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14 February 2014

Flappy Birds

Flappy Birds

Flappy Birds hops along in the footprints of Angry Birds - a game which looks simple to the untrained eye, but is in fact deceptively hard and incredibly addictive (and involves birds).

It's the most popular free mobile game on the Apple App Store and Google's Android Play store of the past year, and requires users to tap the screen repeatedly to keep the little pixelated character in the air. And, if you haven't downloaded it already, it's too late.

At the start of this week, the game's developer Nguyen Ha Dong pulled his highly successful and profitable app from stores, saying its success (it had been downloaded 50 million times, and was making him around £30,000 in advertising revenue each day) had ruined his 'simple life'. He took to his Twitter account to say: 'I cannot take this anymore'.

In interviews with Forbes magazine and the Wall Street Journal, Dong explained that his life was better before the smash-hit success of the game. He said that he enjoyed making videogames in his spare time, but now finds it difficult to walk down the street in his hometown of Hanoi, Vietnam, without being pestered. To escape the madness, he has disconnected himself from the internet, hasn't checked his email in days, and is currently on leave from work. According to Dong, life is 'extremely uncomfortable'.

It's surely any app creator's dream for a game to go viral and become an indie sensation in a matter of weeks, particularly when big bucks are involved. But the dream became a nightmare for Dong, and here we see a very unusual turn of events: the overnight millionaire wanting to pull the plug on his cash cow and return to his simple, quiet life. He achieved success, wealth and fame, and yet it didn't live up to all that he had hoped for.

We too can spend our lives chasing things that don't and won't fulfil us. We seek these distant and vague concepts of success, beauty or fame, not really knowing when or how we will achieve them.

One word for such desires is idols. Talking about idolatry has gone out of fashion in the Church, but the Old Testament is full of references to it – golden calves, images and statues people made to worship in God's place. We may not be as explicit in the way we idolise things, but success or fame – even within the Church – can become the altars on which we offer our best energies, deepest devotion and highest trust.

As Timothy Keller says in Counterfeit Gods, "The human heart is an idol factory - the human heart takes good things like a successful career, love, material possessions, even family, and turns them into ultimate things."

The problem of idols is that they destroy. Any created thing that we make the ultimate object of our ultimate affection will begin to control us. The idols which offer us security, hope and love in fact turn out to be vain and empty shadows. As we follow these empty things, we too become empty hollow things, because we "become what we worship" (G. K. Beale). Jeremiah 2:5 says:"They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves."

According to Hosea we "have exchanged the glory of God for the shame of idols" (4:7) We have swapped the glory of God for a pale reflection, an empty shadow. Even if we do achieve success or fame or beauty we might just come to the realisation, as Dong did, that they weren't what we needed all along, and find that we have to make huge sacrifices for them.

As Matthew chapter 16 says:"What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?"

Thankfully, Dong was courageous enough to step away from the thing that had promised so much, but failed to deliver. Will we do the same?

Phoebe Thompson is editor of Youthwork magazine