The anthropology of Angry Birds

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There's an interesting article over on The Wall Street Journal trying to explain why Angry Birds has been such an amazing hit in the gaming world. Their thesis looks at the idea that we humans are hard wired to enjoy solving parabolas, the trajectories made by something propelled against the influence of gravity. Video games have long exploited our bias for ballistics; for example, look back at the hit series of PC games, "Worms". Read on for quotes and comments.

"To play Angry Birds, you must use a catapult to lob little birds at structures in the hope of knocking them down on pigs. It's the verb "lob" that intrigues me. There is something much more satisfactory about an object tracing a parabolic ballistic trajectory through space towards its target than either following a straight line or propelling itself."


"Predicting parabolas is something humans just seem to find intriguing. How else do you explain golf? Or the awe in which we hold good quarterbacks in football and good spin bowlers in cricket? Our bodies are uniquely good at throwing things at targets. The trajectory must be prefigured in the brain before the projectile leaves the fingers. Our shoulders rotate, our scapulas slide, our pelvises pivot, our arms flex and our fingers extend."

"Until 10,000 years ago, most or even all human beings relied on this talent for gathering at least some of their food—by killing it at a distance. With the arrow, the spear thrower, the blowpipe, the boomerang, the sling, the harpoon and the thrown rock, we were killing prey from fish to birds to mammoths. Not to mention each other."

It makes perfect sense that we're all hard wired to appreciate the parabola. Back in the day that we lived on the plains in hunter-gatherer groups, there would have been something of a Darwinian pressure favouring those who had the best throwing arm. Being the best hunters meant they could feed themselves and their offspring the best.

It doesn't quite apply to our lives these days, as the most hunting you'll probably be doing is on the Ovi Store for games like Angry Birds! Although, this parabolic pleasure seeking is something you might want to think about when you remember asking yourself at school if you'd ever use any of that quadratic equation stuff in real life. You might not be number crunching, but every time you toss something across the room to the rubbish bin (or is that just me?) or play games like Angry Birds, you're subconsciously solving the roots of a quadratic equation!


David Gilson for All About Symbian, 21st January 2011.