I lost track of how many narwhals I killed.
Each time it was the same; a block of ice fell into the ocean, I thought I had given enough time for the narwhal to react and get out of its way but again, the ice hit it, its eyes turned into little x’s and the narwhal sank to the bottom of the ocean.
The game itself is simple enough; you drag your finger across the screen to guide a cartoon narwhal in between sinking blocks of ice (Ok, so it’s not the most scientifically minded time-waster), trying to eat as many fish as you can before your eventual demise.
The game shares more than a few similarities to the ultra-simple Flappy Bird, a game where your only goal is to fly a bird through as many pipes as you can. In both games, the premise and controls are simple, but life is short and the need to keep playing often overtakes better judgment.
Much like other mobile games like “Temple Run” or “Lane Splitter“, no matter how well you perform or how long your character lives, they will inevitably succumb to the game. After a while you start to feel sorry for the narwhals, especially the ones that only live long enough to eat a handful of fish. Normally, I can get to 18, but never more than 33, my top score.
A round of Glacier Rush never last more than a few seconds, but these addictive single-premise games quickly waste one minute, then five, then 10. My first session with Glacier Rush ended after about 20 minutes when I became determined not to quit until my narwhal ate 25 fish. I went through the usual distinct stages of playing: adjustment, zen state, desperation, fugue state, back to zen, and then, once I had my 25 fish, mastery.
The game’s makers probably didn’t intend any level of interpretation of Glacier Rush beyond an amusing distraction. The falling ice, the cute animal in danger, the North Atlantic setting all seem to point to something a little darker: the inevitability of climate change. No matter how long you play or what path through the icebergs you manage to steer the narwhal, the ice will get you.
Narwals are a “near-threatened” species according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Falling ice is less of a danger to them than being hunted by humans, though that risk greatly increases as the sea ice breaks apart more and more.
That might be reading too much into it, but according to game programmer Jody McAdams, the average narwhal lifespan is 16 seconds. The game probably isn’t an elaborate commentary on the collateral damage caused by global climate change, but after a few too many rounds of playing Glacier Rush, it’s easy to think how one way or another, ice will get us in the end.