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2048 in 2024

Or, looking back at 2048

Ten years ago, 2048 swept the nation. Or, at least I thought it did. I was in college at the time, and it turns out that’s a breeding ground for viral mobile games and similar phenomena. I remember introducing it to my dad over dinner sometime after the initial hype had worn off, but it didn’t strike me that the furor was generationally localized until last year, when I made a reference to the game to a group of people 10-20 years older than me, all of whom were confused.

I don’t remember the first time I beat 2048, but I remember stories from friends who do. Kari beat it on her first try (and to my knowledge, never tried it again). Nate beat it for the first time in a 9am physics lecture. A guy behind him offered a congratulatory beer. Nate refused, so the guy shrugged, popped it, and chugged it himself. I should mention that this took place during a noted period of binge drinking and partying, and not just a random Tuesday.

In terms of popularity, I’d have to put 2048 Somewhere between Flappy Bird and Wordle, both of which have had endless clones and spin-offs (I avoided playing any form of Flappy Bird for almost a full year, until Android’s hidden Flappy Bird game got me. That’s a sort of whimsy that’s been lacking from recent releases. They dropped the dessert naming scheme and the secret games around the same time, presumably in an effort to look like Very Serious People to compete with Apple’s professional image).

2048 had far fewer spin-offs. There were versions that always gave you the worst (or best!) possible outcome, versions that added QOL features like undo or preview, and many versions that added uQOL features, like ads. And then, slowly, it faded.

Regret and confusion: who makes viral games

The creator of Flappy Bird, Dong Nguyen, delisted the game from iOS because people were growing addicted to it. This lead to iPhones with the game installed to appear on ebay for tens of thousands of dollars.

Meanwhile, the creator of 2048 seemed confused, and initially shied away from fame: he creator of 2048 demurred because it was a clone of Threes on iOS. Josh Wardle sold his creation to the NYT for a cool X million dollars — the exact price was never revealed.

The most recent game to bring 2048 to mind is Watermelon Game (described to me as ‘2048 but fluid’), which has had a much smaller circle of penetration, at least in my circles (I should note that I am no longer a college student, and am far removed from the places where these games take root and spread their spores). I saw it mentioned in a Discord, and played it fervently for two weeks. Sometime after I put it down, I stumbled across an article singing the praises of the Switch version (which I picked up for a song during that two-week fever, played briefly on a plane, and forgot about). I believe the article was this one, though I now see that Polygon has written about the game at least three times.

I did my duty as a parasite’s host: before shrugging it off, I told no less than 4 people about it personally, and dropped it in a different Discord, continuing the cycle.

Where am I going with this? Nowhere, really. 2048 was big. At the time, I thought it was bigger than it was, but that’s because I was looking up from the bottom of a well, and it filled my vision. Once I climbed up the sides of the well, I saw that it was not enormous, only very, very close.

In 2020, Wordle was big. Huge. It took over Twitter. It spawned so many clones, even some clones that themselves were sold . People dedicated their time to spoiling the game for others, chat groups spun up consisting of nothing but squares and cries of frustrations.

And then it faded, like all things do. It’s not forgotten, certainly. A friend recently saw me playing Spelling Bee and asked me “Is this Wordle?”. I was amazed. He’d gotten through 2020 without knowing exactly what a Wordle was, only that it was some kind of word game. I could see that we were moving in very different circles indeed.

I doubt my parents know what a Flappy Bird is. Many of my coworkers aren’t familiar with 2048. For the moment, almost everyone seems to know about Wordle.

And I know there are still many, many people who play Wordle every day. But it’s no longer taken overy my Twitter (or X, sure) feed. I’m sure many people slipped off of it once they went on vacation or broke their streak. The spark has gone.

Will something else come along? Certainly. Will it be as big, as viral? As 2048? Of course. It could be happening now. As Wordle? Only time will tell.

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.

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