Angry Birds 2 & the New Kitsch

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Why do I always write these fucking things at night?

Angry Birds 2 is the 20th game in the Angry Birds series. It came out on the 30 July & by the 4 August had accumulated over 10m downloads. The fucking BBC ran an article about it. Today. Apparently, there’s some kind over controversy over money.

Look. Let’s just be honest, okay? Whilst I would argue that the video game industry demonstrates the limiting nature of Capitalist production in general, mobile gaming is… Urm. Well, mobile gaming is fucked.

So, yes, Angry Birds 2 does ask you to spend money to buy lives. Yes, it is disgusting that kids playing the game might be tricked into spending £40 on in-game currency. Yes, the “free-to-play but in-app purchases, BUY OUR SHIT” business model is vile, frustrating & transparently exploitative. I’m not going to talk about that though. To a Communist it’s much of a muchness.

& if you are interested in that, go & read Ian Bogost. Liberal scum.

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I had never played an Angry Birds game until I played this 1. I downloaded it less than an hour ago, played through the 1st 15 levels to win my “early bird” avatar & then promptly deleted it. Angry Birds 2 has as much mechanical depth as a television remote. This is, sort of, what we’re going to talk about.

I am not opposed to the idea of “casual gaming”. I do not view gaming as a preserve only for human beings that devote their entire lives to it. If I did, I’d be out. To me, video gaming is an art form like any other – it will necessarily contain multiple different styles, storylines, mechanics etc. I’m not even necessarily opposed to Angry Birds 2 – even if I did hate it.

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Like, really hate it.

No, what I really want to address is that Angry Birds 2 & its ilk are a new form of pulp romance novel. They are a new populism, a new escapism. They are the new kitsch.

Angry Birds 2 is a game about using a slingshot to fire birds at pigs. The reason the birds are angry with the pigs is because the king pig stole some eggs. Over 10m people had downloaded this  4 days after its release.

The gameplay of Angry Birds 2 ininvolves swiping, aiming & tapping. You need to destroy towers with an unrealistic physics engine that very well might have been developed for Newgrounds. If you kill all the pigs, you pass the level. Occasionally you fight the king pig, by doing exactly the same thing you do to fight all the other pigs. Over 10m people had downloaded this 4 days after its release.

The only press released about Angry Birds 2 has been overwhelmingly negative. Everybody hates the extent to which in-app purchases dominate the game. There have been 19 other Angry Birds games since 2009. Over 10m people had downloaded this 4 days after its release.

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The question which arises from all of this is, I suppose, whether any fundamental differences from more traditional kitsch arise in creating kitsch in the form of a video game. I would still apply the thinking that these games make their own content meaningless & aggrandise form. Literally no1 gives a shit about the plot of Angry Birds 2. However, 1 thing is changed. The form which is aggrandised & made saccharin is that of mechanics. This means that kinaesthetic, ludic pleasure has now become a common aesthetic language (of sorts).

I would also like to emphasise that the interactive element of this new kitsch provides it with a new dimension. Games like Angry Birds 2 utilise reward systems within their metagame. This is to provide an illusion of progress in an essentially static environment. In Angry Birds 2, there is no such thing as either mechanical or plot development: the king pig always escapes & you always follow him; you always throw birds at pigs. The game is kept fresh by the introduction of material-immaterial incentives. This reinforces the experience of play – everybody wants more digital stickers!

Well, that’s what I got from Angry Birds 2 anyway. Oh, & that Rovio Entertainment really want us to think that there have only been 2 Angry Birds games.

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