Neuronarrative

Musings on the complicated business of thinking

Five Things “Angry Birds” Will Teach You About Life

Angry Birds isn't just an addictive game, it's an unexpected source of wisdom.

If you've played the game Angry Birds, you already know how addictive it is. But I think it has more to offer than just another reason to play with our iPhones. Below are five things that the game can teach you about life. 

1. Tenacity is everything.

When the pigs are well-fortified and your first two birds haven't made much of a dent, it's tempting to hit the restart button.  Instead, why not play it out with your remaining birds and see what happens? Pretend for a minute that those are the only birds you have left, period.  Forget about restarting the level. You have to do everything you can with those birds to wipe out the evil swine.  Perhaps you will fail, but you'll fail knowing you did everything you could to achieve your objective. You were not intimidated. You did not quit. And if you succeed, it could be because of the next lesson.

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2. Sometimes you need just one well-placed move.

Plans usually consist of multiple actions taken in an order that makes sense for the situation. That's a great approach for solving many problems -- but sometimes it's unnecessary.  Let's say you have a single bird left and three pigs to knock off.  At first it looks impossible.  Look at it again. Maybe you missed something--a rock on a ledge or a well-concealed box of explosives, or a chunk of glass just waiting to be shattered.  Maybe the first time you looked you didn't see the possibility that hitting the box will vault the rock off the ledge, hitting another two rocks that will crush two pigs and rain glass shards down on the third.  Sometimes we get so wrapped up in a plan that we miss an opportunity to use one well-placed move to get the job done.  

3. Don't launch too soon.

I think Robert Frost would have enjoyed Angry Birds.  If you've ever read his poem "Birches" then you're already in touch with this lesson.  In the poem, a boy learns lessons about birch tree branches and with time becomes a proficient "swinger of birches."  One of his main lessons: "not launching out too soon."  Let's say you've just demolished a pig fortification with your first bird. Wood, rocks, glass, the whole works is flying all over the place. Without hesitation you grab the next bird and launch it into the chaos.  Was that the best move?  Maybe if you'd waited a couple seconds longer to see where all of the debris was falling, you'd have noticed a new opportunity to finish off the level.  Maybe by launching the next bird too soon you actually screwed up that opportunity.  The Angry Birds lesson: impatience can cost you.

4. Don't launch too late.

But so can taking too long to make a decision.  There's a fine line between prudence and paralysis.  When you're scoping out the scene like a chess master scans the board, looking for opportunities that you'd otherwise miss, you are being prudent. When you keep looking at the situation because it's so damn bleak that you're feeling overwhelmed and have no idea what to do next--then you're paralyzed. In fact, an opportunity may have just drifted by while you loitered. The point is, you eventually have to act to make any progress.  Sitting idle and convincing yourself that there's no way to win isn't going to help. You have to find the best possible option, even if it's not a great one, and launch that bird.  And, to your amazement, you might even get lucky per the final lesson below.

5. Occasionally great things happen despite the odds.   

Look, the pigs are mean SOBs, no one is going to argue that. They hate you and want to see you fail over and over again.  But here's something to remember: almost nobody in the long history of pig stomping has succeeded without a few breaks going their way.  Ever heard of a guy named Walt Disney?  He crashed and burned six businesses before getting a couple unexpected breaks that helped make his final attempt phenomenally successful.  The odds of achieving anything worthwhile are usually not all that good--and that's part of what makes achievement so satisfying.  Maybe you're on your last bird, and maybe the pigs are warming up to mock you because they think you have no chance.  Take a little time, figure out all the angles, and then go ahead and launch that bird.  In the end, it could very well be you and your fellow birds that are laughing.   

Copyright 2011, David DiSalvo

www.daviddisalvo.org

David DiSalvo is a science and technology writer working at the intersection of cognition and culture.

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