Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Flipping over "Flappy Bird"

I am astonished, sometimes, at how little it takes to generate a conspiracy theory.

Of course, at the bottom of it always has to be someone who is (1) delusional or (2) lying.  Or possibly (3) both.  In some few cases, we are able to figure out where the whole thing started (and as I mentioned in yesterday's post, it's frequently either The Daily Mail or The Weekly World News).  But more often, it's a random comment, claim, tweet, or Facebook posting by a random person, which somehow... improbably... gets picked up, is considered to be true, and goes viral.

That seems to be the case with the most recent conspiracy theory -- one that is only days old.  And wait till you hear what this one is about.

"Flappy Bird."

Yes, Flappy Bird, the new app that induces you to waste inordinate amounts of time trying to maneuver a deformed-looking bird through a set of steel pipes.  The game that generates nearly homicidal rage in completely ordinary, mild-mannered individuals when they almost complete level 8 only to run smack into a pipe because they tapped one too many times on the screen.

Flappy Bird was, for some reason, wildly successful, at its peak bringing in $50,000 of revenue a day.  This, by itself, caused suspicious narrowing of the eyes amongst the serious conspiracy theorists, who see dastardly plots wherever they look; but the real crazy talk didn't start until the news two days ago that Flappy Bird's creator, Vietnamese game designer Dong Nguyen, had removed the app from the market.

Within hours, rumors started circulating about why Nguyen had pulled such a lucrative game.  After all, having a blockbuster app is to game designers what having a bestseller and a movie contract would be to us novelists; "success."  It seemed impossible to believe that Nguyen had done it for the reason he stated, which was that he was overstressed by the game's wild success and "needed some peace."  Another suggestion was that "a major game manufacturer" had put pressure on Nguyen because the game resembled apps that they owned the rights to -- also possible, but at this time unsubstantiated.

But that was only scratching the surface, and both of those read like scientific text, plausibility-wise, compared to the claims currently zinging around the internet.  Here are just a few rumors I've seen:
  • Flappy Bird was a Trojan Horse; while you are focused on guiding birds into steel pipes, it's stealing personal information from your computer.  Nguyen pulled it when Interpol realized what he was doing, and he's now on the run from the law.
  • Flappy Bird has code in it that includes subliminal messages, rendering you a mindless automaton.  Given some of the behavior I've seen of students playing it, I'm not sure this is far off the mark.  But the game was withdrawn because the Illuminati threatened Nguyen, apparently because we can only have one set of Evil Brain-Stealing Overlords in the world at a time.
  • Flappy Bird is a coded message having to do with the apocalypse.  Nguyen was trying to warn us of the arrival of the Antichrist, for some reason using a bizarre bird and pipes.  The order of the heights of the pipes can be decoded to tell us the date of the opening of the Gates of Hell.  Nguyen withdrew the game when he realized that the Minions of Satan had figured out what he was up to.
Then, the whole thing took an even more surreal turn when the rumor started flying about that Nguyen had not only withdrawn the app from the market, but had withdrawn himself as well, via a self-inflicted pistol shot to the head.  I was told this by some students this afternoon, and already there is an International Business Times article declaring that the story about his suicide is untrue, and further tweets and Facebook posts stating that either (1) yes, it is so true, or (2) okay, so it isn't true, but he's on the run so it could be true soon, or (3) Nguyen has disappeared, so we don't know if it's true or not.

And the whole time I'm reading this, I'm thinking: what the hell is wrong with you people?  How about let's see if we can find out some facts before we make pronouncements about why Nguyen withdrew the app, and whether or not he's still alive?

But as to Flappy Bird's purpose: as far as I can tell, it mostly exists to irritate the bejeezus out of everyone who attempts to play it.  I have yet to hear anyone say, "Wow, that is a fun game!"  Mostly what people say after finishing a game is unprintable, and is often followed by a wireless internet device flying across a room and crashing into a solid object, much like the bird did on the second pipe of Level 1 during my one and only attempt to play the game.

So I doubt if any of the other stuff is true, and my intuition is that Dong Nguyen is probably still alive.  But myself, I'm willing to wait to find out.  And until then: just calm down, okay?

And next time, can you spin a conspiracy theory around something more plausible?  Because this one kind of sucked.  If you people are right, and the Illuminati and/or the Antichrist have sunk to communicating via coded messages in idiotic computer games, then I'd just as soon throw my lot in with InfoWars and have done with it.


  1. You missed this one...

    yours helpfully...

  2. This has been prophesied!