Damn you, Shane Nickerson!” I screamed at the sky. “The boomerang bird was so three weeks ago! Damn you, Nickerson! Damn youuuuuuuuu!”

In the intervening months, Angry Birds updated once. It put out a new episode with 15 levels and a brand new giant red bird. I made it last as long as I could.

I hit the “Coming Soon” screen within half an hour and then let a single tear run down my cheek. It was over as quickly as it began, and the pain was twice as bad.

I have had people–other addicts and weekend warriors–who look at me and say, “Now try to get three stars on every level. It will be fun!” These people are fooling themselves.

I know what will happen. Just like all the other times, there will be an initial, heady joy. I’ll find myself achieving three stars on every level. My wife will find me at 4am sitting at the kitchen table with a bottle of Pepto Bismol, a half-full bottle of rye, and my red-zone-battery iPhone. I’ll do it, of course. I’ll get three stars on every level, and then it will be over again. I’ll slip back into a sick and shameful period of productivity that I could only hope to hide from the ones I love.

There was a time I didn’t take joy in killing pigs. There was a time I didn’t see birds as weapons. There was a time when a slingshot was just a slingshot.

Yes, I’m sure there were times like that.

I’m glad I have our family photo album to help me remember.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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20 Responses

  1. StB says:

    I got addicted to the Birds last month. I had the same reaction when I saw that tweet.

  2. Katkin says:

    I too feel your pain. And yes, I am taking the three-star challenge.

  3. PirateLawyer says:

    I’m a late-comer to this game. The three-star challenge is going to hurt!

  4. BWoP says:

    In the midst of the three-star challenge.

    I don’t even own and iPod / iPad.

  5. Mattazuma says:

    Yeah, I’m on the three star challenge as well.

  6. Threestars nomore says:

    Friends and never-mets,
    I am comforted to have found others with this bird burden, but I am saddened to have found you all after completing the entire AB with 3 stars on every screen. Such is my love and suffering through these weeks. I really did enjoy the difficulty of the 3 stars and believe me some levels are bastardly to get the coveted 3 star ranking. But I am here to ask and remind you that all I have to show for my time is a handful of golden eggs… And a deeper addiction than I would wish upon anyone. Coming soon is just not soon enough for me.

  7. Amy says:

    I’m working on the 3 star challenge. I want the golden eggs!

  8. Rovio-Matt says:

    Great Article πŸ™‚

  9. trodoss says:

    Programmer = pusher? There’s one for the self-esteem πŸ˜‰

  10. Mike Maloney says:

    If Angry Birds is wrong I don’t want to be right.

  11. Marsha says:

    Right now I can only get small “fixes” of AB. I don’t own an iphone and can only play when I “borrow” my sister’s phone. But I have heard that it will soon be available for Andriod phone and then I can be fully addicted!

  12. DerSmit says:

    I too am up way too late into the wee morning hours. Oh, I’ve gotten three stars on all available stages, but I’m working on my points to reach 100% of the Crystal Achievements. Episode 2 score – done! Episodes 1 & 3 – so close!

  13. Soooooo much better on the iPad.

  14. jjok says:

    You suck. Thanks a lot for the introduction, jerk… I can’t stop.

  15. Shell says:

    I have all levels completed, 3 stars in all & all golden eggs so far. Am an angry birds junkie 2 & can’t w8 for the next levels. The only thing is I will probably need a new iPhone battery! Killed my current 1 trying 4 all 3 stars in all levels, but it was SO worth it. πŸ™‚

  16. Slainte says:

    I’ve no idea why the authors don’t release a level editor, get their legions of fans to keep generating content for free… hmm I suppose because there’s going to be more than the odd idiot who’ll try to submit layouts that resemble reproductive organs.

  17. Chase says:

    Already got 3 stars on all of them

  18. Astin says:

    What is this Angry Birds?

  19. Da Goddess says:

    I’m so glad I’ve only graduated to texting on my phone. These “apps” sound unsafe for those of us with addictive personalities.

    Gotta run. Pogo’s Balloon Bounce is calling my name!

  1. December 31, 2010

    […] Life before Angry Birds–An addict’s admission […]

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