Student recruits Flappy Bird for election campaign

By James Cook

Instead of fighting his election campaign with posters and heartfelt speeches, one student is riding the tailwind of an addictive app to spread his message.

Imperial College London student Tom Wheeler has launched his campaign to become union president with a modified version of Flappy Bird, the mobile game that’s taken over the Web in recent weeks in a manner not seen since the “Harlem Shake.”

The game, which can be played on Wheeler’s campaign site, updates the standard Flappy Bird format to feature London landmarks, Wheeler’s face, and a billowing “VOTE TOM” banner.

The Tab reports that 12 hours after the game launched, Wheeler began to spot people at his university playing it. With his unusual campaign tactic spreading throughout Imperial College, we spoke to the physics student to find out how Flappy Tom came about.

So Tom, how did you manage to create your own version of Flappy Bird for the campaign?

Flappy Tom is the result of a weekend of beer, pancakes, and programming. We took the open source clone of Flappy Bird and replaced some of the graphics, as well as modifying some of the parameters to make it a little easier. The easier game is to enable a tongue-in-cheek reference on the Game Over page: ‘Isn’t everything easier with Tom around?’

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What has the reaction to the game been like?

Incredible. I’ve had people come up to me in our Union Bar and say, “Oh my god, are you Tom? We love Flappy Tom,” which was surreal. Even the bouncers had heard of it! In terms of an election point of view, if it encourages a few more people to vote in the elections, then Flappy Tom has done its job.

I’ve been trying to take photos when I’ve seen people playing the game, but I’m normally not quick enough! It’s amazing the number of people who are recognising me from the game, and taking an interest in why the game was made in the first place. It’s all been flattering and an unimaginable amount of fun.

Was Flappy Tom part of your original campaign plan?

The campaign started as every campaign does, with someone wanting to achieve something. I wanted to run for Imperial College Union President, and to be successful I need roughly 2,000 of the 14,000 students at Imperial to vote for me. I was lucky enough to have friends around me to help build a website and take some photos, as well as offer creative ideas to help get some attention. I think it’d be wrong to say that Flappy Tom was a planned election tactic; instead it was just a bit of fun built around the campaign that would hopefully encourage as many people as possible to get involved with their Union.