Every so often, a simple game comes along with the potential to distract so fully from the tedium of everyday lives that we, as a culture, become obsessed. It began with tic-tac-toe in elementary school, evolved into Sudoku in middle school and then those logic graph puzzles in high school.
A month or so ago, Gabriel Cirulli hit us with the next incarnation of this phenomenon — 2048.
It seems like old news now, but during spring break I spread the gospel of this simple flash game beyond my friend group and watched as my grandmother walked away from the game, frustrated, declaring she wouldn’t return for an hour. I heard her cursing about filling the board 10 minutes later.
If you haven’t heard of it, quit reading and google that number. Chances are, a Buzzfeed post shows up first. If that doesn’t tell you a little something about the power of Internet trending, I don’t know what will.
Ignore that too, for now, and find the actual game. The brutal simplicity of smashing numbers into one another to add them is addictive. The goal, as the name states, is to reach the tile that reads 2048 on a four-by-four grid.
The girl I work with in the French Department told me about it one day while we sat waiting for the phone to ring and otherwise putting off homework. Normally we have small talk, but after beginning to play, all conversation ceased. We bought into its mystique wholeheartedly, almost forgetting to greet professors as they walked by.
The numbers pulled us into their world with the slow rhythm of shifting the sets back and forth and up and down.
There’s no time limit, so it feels meditative. You fight yourself to beat a high score, so there’s no external force pushing you higher. I’m sure there’s a leaderboard somewhere, but that doesn’t matter nearly as much as the first time you create a glowing 512 block.
It does glow. And I haven’t reached anything higher, so I don’t know if it starts to sparkle or something, but what matters is that we feel enough accomplishment that it should sparkle.
Games like this provide something that appeals to base human desires. Through your own making, you can create something beautiful, ordered and per The American Dream we’ve been spoon-fed our whole lives — our own, based on merit.
While we scuttle from work to an appointment to a class where we can never muster the courage to speak, we become lost in our minds, in the everyday minutiae of the universe we create.
2048 saves us from ourselves. This cyclical way of thinking has no place on that four by four grid. In its repetition and switching perspective, we find a world of infinite, mathematical possibility. This is rare in our modern world of ambiguous Tweets and shortened face-to-face interaction times.
The game provides an outlet for unresolved anger at the end of the day, or in the middle, and that’s priceless. Even if my high score is a measly 7,068, that’s not the point. The point is that we’re addicted to a game that mellows us out and provides a calming couple minutes in the middle of every day.
It’s like yoga for someone who isn’t physically flexible or doesn’t have the time. Mental yoga, minutes at a time, and making time for it daily helps clear my brain. Received the fifth email about final exams in one day? 2048. Come home to find the Internet won’t turn on? 2048. Upstairs neighbors won’t take their boots off at 2 a.m.? 2048.
It’s the perfect antidote to stressful happenstances in our lives, and I hope people continue to get hooked.
(PS: I got to 1024 on the game I took a screenshot of earlier, which is exciting for me. Even though the rest of my family has reached 2048 and beyond. It’s all about personal goals.)