The Game 2048 is Maddening and Should Be Illegal

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As mentioned at the bottom of this piece, 2048 is a blatant clone of a better and more stylish game called Threes. Go play Threes instead.—Ed.

Wikipedia tells me that 2048, the single-player puzzle game that has ruined my life, was created in March 2014 by a 19-year-old Italian named Gabriele Cirulli. If there is any justice in the world, we would extradite and imprison this person on whatever’s left of Alcatraz, for he has brought great suffering to our planet and our nation and deserves to be gawked at by tourists and eventually attacked by sharks during a desperate escape attempt.

Harsh? Maybe. But 2048 is the devil, you guys. If you’ve never played it on iPhone or Android, let me describe it for you—there are numbered tiles on a 4×4 grid, and each time you make a move, a new tile spawns in an empty space. Each new tile is either a 2 or a 4. Tiles of the same value can be combined by swiping left, right, up, or down to create a new tile of twice the original value, so that two 4s combine into an 8, two 8s into a 16, and so on. You lose when the grid fills up completely with no possible moves remaining, and you win when you combine and combine and combine and at last, in a moment of triumph, create the hallowed 2048 tile.

At least that’s what I thought would happen, based on the title of the g$#@%&*# game. As it turns out, you don’t win. You don’t even get a little icon of a person dancing, or anything. All that happens is the game continues until you lose or die from misery.

Here’s what it looks like when you’re about to create that precious 2048 tile:

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 9.26.53 AM.png

And here’s a video someone made of attaining the 131,072 tile via a simulation, which has been shown to be the largest possible tile in the game:

I know what you’re thinking. Hey Shane, this seems like a fun math game. It doesn’t seem like the devil.

That’s because the devil’s greatest trick is proving he doesn’t exist, reader. The truth is that 2048 is absolutely the devil, and I’d be more than happy to give you ten reasons why this is the case.

1. It’s obscenely addicting.

There’s something so rewarding about watching numbers collide so productively, forming beautiful new tiles with a mere swipe of the finger. It’s like watching human evolution, but sped up. It turns the user into Charles Darwin plus God plus a galapagos turtle, or something. Forget the 2048 tile—every time you swipe a pair of 2s into a 4, you feel like a king.

I’m pretty sure there’s a dopamine rush that hits my brain every time I accomplish this very minor task, and I’m pretty sure that dopamine rush is larger than anything I could get from drugs, sex, eating, or whatever else causes dopamine rushes (surprising note: I am not a scientist). But just like any other addiction, it teaches me to chase the dragon. First, I just wanted a 1024 tile. Then I told myself I’d quit when I got to 2048. I’ve done that three times now, and all I want is that precious, precious 4096 tile. I GOTTA HAVE IT, MAN. YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND.

I’m pretty sure this all leads to me stealing and pawning my mother’s expensive spoons, somehow.

2. I own a flip phone to maintain a measure of independence from the cultural overlord that is the Internet, so I’m totally dependent on my wife when I want to play 2048, and she’s real stingy about her phone, since it’s her phone and not mine.

This might be more of a “me” problem.

3. I think this game is slowly making me go blind

After about five minutes of playing, I notice that my eyes are kinda hurting, so I look up at the clock and realize oh my God, Shane, it hasn’t been five minutes at all—it’s not even Tuesday anymore! You were supposed to have that important conversation about your relationship so your wife wouldn’t leave you…honey? HONEY?! OH GOD WHY DIDN’T SHE CALL? Oh right I have her phone. Then I can’t seem to focus my eyes on anything up close, and everything far away is a total blur. Eventually it comes back to normal, but I think that one day it will not. And when that day comes, I’ll have only myself and Gabriele Cirulli to blame.


Hey, fellow 2048 players, you been here?

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 9.27.12 AM.png

Some background for the non-players—any fool knows that the way to play this game is to establish your largest tile in a corner. I prefer the lower-left, but it doesn’t matter. You do everything in your power to keep that tile in that corner, up to and including making wild threats at the game. If you have to move it away early, you can recover, but it gets harder and harder to survive the deeper you get into the game. And, inevitably, that’s when you get hit by the dreaded side move.

