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Bird’s Eye

A family falls under the spell of the popular iPhone game Angry Birds, which teaches players to sacrifice theirs lives to destroy the houses of unarmed enemies. What’s not to like?

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Very angry birds. (Illustration Abigail Miller/Tablet Magazine; based on screenshot from 16bits.co.uk)

If not for my mother, there’s a good chance we might have gone on thinking everything was fine.

It was an ordinary Saturday morning when she told us that that her grandson had asked her to play a special game with him, a game you can only play on Mom’s phone. It’s really easy: All you have to do is shoot birds out of slingshot so they can destroy buildings where green pigs live.

“Ah, Angry Birds,” my wife and I said together, “Our favorite game.”

“I’ve never heard of it,” my mother said.

“You are probably the only one,” my wife said. “I  think there are more Japanese soldiers hiding in the forests, not knowing that World War II is over, than people on this planet who don’t know this game. It is probably the most popular iPhone game ever.”

“And I thought your favorite game was Go Fish with the cards of flowers of Israel,” my mother said, offended.

“Not anymore,” my wife said. “How many times can you ask someone without yawning whether they have a squill?”

“But that game,” my mother said, “even though I watched it without my glasses, it looked like when those birds hit their targets, they die.”

“They sacrifice themselves to achieve a greater goal,” I said quickly. “It’s a game that teaches values.”

“Yes,” my mother said. “But that goal is just to collapse buildings on the heads of those sweet little piglets that never did them any harm.”

“They stole our eggs,” my wife insisted.

“Yes,” I said. “It’s actually an educational game that teaches you not to steal.”

“Or, more accurately,” my mother said, “it teaches you to kill anyone who steals from you and to sacrifice your life doing it.”

“They shouldn’t have stolen the eggs,” my wife said in the tear-choked voice that appears when she knows she’s about to lose an argument.

“I don’t understand,” my mother said. “Did those infant piglets themselves steal your eggs, or are we talking about collective punishment here?”

“Coffee, anyone?” I asked.

After coffee, our family broke its Angry Birds record when the teamwork between my son, an expert in shooting cluster birds that hit multiple targets, and my wife, an expert in launching birds with square-shaped iron heads that can penetrate anything, succeeded in collapsing an especially well-fortified, beehive-shaped structure on the swollen green head of the mustached prince of pigs who said his last “Ho-la” and then was silenced forever.

While we ate cookies to celebrate our moral victory over the evil pigs, my mother started hassling us again. “What is it about that game that makes you love it so much?” she asked.

“I love the weird sounds the birds make when they crash into things,” Lev giggled.

“I love the physical-geometrical aspect of it,” I said, shrugging. “That whole business of calculating angles.”

“I love killing things,” my wife whispered in a shaky voice. “Destroying buildings and killing things. It’s so much fun.”

“And it really improves coordination,” I said, still trying to soften the effect.

“Seeing those pigs exploding into pieces and their houses collapsing,” my wife continued, her green eyes staring into infinity.

“More coffee, anyone?” I asked, resorting again to the only effective weapon left in my arsenal.

My wife was the only one in the family who really hit the nail on the head. Angry Birds is so popular in our home and in others because we truly love to kill and breaks things. So, it’s true that the pigs stole our eggs in the short opener of the game, but between you and me, that’s only an excuse for us to channel some good old rage in their direction. The more time I spend thinking about that game, the more clearly I understand something:

Under the adorable surface of the funny animals and their sweet voices, Angry Birds is actually a game that is consistent with the spirit of religious fundamentalist terrorists.

I know that Steve Jobs and his successor won’t appreciate that last sentence, and it isn’t really politically correct either. But how else to explain a game in which you are prepared to sacrifice your life just so you can destroy the houses of unarmed enemies with their wives and children inside, causing their deaths? And that’s before I got into the business of the pigs: a filthy animal that, in fanatic Muslim rhetoric, is often used to symbolize heretical races whose fate is death. After all, cows and sheep could just as easily have stolen our eggs, but the game planners still deliberately chose fat, dollar-green capitalist pigs.

By the way, I’m not saying that this is necessarily bad. I guess launching square-headed birds into stone walls is as close as I’ll ever get to a suicide mission in this incarnation. So, this might be a fun, controlled way of learning that not only birds or terrorists get angry, but so do I, and all I need is the right and relatively harmless context in which to recognize that anger and let it run wild for a while.

A few days after that odd conversation with my mother, she and my father appeared at our door holding a rectangular gift wrapped in flowered paper. Lev opened it excitedly and found a board game inside, on which pictures of dollar bills were prominently featured.

“You said you were bored by Go Fish,” my mother said, “so we decided to buy you Monopoly.”

“What do you have to do in this game?” Lev asked suspiciously.

“Make money,” my mother said. “Lots of money! You take all your parents’ money till you’re filthy rich and they’re left with nothing.”

“Great!” Lev said happily. “How do you play?”

