Modding, from the root word modifying, is “the act of changing a game, usually through computer programming, with software tools that are not part of the game” (Poor, 1250). The aim of this expansion is either meant to improve or add content: to fix bugs or add new challenges during gameplay. Mods become extremely popular – especially when the original game is no longer available. This is the case for Flappy Doge, a mod combining Flappy Bird and the doge meme.
Flappy Doge uses the characteristics of its predecessor, including tapping motions to make the character ‘fly’, vertical green pipes with little leeway, and immediate game-over if the character touches any of the pipes. Slight alterations classify this as a mod, including the revamped character that is the head of a Shiba Inu – the telltale image of the meme. It has added difficulty that the original Flappy Bird game did not have. The narrow openings through the pipes are lined with spikes, which requires extra caution when passing through. There is also the threat of growing in size, which occurs when the doge ‘eats’ floating chicken legs that are suspended between the pipes. These “digital tinkering[s]” (Coleman and Dyer-Witheford, 941) are noticeable, yet Flappy Doge is still undeniably modeled off of Nguyen’s initial game.
From this, Flappy Doge plays with both intellectual property and copyright. It is a direct model off of Nguyen’s game, which remains to be his intellectual property. However, since being taken down, its basic premise has been replicated several times over. The use of the word “flappy” in the game title is the most telltale sign that this game is a direct replication of its predecessor. Doge, however, plays more with copyright. The meme itself has been reproduced in various creative ways, all stemming from the same photograph. A Japanese teacher, Atsuko Sato, posted photos of her Shiba Inu to her blog (Know Your Meme), and it skyrocketed from there. The doge has become an icon of sorts across the internet, yet it is that same photograph that is manipulated over and over. The photograph remains to be copyright of its creator, just as Flappy Bird remains to be Nguyen’s.
Flappy Doge is not specifically classified as commons or commodity, however. Commons are “resources that all in a specified community may use, but none can own” while commodities “are exchanged for profit on the basis of privatized possession” (Coleman and Dyer-Witheford, 934-5). The original photograph still belongs to Sato, which negates the definition of commons. Nguyen himself made it clear that he was not selling his game to anybody (Stampler), ruling out the possibility of Flappy Doge being a commodity. Mods are also generally circulated for free (Coleman and Dyer-Witheford, 941). When the doge’s head is digitalized and used as the character in a mod off of Flappy Bird, it teeters the line of copyright infringement. Yet the Creative Commons initiative “argues that cultural production under digital conditions requires a relaxation of copyright regimes” (Coleman and Dyer-Witheford, 947). Does such leniency apply to Flappy Doge?
Creative Commons “proposes greater formal assimilation within that system of users and adapter” (Coleman and Dyer-Witheford, 947). This mod definitely assimilates two opportunities, made to attract twice the audience: those looking for a Flappy Bird fix, and who like the doge meme. Without the excessive hype around either, Flappy Doge would not exist – but at the same time, Nguyen would not have chosen to remove his game from the App Store, and the doge meme would not have stormed the internet as it did.
– Natasha Truttmann
Coleman, Sarah and Nick Dyer-Witheford. “Playing on the digital commons: collectivities, capital and contestation in videogame culture.” Media Culture & Society 26.6 (2007): 934-53. Web.
“Doge.” Know Your Meme. Cheezburger, Inc, n.d. Web.
Flappy Doge. GirlsGoGames, 2013. Web.
Poor, Nathaniel. “Computer Game Modders’ Motivations and Sense of Community: A Mixed-methods Approach.” New Media & Society 16.8 (2014): 1249-267. Web.
Stampler, Laura. “Flappy Bird Creator Says ‘It’s Gone Forever’.” Time. Time, 2014. Web.