Why Unwinnable Games Are Massively Popular

Three explanations for "the Flappy Bird phenomenon"

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Flappy Bird, the notoriously difficult mobile game, burst forth in 2013. Now, creator Dong Nguyen has released an even harder game called Swinging Copters. But long before Flappy Bird, unwinnable games were massively popular. Remember Donkey Kong? Here are three theories as to why, despite the odds, players keep coming back.

The Stakes

—Bennett Foddy, assistant arts professor at the New York University Game Center

The Hook

—Jesper Juul, author of The Art of Failure: An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games

The Rewards

—Michael Schmierbach, associate professor in the Department of Media Studies at Pennsylvania State University

This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of Popular Science, under the title “The Pleasure Of Failure.”