I’m not usually one to get hooked on the latest phone game crazes. I never even played Candy Crush, Minecraft, or Plants vs. Zombies. But if I’m honest, I’ll have to admit that I’m somewhat addicted to the latest big game, Flappy Bird.
Setting aside the irony that the #1 game in the iOS App Store looks like it could have just as easily been released for Nintendo in the mid-’80s, Flappy Bird is addictive because it’s so simple. A game lasts only a matter of seconds, and it only requires one action – tapping. No complicated swipes or tilts – it’s just all about timing. If you’re one of the 20 million or so people who have tried it, you know what I’m talking about.
At first, I was absolutely terrible at the game. I could hardly get the bird to go between the first two pipes. My scores oscillated between 0 and 1, with an occasional 2 (which normally left me feeling very accomplished).
A couple of days later, however, I started to get the hang of it. I got 5 .Then 7. And before I knew it, I was rewarded with a bronze medal for scoring double digits.
My scores continued to ascend. 15. 17. 20. Silver medal! 25. 31. Gold!
I began to wonder what could possibly happen next. If 10 got bronze, 20 silver, and 30 gold, there was no room left for improvement. I was already on top of the world. The game should be playing the national anthem.
The next day, my score jumped to 45. I couldn’t believe it. I got what I can only assume is a platinum medal, although it looks white in its 8-bit glory. It was my crowning achievement. Surely I had conquered the game in hero-like fashion. After all, I had done so well they had to invent a new medal better than gold!
What once seemed impossible was now very routine. Earlier today when taking a break from work, I scored over 40 twice. I had become a master of Flappy Bird.
So I thought, anyway. Then I discovered the button that would change anything. With a simple tap, my perception of dominance would instantly be changed.
On the game’s main menu, two buttons adorn the bottom of the screen: “start” and “score.” I pressed the “score” button and discovered instant disappointment.
This button displays the Flappy Bird leaderboard. Somehow, 45 isn’t the top score on Flappy Bird. It’s not even close. In fact, my score ranks as #1,489,335. I’m not even in the top million. As it turns out, I’m far from the only person who has received a platinum/white/whatever color medal. My superhuman score is in fact quite ordinary. It’s only a fraction of the top score, as the leaderboard is clogged with those who have scored exactly 9,999.
Silly as it might sound at first, my Flappy Bird experience is a lot like many of our life experiences. We overcome great obstacles, we excel to the point where impossible becomes ordinary, and then we discover our biggest achievements are considered rubbish to the outside world. Losing 5 pounds seems like nothing when Jared Fogle lost almost 100 eating sub sandwiches. Buying a new-to-you used car isn’t very exciting when a Facebook friend just brought home a brand new ride with shiny rims. Whatever it is you’ve worked hard to accomplish, someone else will almost instantly one-up you.
But just like Flappy Bird, there’s a major flaw in this logic. As I said earlier, somehow the entire leaderboard is filled with the score 9,999, which just so happens to be the largest four-digit number. I have a feeling this is the maximum score the game allows. You can also be sure that these scores are fake.
Flappy Bird allows you to earn points at a rate of about one per second. With this in mind, it would take almost three hours of perfectly-timed tapping to break the five-digit score mark. Is it theoretically possible? Absolutely. Did someone actually do it? I can almost guarantee it never happened. More than likely, the top scores on the leaderboard (and probably many others that aren’t shown) were all not the work of meticulous tapping but of hackers. Does this mean that 45 really is the best score in the universe? Probably not. But it’s definitely much better than it looks.
Life is that way too. The media is filled with Photoshopped models, auto-tuned musicians, and steroid-pumped athletes. The reality is that even celebrities don’t measure up when they compare their real selves to their own computer-generated public personas.
Even regular people always put their best foot forward. They only showcase their finest moments on social media. Many don’t even share their less-than-perfect moments with others off the grid. Comparing yourself with others is rarely a healthy endeavor, but online comparisons are sure to make you feel about three feet tall.
So instead of beating yourself up because your real life doesn’t stack up against fake competition, celebrate all victories, no matter how small. Understand that you don’t have to be the best to be great. And wear that platinum-whitish colored metal with pride.