On Angry Birds’ pigsPosted: April 4, 2011
Angry Birds may seem a simple game that is substantially without a narrative structure. And why is it so addictive? The common explanation is that many of us are addicted by it because of the clever usage of “tap & drag” to sling birds, and the cute resulting effects. Its success is the result of luck, of getting the right effect at the right time – this is what I heard developers say, last time a few days ago at a lunch with a couple of iOS developers.
I think instead that the addictiveness of the game is rooted not just in the clever artillery physics, and is not a result of chance. I am unconvinced that it lacks a narrative logic, and here try to articulate myself.
Bird types and pig’s masks
Here is an array of characters from the game: the different types of birds have different personalities and features and represent a spectrum of human characters.
And here are the pigs. Notice how the design of the pigs is flat, differently from the birds that actually have a more substantial existence.
The pig look at the birds, but are faced towards you, the player – and actually seem to look at you. When you fail a level, and you always do at the beginning, it’s you being ridiculed. The pigs’ laugh when you fail is a touch of genius.
When you start playing, consider this as the start of a hero’s journey, where the birds are your helpers, a medium, and the pigs are actually your enemy; you have to conquer all levels. There are several narrative themes in the game, starting from eggs stealing and re-establishing justice.
The pigs flat design and lack of substance evokes a mask; a light touch is sufficient to destroy them. Only their eyes move. Pigs are masks behind which there is… what you projected. Check above the pigs design, and see how much they resemble masks, differently from the birds.
Also pigs change little between levels and scenes: the hook to your projected fears must be maintained.
The pigs are inserted in pompous, increasingly grandiose structures which look sumptuous, but have no substance nor sense – just like in Terry Gilliam’ Brazil movie. The pigs are there to defy you skill, to test you, to examine you: and all the fears of tests and examinations from “enemies” from bureaucratic structures (quite universal…) act as motivators in playing this simple game, enhanced by the intelligent use of symbols. The game’ authors may of course be unaware of the symbolic choice of the pigs – but it makes no difference.
There can hardly be anything more satisfying than destroying those nonsensical bureaucratic structures and your private, ancestral enemies hiding behind those masks. Watch them crumble – hurray!
So you try, attack again and again. you even get TNT to attack the “institution”, and throughout you are so determined that “you” – your bird medium – sacrifice your life for your cause (a hero)
Pigs are ancestral targets of hate. Hate and pigs are connected in most human cultures, undeservedly by our friend and tasty even-toed ungulate of course. The pig metaphor for the evil side of humans has been used just too often – think of Animal Farm.
The torturer in Brazil has a derisive mask half way between a baby and a pig. That movie has a funny but also tragic character, which is covertly present also in Angry Birds. The movie character behind that mask is the most insignificant member of the “ministry” – so you can project anybody on him, behind the mask.
Angry Birds is addictive also because it satisfies our need of revenge in a light and clever way. The fact that a game looks silly does not mean that it does not work on deep symbolic constructions, and this is exactly the case of Angry Birds; and so my conclusion is that it is not trivial to produce something original of the same quality.