Red fish, blue fish, stop playing Big Fish

Lorenzo Hess

On January 12, I made a meme and posted it on Facebook in which I deemed anyone who played Big Fish “a fool… [who wastes] time playing a game that does not add to… intellectual capacity… does not require strategy, and annoys others.”  William Golub (12), who spearheaded support of Big Fish, replied to said meme in a semi-sarcastic manner, writing: “The great Schlector [sic] once wrote ‘the purpose of life is the achievement of happiness. Don’t let someone tell you you [sic] shouldn’t be happy.’ “

Although I initially took a humorous tone with my meme, I wanted to explain why Big Fish was such a problem in our school’s community. Even though its popularity has tapered off, this argument remains relevant because similar games and activities often take hold of students.   

One can clearly see the pointlessness of Big Fish by looking at Aristotle’s discussion of happiness in his book, Nicomachean Ethics, written around 340 BC.  Aristotle defines happiness as the “aim of political science… equivalent to living well and acting well.” (Book 1, Chapter 4).  The constant messaging of Big Fish referral links is annoying to others, and players’ addiction to the game is harmful, making people constantly play at the expense of other activities (e.g., sleep, socializing, concentration during class).  These, along with the money-making structure of the game, all lead to a life lived and acted less “well” than before.

This aspect of Big Fish is especially dangerous.  Aristotle writes that “wealth is clearly not the good we are seeking, since it is merely useful for getting something else” (Book 1, Chapter 5).  The money-making nature of Big Fish, in fact, is detrimental not only because wealth in general does not lead to a “good” life, but also because the in-game form of wealth (coins) that one accumulates is not even “useful for getting something else.”  By playing the game, people further ingrain themselves in a money-making mindset and cannot even use the coins they receive for material gain.

Aristotle states that “the complete good is thought to be self-sufficient… [it] makes life worthy of choice… We think happiness to be such, and indeed the thing most of all worth choosing, not counted as just one thing among others.”  Big Fish, by contrast, is a “thing among others.”  It is simply a game and does not make “life worthy of choice.”

After posting this analysis on Facebook, Arul Kapoor (12) jumped in, arguing that Big Fish is at the Aristotelian Golden Mean, because “huge fish is too much” and “no fish is too little.”  I presume that this means that whatever quantity represented by a “big” fish was greater than “no fish” and less than “huge fish,” and that this mathematical inequality somehow falls in line with Aristotle’s notion of the Golden Mean, that states of virtue come with balance and “are corrupted by deficiency and excess.” (Book 2, Chapter 3)

Big Fish, though, is exactly contrary to the Golden Mean.  The game “involves the pursuit of an essentially infinite resource, an unattainable extremity;” while there does technically exist a final fish, it takes a while to reach it.  The steps required to reach it are all about players collecting an excess of currency, spending it all on the next fish, finding themselves in a deficiency of currency, thus needing to collect more, then arriving at another excess, and spending it all again on the next fish.  Upon reaching the final fish, or the greatest possible excess, one has the ability with the click of a button to completely reset their progress, arriving yet again at the greatest possible deficiency.  Aristotle writes more about excess and deficiency, stating that “the impulses of incontinent people carry them off in the opposite direction.” (Book 1, Chapter 13)

Big Fish is a game of extremes and incontinence.  It leads its players away from the Golden Mean.  It is a watered-down version of more sophisticated technologies that entice us with happiness and lead us down darker paths.  The tactics used to lure people in to Big Fish are used by social media networks, which have people striving for likes, upvotes, and false validation.  The craze over long Snapchat “streaks” sends users on the impossible goal of trying to reach infinity.  These technologies may provide some short-term gratification, but will never create a true meaningful existence.