In this analysis, usability expert Charles Mauro dissects the wildly successful game Angry Birds in order to explain why it's so engaging -- what factors in the game affect human cognition so that we'll spend hours flinging virtual birds at virtual pigs? I love Mauro's dry explanation of the game's premise:

... For those who don’t have a clue what Angry Birds is all about, here is a quick synopsis. The game involves employing a sling shot to propel small cannonball-shaped birds with really bad attitudes at rather fragile glass and timber houses populated by basically catatonic green pigs. The basic thrust of the game is to bring about the demise of the pigs as quickly and expertly as possible by collapsing the pigs’ houses on top of their (sometimes) helmeted heads. Obviously, this sounds like a truly dumb concept. However, there is a catch.

The article goes on to explore factors such as response time (faster is not always better), short-term memory management, an element of mystery, and sound. It really is, as Mauro says, a complete "cognitive teardown" of the game. Here's another snippet from the section on response time:

In Angry Birds game play the pigs also take a long time to expire once their houses are sent to bits. In many play sequences, seconds are consumed as the pigs teeter, slide and roll off planks or are crushed under slow falling debris. This response time of 3-5 seconds, in most user interfaces, brings users to the point of exasperation, but not with Angry Birds. Again, really smart response time management gives the user time to relax and think about how lame they are compared to their 4 year old who is already at the 26th level. It also gives the user time to structure an error correction strategy (more arc, more speed, better strategy) to improve performance on the next shot. The bottom line on how Angry Birds manages response time: fast is good, clever is better.

Now you know what nerds like me think about all day. Anyhoo, read the rest (especially the bit about sound) for an amusing but deep look into the Angry Birds experience.

(Photo courtesy of Flickr user Melinda Seckington, used under Creative Commons license.)