There was probably a time toward the beginning of this century, though I can’t remember for sure, when I swore I would never own a cell phone. After a few years of owning a cell phone, then, I similarly vowed I would never own a smart phone. Once I got a smart phone, I promised myself I would avoid certain trends, such as the ridiculous game Angry Birds, with it’s annoying bug-eyed mascot and overly glorified place in pop culture. Of course (can you see how this trend is shaping up) I now have that very game loaded on my phone, and play it whenever I want to kill some time, and occasionally get obsessed when I reach a level that takes more than a dozen do-overs to beat. It’s probably the worst time-waster I’ve been engaged with since facebook, and the Sims before that, and I threaten every day to uninstall it from my phone.
But, the other day as I was slingshotting disgruntled fowl at a stack of wood and smirking boogers (what are those green things supposed to be?) I learned something about myself. I realized that as I play Angry Birds my brain in engaged in such a way that I begin to make slight adaptations, based on what I’ve learned from previous plays. I adjust my angle, my velocity, and my entire strategy accordingly, and begin to gain certain skill at playing Angry Birds. Yes, I realize that this could be said of most any game, and I realize that the skills acquired in playing those games is generally pretty specific to the game itself, and not terribly useful in the real world – unless of course you find yourself on a mission to recover some kidnapped eggs. But on a very observable level, it showed me the power of our brain to adapt as we take in information, to solve problems, to increase in cleverness. In short, to learn. Which may seem completely meaningless in the context of a cell phone game, but it’s really awesome when you realize that the same brain that learns how to hit its colorful, animated target, is also capable of learning how to solve real life problems and come up with real life solutions. I think it’s harder to notice these adaptations because they happen more gradually, and across more platforms than a single game. But it’s the same brain at work, and it’s dang amazing. And that’s what I recently learned from playing Angry Birds.