Angry Birds, Good Friday

This morning I hit snooze four or five times. And so began a day of […]

This morning I hit snooze four or five times. And so began a day of making non-optimal self-defeating choices. So often—and I mean All The Time—we do things that we know will cause ourselves pain, suffering, regret, guilt, and unhappiness. And then we do it again. Yet so often, the advice we get is to make better choices. We appeal to our rational minds, our wills. It never works. But that fact doesn’t seem to bother any one. The sermons, advice columns, pep talks, and self-help books just keep coming.

For those who still believe people are rational and able to follow good advice, I have two words: Angry. Birds.

Sam Anderson’s recent piece in The New York Times Magazine, “Just One More Game…”, examines the addictive non-rational freewill-shattering “opium kind of power” of the “stupid games” that live on the wireless gadgets in our pockets. Angry Birds, Bejeweled, Fruit Ninja.

Anderson, knowing his weakness, resisted the iPhone for years because of the too-strong-to-resist pull of its games. But he eventually gave in. For a while, he resisted downloading games but figured there was no harm in chess. This turned out to be the gateway game. Others followed. And then he discovered a game called Drop7. And what he feared would happen did:

…and before long I entered the danger zone. I was playing when I should have been doing dishes, bathing my children, conversing with relatives, reading the newspaper and especially (especially) writing. The game was an anesthetic, an escape pod, a snorkel, a Xanax, a dental hygienist with whom to exchange soothingly meaningless banter before going under the pneumatic drill of Life. Soon I found myself struggling in the net of real addiction. Even as I pressed “New Game,” my brain would be thinking, very consciously, I have to stop playing this game. But I didn’t. Instead, I spread the Drop7 virus to other people: my wife, my friends, my mother, my in-laws. I found myself playing in all kinds of extreme situations: at 3 a.m., during a severe gastrointestinal crisis; immediately after an intense discussion with my mother; shortly after learning that my dog — the warm, emoting mammal I lived with for 12 years — was probably dying of cancer.

This simply offers a snapshot of the human condition, the reality that we cannot control ourselves or make good choices. At least not when it counts. It’s a picture of humanity we wish were untrue. But it’s reality.

But this is why Good Friday is so good. Christ does not offer sound advice. He does not appeal to our better angels. He makes no stirring speeches to inspire us to make good choices. He knows we’re stuck. Even if we’re in denial, he’s not. And so, realizing our paralysis and inability to get better, he gives himself for us. He bears our sin, our law-breaking, our stunningly selfish bad choices. And we are made new.


8 responses to “Angry Birds, Good Friday”

  1. David Zahl says:

    Jamin Warren offered some expert reflections on the article over at Kill Screen. One of the paragraphs he pulled out is particularly relevant:

    “Instead of just bombarding us with jingles, corporations will be able to inject their messages directly into our minds with ads disguised as games. Gamification seeks to turn the world into one giant chore chart covered with achievement stickers — the kind of thing parents design for their children — though it raises the potentially terrifying question of who the parents are. This, I fear, is the dystopian future of stupid games: amoral corporations hiring teams of behavioral psychologists to laser-target our addiction cycles for profit.”

  2. lre larkin says:

    Funny…i recently told myself, “ok, just one more game of angry birds…”. Excellent post and such a Good Word. we ARE made so new. Excellent word.

  3. Mark says:

    Aw man, I’m only one screen away from completing the Easter Season. Doesn’t that make me free?

  4. Bryan J. says:

    My favorite part of the article: “Angry Birds, it seems, is our Tetris: the string of digital prayer beads that our entire culture can twiddle in moments of rapture or anxiety — economic, political or existential.” Brave New World, eat your heart out…

  5. Ryan Dolibois says:

    I didn’t think you could top your sermon from a few weeks ago (is that online?!??) and then you wrote this! Thanks so much for the encouragement and the truth. Happy Easter!

  6. Luke says:

    I have been lucky to not get into phone games. I did about a week of Angry Birds and was just, done. Played 2048 for a few days until I beat it a couple times. Didn’t know about Flappy Bird until it was dead (also, have always been an Android person and I think it was an iPhone exclusive.) I’ve been through Bejeweled and Tetris spells. I do sudokus on occasion. Never got sucked into Candy Crush or Fruit Ninja. Even Words with Friends only lasted a few months, because I had a friend; a competitor.

    But I’ll be damned if I can’t peel myself away from Hulu and Netflix. The pull to escape is so strong. “Just one more episode….” “This is so great…” “They’re just so funny….” “Dude, it’s midnight. Go to bed. … Annnnnd it’s 2am. Work is gonna suck.”

    And then…. Last year. I picked up Pacman, on my computer. I had quit my job and was taking a breather (both not great decisions.) And I just remembered it (I played it for a while in high school.) And Bam. Old neuropathways were triggered. My goodness the hours (weeks) I’ve lost. Now I don’t even watch shows. I listen to shows while I play Pacman (no tv). It’s shameful. Pacman is… Before my time. Like I should be addicted to CoD or Minecraft or Halo or WoW or some other mess (I have zero interest in video games). Not Pacman. And then I added Hexxagon on the same website. Oy. I feel useless. And weak. And I rationally know I’m clearly escaping something. Avoiding life real hard. Just can’t stop. So far.

    I guess it’s better than joining the opiod crisis.

    There but for the grace of God….

    It’s good to remember Christ knew I’d get here. We’d all get here. And he cared enough to enter into it with us and take it upon himself. To bear what we cannot. Thank God for Good Friday (and the next part!!!) Here comes Easter!!!

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