In the image above, notice how the game has forced me into a position where the only way I can swipe is to the right. (Note: Okay, fine, nerds…yes, I could have swiped up in this case, but it was taking forever to recreate this situation for this post, which seems to happen all the damn time when I’m not trying to make a point, which is just another sign of the game being the devil. You get the point. PS sorry for calling you nerds.) Once I make that swipe, since I don’t have a tile in the right-hand column because the stupid cheating game keeps spawning new tiles anywhere else, my precious 1024 tile is gone from my precious corner.

A couple moves later, here’s the result:

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 9.27.25 AM.png

This is death. I fought my way back to having a 512 tile in the corner, but that was as far as I could get—I could never consolidate, and I slipped into a deep, irreversible sadness. All because the game cheats.


This one is even worse:

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 9.27.35 AM.png

Again, I’ve worked my butt off to get here, and again, I’m feeling pretty good about myself. I even got the 2048 tile, which is not easy. Maybe now, finally, I can chase that 4096 dragon and give up the game for good. Instead? The game cheats, and my only move is upward. Once more, my precious tile is out of the precious corner, and once you’re all the way to 2048, you are simply boned, my friend. Here’s how that game looked two moves later:

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 9.27.44 AM.png

Gabriele Cirulli himself couldn’t dance his way out of that one.

(Once more, I would like to note that it took me absolutely forever to get to this position in order to demonstrate it for the post. It happens all the damn time when I don’t want it to, but when it’s necessary? The game knows, and tortures me for hours. It is the devil. And by the way, I’m typing completely blind right now. I hope any of these words make sense.)

6. The Accidental Bottom Row Combination Wrong-Side Swipe

You don’t realize that the bottom row has two combining tiles, and you swipe right when you could easily have swiped left, and all the sudden YOUR PRECIOUS G$@&#$ TILE IS OUT OF THE PRECIOUS G##(@$ CORNER. Is this human error, or the game being evil? I think you know the answer. (It’s the evil one.)

7. People are making larger grids, including some hive-looking thing, and my wife says she’s going to buy it, so my life is even more ruined now.

Again, maybe a “me” problem.

8. The sounds are pretty annoying

It’s like a nightmarish techno track made by a group of bitter old women who spend their entire days in front of the same Las Vegas slot machine.

9. Death is slow and inevitable

There’s something sick about the fact that you can identify the moment when you are hopeless, and yet it takes an eternity of futile acts, with just the faintest sliver of hope, before you’re finally buried for good. It’s like getting a terminal diagnosis, and your entire “bucket list” adventure consists of swiping and swiping and swiping and OH GOD JUST KILL ME NOW.

10. 19-year-old Gabriele Cirulli is probably making millions off my misery

Unless the game is so evil that it even deprived its inventor of any profit. In which case, 2048 is probably the moment when artificial intelligence learns to overthrow humanity. This is the singularity, ladies and gentlemen, and it’s going to swipe us right off the map.

Play 2048 online here.

LATE EDIT: I was wrong. This is the best game ever.


LATER EDIT: More evidence that 2048 is the devil, from Paste games editor Garrett Martin:

A great game called Threes was released on iOS early last year. It was made by professional game designers and is really well-designed: a great new type of puzzle game with neat art and a fun aesthetic. It got great press (including from us) and did pretty well for itself. These guys do this as their livelihood and sold Threes for a small price in the App Store. It sold well but wasn’t a phenomenon

Maybe two weeks after it was released some 19-year-old kid from Italy released a bare-bones rip-off called 2048 for free, and it blew up. Mainstream outlets covered it like it was a new, original, creative game, never mentioning Threes. It has dwarfed Threes exponentially. I don’t know if the Threes designers even made back their original investment, despite Threes winning all sorts of “game of the year” awards in 2014.

It is sad.

Go play Threes instead of 2048. It’s a much better game.