W h e n I downloaded 2048 on my iPhone last week, I should have known what would happen. Like many of my friends who recently discovered this simple yet endlessly tricky game, I quickly became addicted. I still haven’t gotten 2048 — I’ve only gotten 512 once. I can’t stop playing — at least not until I get that magic number, until I see those square tiles light up, tell me I’ve won and let me move on with my life.
For those of you who don’t know, 2048 is a game that has recently taken over people’s lives. It is fairly simple: You have a four-by-four grid and two tiles with the number “2” on them. Swipe tiles up, down, left or right and tiles with the same number will combine and double in face value. So 2 and 2 become 4, 4 and 4 become 8 and so on. The point is to double 2 ten times to get 2048. But every time you move, a new tile appears — and if your board fills up and you run out of moves, you’re done.
Here’s the crazy thing about 2048: It’s not timed. But you will probably play as if it were. When I start a new game, I stop everything else I’m doing until I run out of moves — or I win. And that’s never happened. So every loss fuels my need for speed and just one more try. My roommates haven’t stopped rolling their eyes at me since I came home blabbing about the app.
In college, we’re all prone to procrastination — a quick game is more attractive than a problem set that will take eight hours to finish — but as we download the new big “thing,” we should be aware of our capacity for obsession. These games don’t offer instant gratification — they deliberately delay it. It’s tempting to submerge ourselves in activities that are less challenging than rewarding. Games like 2048 are one, but not the other.
2048 isn’t the first game to develop a hyper-addicted fan base. It’s actually inspired by the game 1024 , where the objective is to double 2 nine times, which is loosely based off the iPhone app Threes , where your starting tiles are 1 and 2, so the combinations are multiples of 3. And it comes just weeks after Dong Nyugen, the creator of the endlessly infuriating game Flappy Bird, pulled his app from stores because he felt users were spending too much time playing. After that move, smartphones with the Flappy Bird app installed were sold on eBay for tens of thousands of dollars until the online marketplace removed all those listings.
The case of Flappy Bird is an example of a phenomenon we don’t normally see: rejection of success in the marketplace. Flappy Bird made Nyugen an estimated $50,000 a day, but in early February he tweeted: “I am sorry ‘Flappy Bird’ users. 22 hours from now, I will take ‘Flappy Bird’ down. I cannot take this anymore.”
While tech news outlets clamored to get the scoop, he refused to give a statement — until a month later, when he came clean in Rolling Stone: He felt terrible after reading tweets from mothers about their game-crazed children. Nyugen had created the ultimate distraction — something simple, easy to play and hard to beat, iterative and menacing.
Now, with respect to 2048, I am not seriously concerned for my mental or physical well-being. Trust me, I want to win, but I’m not losing sleep over it. What I am losing is time — moments and energy I could spend on fruitful, productive activities. I’ve only been playing for a week, but I wonder how many more times I’ll fail before I can toss my head back and laugh when people ask if I’ve ever played, when I have a win in my back pocket right there along with my iPhone.
Frida Garza is a College senior from El Paso, Texas stud ying English. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her @fffffrida.
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