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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?

Etgar Keret
January 21, 2011
Very angry birds.(Illustration Abigail Miller/Tablet Magazine; based on screenshot from
Very angry birds.(Illustration Abigail Miller/Tablet Magazine; based on screenshot from

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

Etgar Keret is a Tel Aviv-based filmmaker and fiction writer. He writes a regular column from Israel for Tablet.

Etgar Keret is a Tel Aviv-based filmmaker and fiction writer.

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