Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Go On, Get Angry

I've been angry for the last couple of days. (I've also been sick, which may or may not be related.) Anger can be useful, but in this case it has just been the result of being frustrated. I'm really, really tired of always having to be the grown up in conflicts, particularly with other adults who do foolish but forgivable things and then try to ignore the problem. But alas, this is not a post about why I'm angry, but rather how I've dealt with that anger: I've played video games.

Now I'm not a big fan of first person shooters and I'm not terribly skilled at fighting anyway—Halo, which is a favorite of S, has a 30-minute learning curve that I have never been able to get the hang of, and S will laughingly tell you that I know only one fighting move in Assassin's Creed 2. (He's right. I tend to hack away until I corner the character I'm engaged with and whack him until he reaches his end. I learned the other moves, sure, but I don't usually bother with them.) I like puzzles and strategy-type games. I'm a wiz at SimCity, and personally I think I would make an awesome Mayor; my Sims are always the most educated, well-employed characters, and my mass transit systems are always on time.

A yellow bird collapses a structure protecting
the green pigs. © Rovio
One of the games in my arsenal is the popular Angry Birds. If you own a smartphone and don't know this game, then you probably only use your phone to make calls. (Really, there's a whole world of apps available to you, go on out and explore!) It's a simple enough game. See, there are these birds and their eggs were stolen by these horrible green pigs. So now the birds are angry, and they're on a quest to get their eggs back. This means launching themselves at and destroying the structures the pigs build to protect themselves. More than 12 million copies of the game has been sold—chances are, someone you know is playing Angry Birds right now!

The beauty of Angry Birds is that its mobile, so I can play when and where I want. There's been a fair amount of discussion about the appeal of this game. A coworker handed me an article a few weeks ago that investigates the ways the game uses positive reinforcement when the player succeeds, and minimal punishment when they fail. When the player beats the level, the player is cheered. If the player fails the level, the pigs laugh—quietly, if not a bit smugly. The game is easy to learn and can be played for short periods of time, falling into a genre called "entertainment snacking." It provides a quick distraction that players can indulge in.

All of this is true for me, but recently it has also let me be angry in a very innocent way. You're automatically on the side of the birds, and you can't help but be angry with them—those sickly looking green pigs deserve to have their houses broken! The birds also appeal to my problem-solving nature. You have to angle them just right for maximum impact. So in this case, it lets me compensate for problems that I can't readily solve on my own. And the truth is that the cartoon characters life my mood. 

I know there has been a lot of research done about the ways video games actually encourage violence, but I suspect personality has something to do with response to games. I'm not really an angry person by nature. I'm angry, but I don't want to inflict bodily harm. The anger is composed of parts frustration, sadness, and a tinge of regret; it is not violent. I'm also a fixer. I like things to work. I've also learned that simply letting things slide under the rug unresolved tends not to help (though I seem to be one of the few who thinks this way). Since my hands are tied here, video games give me a chance to escape—and solve problems within my reach.

Anyway, pardon the break from normal anthropological reflection. This malaise will pass. I'm sure.


  1. Thanks for that great post showing that I'm not the only one who's angry at this "slide under the rug" syndrome of bigger part of humanity!

  2. I like your video game approach to your current anger, because it is conscious, and takes some kind of direction towards making things better. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  3. For the record, I'm a huge video game junkie. Since I occasionally blog about video games and whatnot, I wanted to put that out there so that Readers don't think that every video game post is the result of anger that I can't resolve in a one-to-one setting. That being said, it does give me a sense of control during those occasions when I'm angry and there's not a damned thing I can do to correct it.