Be careful what you ask for, Flappy Bird

The trolls that killed a game developer's dream

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I’m a busy person. Work. House. Kids. You know, all of that. So I try to avoid games that are addicting, immersive television binges, and other things that might derail my existence. So I never downloaded Flappy Bird.

I first heard about it in my kitchen.

My daughter: This Flappy Bird game pisses me off.

My son: Everyone at school is playing that stupid game. It’s crazy hard.

Daughter: I hate it. (Still playing.)

Son: Everyone hates it. They all play it, though.

This is the sort of story every developer dreams about. It’s what everyone who makes things of any kind dreams about. Have fun building. Upload it. Go back to your day job. And then, a few weeks later, be met suddenly with international fame and gobs of money. It’s the stuff of not-sober fantasies.

Except in the fantasies, the masses don’t turn ugly, threaten to murder you, stalk you at home, write articles about how you are a cheat and a liar, and generally turn you into the most hated man on the internet.

This is how it goes, too often, in the real world though. The three months of life that Flappy Bird enjoyed, spawned dozens of articles, much discussion, and attracted a horde of angry trolls. It will no-doubt send game developers down a rabbit hole trying to figure out why and how. Why that game? Why did it make people so crazy addicted. Why did it turn so ugly? How can they repeat that formula?

But the thing that makes me stop and ponder the ugliness the Internet can summon is this statement on Twitter by the game’s creator, Dong Nguyen, “I can call ‘Flappy Bird’ is a success of mine. But it also ruined my simple life. So now I hate it.”

It took Nguyen a few days to build the game. It took the game a few months to go from complete obscurity to crazy successful. It took a few weeks for that success -- and the ugliness of trolls -- to make the game’s creator hate it so much he killed it.

The problem is bullies. And the idea, oft expressed on Twitter by people who could not understand why anyone would turn away so much money, that Nguyen just had to accept that the Internet is like this. People are awful. There are trolls. That was much of the message from supporters.

The thing is, it’s not that easy to ignore trolls. If it was, there probably wouldn’t be trolls. We all live on the Internet. So to wake up one day and discover that it hates you isn’t something you can just easily, you know, shrug off. (There is plenty of historical evidence for this. Just do a search on Amanda Todd to get up to speed.)

I’m sure that Nguyen will recover from his startling encounter with the nasty underbelly of the Interwebs. He did what you are supposed to do to trolls He stopped arguing with them. (And he took back his creation.) He also made plenty of money. And the trolls generally have a short attention span.

But do we really have to accept that the Internet is like this?

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