The Argument For Angry Birds As The Game Of The Year

The Argument For Angry Birds As The Game Of The Year

Everyone is playing Angry Birds, but was it Game of the Year? While many video game pundits have given that accolade to Mass Effect 2 or Red Dead Redemption, one awards show has Angry Birds nominated. A voter defends:

“I think it’s one of the best games of the year, hands down,” David Jaffe tells Kotaku. He’s an unexpected defender. Jaffe is best known in gaming circles for having created the original blockbuster God of War game, a violent PlayStation 2 epic, the kind of game that seems distant from the likes of the simple, cute Angry Birds, the kind of game grandmas and kids don’t play at supermarket checkout lines. (His next is Twisted Metal, a car combat sequel slated for the PlayStation 3 this year.)

“I’m not saying the reason it deserves to be nominated is because it was talked about on Jimmy Kimmel… I’m saying the reason it was talked about on Jimmy Kimmel is that it was such an engaging piece of interactivity.”

Jaffe was one of the many game developers who nominated Angry Birds HD, a 2010 update to the 2009 iPhone blockbuster as Game of the Year for the February-scheduled Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, one of the contenders for being an Oscars or Golden Globes of video games. Other games nominated include Mass Effect, Red Dead Redemption and even the latest Call of Duty. It’s the inclusion of Angry Birds that sparked debate, gamers blaring “what the fock” [sic]on the internet, and so on.

“Out of all the games this year it was really the only one that was able to captivate a huge percentage of the American public,” Jaffe said, “and not just people who consider themselves gamers who are going to look at new releases every Tuesday and who are reading Kotaku and IGN.”

He likens Angry Birds to Pac-Man and Tetris for its cross-over appeal, but he also loves it because of how capably it stands up against those more expensive, more visually spectacular games it is nominated against: “They managed to show that it doesn’t take much presentation if your interactivity is solid and strong to engage the mind. And ultimately that’s what a great game does, whether you’re talking about Go or Chess or whether you’re talking about Killzone 3. Angry Birds is such a great expression of the power of the medium because it can basically stand above all of these other super-expensive, super-technological, super-graphical games and still be as, if not more engaging, than the others.”

To those who say Angry Birds &- a glorified Flash game! an iPad game! – doesn’t deserve a nomination because it’s not a real gamer’s game, well, David Jaffe is a man unafraid to respond. Detecting some snobbery in the criticism he says, “Anybody out there who actually is a gamer who can’t handle the fact that there are also casual games has a little too much f-cking time on their hands.

“I make room in my movie-going diet for Michael Bay’s latest explosive circus and I also make time for Winter’s Bone and The King’s Speech. They’re games. To act as if that doesn’t deserve it is an absurd concept. It really just reflects a lack of understanding and ultimately a lack of appreciation about the medium of interactivity to begin with. You’re so blinded by the graphics and so blinded by the visual that you really don’t appreciate what makes this medium special, which is interactivity.”

To Jaffe, Angry Birds is the real deal. It’s a great video game. And he denies that he was wowed by its crossover success. He says today he’ll do better than have nominated it. He’s going to vote for it as Game of the Year. The top one!

“I’m not saying the reason it deserves to be nominated is because it was talked about on Jimmy Kimmel,” he says. “I’m saying the reason it was talked about on Jimmy Kimmel is that it was such an engaging piece of interactivity that it engaged the public well beyond a hardcore gamer at such a level that a mainstream comedian who has to be very careful about what he fills on a very expensive timeslot and what jokes he speaks to to make sure his audience gets them is willing to speak to that, because it has clearly permeated culture.”

Angry Birds, David Jaffe says, was just that good.

The AIAS awards ceremony will be held next week near Las Vegas as part of the DICE 2011 summit. We’ll be there and let you know whether Angry Birds wins.


  • I don’t disagree with him, but I think his argument lacks nuance: If I want to experience a great story, Angry Birds isn’t going to do it. If his stance is that story is irrelevant and interactivity is king, then that’s just as narrow a vision as he accuses the “gamer’s gamers” of.

    I don’t think the comparison between Michael Bay films and the King’s Speech is analogous to Angry Birds vs Mass Effect 2. The King’s Speech is a long-form, big budget film shown in the same theatres as X-Men 3. It cost a similar amount to other ‘regular’ Hollywood movies and stars some big-name big-budget actors. The best movie example I can think of is of the Blair Witch Project, something done on a shoestring budget with a totally different set of production values to the average film. But even that is still meant to be seen in a theatre.

    Don’t get me wrong, we DO need to expand our ideas of good videogames, and learn how to criticise them on their own merits. However, you just can’t write off Mass Effect 2 and Red Dead as being irrelevant because they… what? Have deeper stories? Use bigger budgets? That’s not fair at all. Angry Birds is brilliant, but it also appeals to the -mainstream- public. Is that really something we all want to do? Britney Spears also appealed to the mainstream public, whereas Mozart doesn’t (today). Which one is a ‘better’ piece of art? Could anyone (other than me…) even compare the two?

  • There is a very simple, objective argument against this notion: Angry Birds was released in December 2009, not in 2010. They probably should have been nominating the game this time last year.

    Now that I’ve put that forward, let’s get subjective. I do think Angry Birds is a good game, but I don’t think it’s Game of the Year good. I’m completely on-board with breaking down the elitism surrounding “casual” games, but that’s not why Angry Birds doesn’t deserve to be game of the year: it’s just not that good. Being nominated is one thing, and that’s fine – it’s had a big impact not pop culture – but when it comes time to vote for the final winner, I hope quality and artistry is rewarded over cultural impact.

    • Yep, this is the crux of the issue for me. You can’t just give featherweight games the highest honour in videogames because they get more people into it.

      By this logic, every year’s best artist would be a Bieber because he brings in a new generation of tasteless music fans. Actually, scratch that. That already happens. I just wish the game industry was more discerning.

  • I really dont get this whole Angry Birds thing. Granted I have not played it as I dont know anyone with an iPhone, but put simply it looks like the flash game Crush the Castle (or w/e it was called) and while that indeed was a popular and fun game I still dont understand that appeal Angry Birds has generated.

    On a sidenote congrats to its Developers.

  • The people who vote Angry Birds as Game Of The Year are usually the sort of people who don’t play games anyway, and whose opinions should be taken with a huge grain of salt.

    Game Of The Year means a whole lot more than “it makes gamers out of non-gamers” otherwise, every year would be won by a slew of Wii Sports, Kinects, Singstar or peripheral-based gimmicks.

    He seems to have forgotten that people aren’t bashing Angry Birds because its presentation is humble, but that its experience is paper-thin too. By voting this as GOTY, he’s essentially stating that the efforts of thousands of hard-working developers, writers, storytellers, voice actors etc is inconsequential compared to mainstream appeal.

    After all, what else has Rovio done besides Angry Birds? Virtually nothing. And a single glance at their company roadmap shows nothing else but Angry Birds ports in the near future (the game came out in 2009). Want to pay $6 USD for yet ANOTHER copy of Angry Birds on mac app store? Be our guest (it also loses its touchscreen functionality, sorry!)

    In a year or 2, people will realise that Angry Birds was little more than a fad. And that Rovio was a one-trick pony that made a surprising hit that snowballed, and are laughing all the way to the bank.

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