And from that day on, the green pigs have been living in peace and quiet. True, we haven’t been to their neighborhoods on Mom’s iPhone, but I’m sure that if we dropped in for a quick visit, we’d find them squealing contentedly after closing off a balcony or digging a burrow for their little ones. My wife and I, on the other hand, find our situation deteriorating. Every evening, after Lev goes to sleep, we sit in the kitchen and calculate our new debts to our greedy little scion, who holds more than 90 percent of the Monopoly real estate, including cross-ownership of construction and infrastructure companies. After we finish calculating our multi-digit debts, we go to bed. I close my eyes, trying not to think about the chubby, cold-hearted issue of our loins who, in the near future, is going to strip my wife and me of the torn carton we’re presently living in on the game board, till blessed sleep finally arrives, and with it, dreams. Once again I’m a bird, flying across the blue skies, cutting through the clouds in a breathtaking arch only to crush my square head in a delirium of vengeance on the heads of green, mustached, egg-eating pigs. Ho-la!

Translated by Sondra Silverston

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Wow! The best angry birds essay yet! Thanks you Tablet!

JCarpenter says:

There’s always the game “Duck Hunter”—

Nothing more melancholy to me than to discover a beautiful finch or sparrow that has been killed by flying into one of my windows; nothing more satisfying to me than to witness a hawk catch chipmunks or squirrels in my yard.

I guess those two events are outlets enough for me.

Peace and blessings—

Don’t you just love the reference to the religious fundamentalist in this article – the bird-brained martyr is propelled to their death by a much more sinister “player” of the game… taking as much pleasure in the power to kill their own as in the drastic consequences of their action.

Nathan says:

A wonderful Etgar Keret essay, as always. There was a really funny sketch from the Israeli comedy show ‘Eretz Nehederet’ that made the same point.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMltvlqEM54

Joshua says:

Personally, I don’t think I had taken any lesson from this game other than I wish I was better at projecting trajectories. I think we’re taking things a little too seriously here, reading a little too much into a fun little geometry/physics game, but I will grant the perspective on the “lesson” of the game makes a certain sense.

But if we are going to be metacognitive on the lessons of games here, isn’t the lesson of Monopoly that the accumulation of wealth, in a ruthless and relentless manner even at the expense of others, is the means to succeed in life, or “win”?
I mean isn’t that what Monopoly “teaches”?
So…why is that okay?

Dan K. says:

I don’t think the piece says monoply teaches us a better lesson.
It says that both games are based on less than perfect human traits.

Doug G. says:

Will someone please translate this back into Hebrew. I don’t have a clue as to what this guy is saying. Just a bunch of jargonized gobbledygook.

And don’t forget the generational aspect of this excellent satire – the mother’s apparent squeamishness over the violence and amorality of one game vs her apparent approval of the cut-throat capitalism of the other. She also destroys her son’s tranquillity and sets up her grandson’s triumph over his parents.

Alyssa Bernstein says:

Agreed – the Eretz Nehederet video mentioned already addressed this topic, much more elegantly than this author.

I think I get it! Defenseless Palestinian families were instructed during Operation Cast Lead to occupy safe shelter and then were blown to pieces by IDF! Turns out the birds were fake–but deadly. Was that fun or what?

Dervin says:

While the eggs are nothing more than property to humans and pigs, they are children to the birds. So it’s far easier for the pigs to give up the eggs than it is for the birds to give up their children.

For what would we do if our children were kidnapped with the intention of being consumed?

We would start with Nuclear Option and increase the violence exponentially.

The pigs could possibly put an end to this by giving back the eggs, but apparently they feel the value of the eggs are greater than any damage the birds can inflict.

Dan K. says:

Dervin has a point. It’s all those bloody pigs fault.
Move away! I’m going to head bash them right now!

Bryna Weiss says:

I’m glad I don’t know ANYONE in that family!

Heidi Aycock says:

I love this, though I’m afraid I’m a little more like the grandmother. I like Angry Birds because the birds are so funny, which gives this article a little extra bite since I’m laughing at the poor martyrs. While the game will remain a comical diversion — I really don’t find the game-play itself very fun — Keret’s article makes me think about how I objectify the humans involved in a conflict. In Angry Birds, you can’t win without casualties on both sides — and I’m laughing at how they bounce off of the shelters and go ‘poof’. I have to remember that both sides have children and both sides have homes and both sides have passion. Both sides have artists and doctors and teachers. We lose it all when we continue to fling ourselves at each other like those stupid angry birds. You have to negotiate for all of those interests. I’m sure that’s much more simplistic than Keret’s point, but that’s what I get from his article.

The who says the birds die?

Delaney says:

Wow, I really like your essay! It really describe situation in our household! My eldest son, soon to be 6, is totally addicted to the game, and I have to resort to hiding my Ipad on my closet to prevent him(and myself) playing angry birds! Kudos on how you nailed it with the religious fundamentalist part.

Sorry for this noob question. Could you tell me what this blog skin is? I really like it. Or is it customized template, maybe? I believe it will be a great option for Google ads as well. I’d like it if you can tell me about it. Thanks.

I’ve said that least 3042572 times. The problem this like that is they are just too compilcated for the average bird, if you know what I mean

Tom Traeger says:

I totally agree with this article. It seems to be more of a condemnation and persecution of Christians than of Jews. There are may landscapes featuring Crosses yet to see a Star of David however. There is no doubt in my aged brain that this “Game” is about Terrorism. Enjoyed your perspective, hope to visit Israel one day. This is on my Bucket List. Thank You, We agree on this. Tom Traeger, Marco Island, Fl.

colleen says:

brilliantly written!

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Bird’s Eye

A family falls under the spell of the popular iPhone game Angry Birds, which teaches players to sacrifice theirs lives to destroy the houses of unarmed enemies. What’s not to like?

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