Mercifully, Flappy Bird creator Dong Nguyen pulled his simple, addictive and fiendishly difficult twitch game from the Android and iOS marketplaces after it exploded in popularity earlier this year, but he's back with a new assault on your attention span: Swing Copters.
It's unsurprisingly similar to Flappy Bird -- a viciously difficult game featuring nostalgic, pixelated graphics, controlled simply by poking at the screen. The idea this time is to guide the little sprite upwards, not sideways, without crashing into the walls, girders or the titular swinging objects.
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It is, if anything, more evil than its predecessor. More difficult, more inscrutable, more addictive. I could usually get at least a few gates into Flappy Bird, but my record at Swing Copters now stands at a whopping 2.
Swing Copters is infuriating, but it's not just because of its difficulty -- it's because the game is such a naked exercise in behavioral manipulation, a blatant Skinner box so powerful that you're perfectly aware of how silly the game is as it ravages your brain's reward centers. You're angry at yourself for getting addicted to something so obviously designed to steal your attention span and offer absolutely nothing in return.
There really is no payoff, besides the questionable glory of pushing your high score just one point higher. At least, there's no payoff for the player, even though Dong Nguyen may even now be pursued by gambling companies or major games developers eager to learn the dark secrets of behavioral psychology he appears to possess.
It would, however, be wrong to blame Nguyen for this cruel mockery of entertainment. It could well be a parody of mobile gaming, designed to push consumers toward a better understanding of just how ruthlessly they are being exploited by unscrupulous publishers. It's true that mobile games are, increasingly, cynical exercises in profitability through micro-transactions, to the point that there is often very little actual gameplay to be found among the mish-mash of unlockable character costumes and in-game goods.
If Swing Copters is intended as a wake-up call to mobile games, however, Nguyen need only look to the lessons of the past to see how misguided he is. Remember CowClicker, which satirized the exploitative Facebook games of its day? Tens of thousands of players flocked to CowClicker, many of whom paid real money for the improved ability to -- wait for it -- click on the sprite of a cow and hear it "moo." That's it.
So, regardless of how it was intended, Swing Copters is another open assault on our already battered attention spans. Stay the hell away from it.