Bird Alone has a simple premise: befriend a lonely parrot. It seems innocent, poignant and heartwarming enough, especially for those around the world that are still coping with the ongoing isolation of the coronavirus pandemic. But the mobile game has been filled with reviews from users who discovered far more about loneliness than they bargained for.
Developed by George Batchelor (with art, writing and sound from Allissa Chan, Eli Rainsberry and Daisy Fernandez), Bird Alone was released in the middle of last year, and gives you the responsibility of looking after a bird on a daily basis. Each day, your bird will ask you new questions, and it’s up to you how you respond.
Note: Before proceeding any further, it’s really not possible to talk about this without giving a very clear indication of the content. It’s absolutely a spoiler, but it’s also something some users said they wish they had known before going in. So, spoilers ahead.
Here’s the official description to give you an indication of where things are headed:
Start each day answering your new friend’s questions about life, death and the meaning of existence.
Guide the bird through daily life as it confronts the same worries as the rest of us.
◆ What’s your favourite colour?
◆ Where are all my friends?
◆ Do you ever think about death?
It hits similar emotional beats to, say, Florence. But instead of a relationship between two people, Bird Alone explores our relationship with a creature, our relationship with loneliness and, more generally, our relationship with mental health.
The bird has its good days, its own outlook on life, its own struggles, worries and stresses. It’s your job to check in day after day and help them through, naturally leaving an imprint on yourself in the process. And if the thought of becoming attached to a virtual pet sounds strange to you, then you might want to reacquaint yourself with Neopets, Tamagotchi, Pokemon, or the success of games like Stardew Valley and Harvest Moon.
People love caring for things and seeing them grow, physically and emotionally. And it’s because of that growth that Bird Alone becomes some difficult, as the official description alludes to:
Watch each day turn to night
Ponder the changing seasons
Face the heaviness of growing old with a best friend.
Of course, not everyone reads descriptions in full (particularly the final lines) and certainly not the reviews. So the game’s overall score has been diminished slightly by users fundamentally unprepared for the loss of their virtual friend, someone they’d spent a month checking in with, watching them grow into old age.
“I’m so glad I downloaded this a day before my child, and he was just as sad as I was about the loss and uninstalled before he had to see his friend die,” one user wrote.
“I refuse to open the app again because I don’t want coco to leave me,” another one-star review said.
Is Bird Alone more impactful or a better product because users weren’t aware of the ending? Maybe. I’d venture that for some people, especially anyone who has lost a loved one, knowing the end is nigh doesn’t diminish the effect of the loss. You still think of loved ones years later; their loss hits, but maybe not for as long. And that would definitely apply in the current circumstances. Australians and New Zealanders who have been able to see family and friends not so much, but definitely very much so for anyone who became attached to a feathered friend as a sideways coping mechanism for the coronavirus pandemic.