I’ve never been a big fan of console gaming, but when it came to mobile gaming, I used to live by a Pokémon philosophy: I wanted to be the very best, like no one ever was. When I downloaded Candy Crush, I burned through the first three hundred levels in less than a month. I topped the Tiny Wings charts and finished every puzzle in Flow in a week and a half. My biggest vice, however, was Temple Run 2. During my undergraduate years, unless I was in a class or an important meeting, I was probably playing Temple Run. I played it while I ate dinner, while I watched TV, while I spent time with friends. My iPhone might as well have been attached to my hand. In my prime, I was ranked in the top one percent of all Temple Run 2 players worldwide, having achieved the maximum possible score of 50 million points.
I reached this landmark on a 12-hour car ride from San Antonio, Texas, to beautiful Branson, Missouri. When I hit that point value, I was euphoric. For about a minute. Then, playing just felt silly. What was there left to achieve in the game? Nothing. I deleted the app from my phone and left my Temple Run days in the past…
Until I found out that the maximum possible score in Temple Run 2 had increased fivefold to 250 million points. Curious to see how my former high score stacked up against this new obstacle, I re-downloaded the app. My ranking had fallen from eight to 50,000—I was no longer a top-ranking player. The competitive fire that had been dormant for more than a year sparked up. I was going to relive my glory days. Only 21 people to date have achieved a 250 million point-score, and I was going to be the 22nd.
If you’ve never played Temple Run, it’s pretty simple. There’s a monster chasing you and you can collect power-ups along the way, but the main objective is to run without tripping over obstacles or running into trees. You’re in a temple, and you run, and the longer you run, the more points you accrue. It can get repetitive. Swipe to turn, swipe to jump over a crevasse, swipe left, right, left, left, swipe to slide under a wall. The longer you run, the faster obstacles come at you.
To warm up, I started playing while I was commuting or watching TV, collecting coins to buy my avatar novelty hats. I played a couple of games before bed and completed the daily challenges. Recently, when I felt sufficiently back in the game, I sat down with four hours blocked out to complete the marathon run. I had a water bottle on hand and queued up a podcast playlist to pass the time.
I had a few false starts. One time, I got up to 18 million points (which took nearly 30 minutes) and then died tripping on a root. The endless scroll started to make my eyes droop, and my game became sloppy. After an hour, I got a coffee and rededicated myself. I used to rule this game. I could do it again.
Eventually, I passed the threshold of 18 million. My thumbs started to ache. I had to pause the game to stretch my stiff wrists. After forty-five minutes of gameplay, I surpassed 50 million points, my previous high score. My heart was pumping, and I couldn’t stop smiling. This was my game. I reached 60 million, then 70, then 80.
But alas, hubris was my downfall. Shortly after I reached 88 million points, I decided I could make the game simpler for myself by deliberately ramming my avatar into a wall, which would slow me down but make it easier to spot upcoming obstacles. I slowed myself down, letting the temple monster catch up to me.
I tripped into a ravine.
My heart stopped.
I died after achieving 88,986,240 points, running 137,544 meters. That’s about 85 miles. It took me nearly two hours.
After a deep breath, I reset, ready to try again. I could still do this. I had the skill.
But I didn’t have the willpower. Bed was calling.
I spent more than four hours playing Temple Run that day alone. Over my lifetime, I’ve played nearly 7,000 games of Temple Run 2, probably amounting to hundreds of hours that I could have spent doing other, more productive tasks. While I was racking up points, the largest thought occupying my mind was, “Wow, I could be making a healthy lunch for tomorrow, or taking a shower, or going to bed early.” When I hit a landmark point goal, it was exciting, but during all the in between parts, I was just anxious about my poor time-management skills.
So, I failed to get the highest score, but I still rank in the top one percent of all players. There’s something at which I’m the best in the world, which is cool, even if the thing is just playing Temple Run 2, and not, say, curing cancer. I won’t give up Temple Run entirely. During rush hour when the trains are at a standstill, Temple Run will probably still be my go-to game to pass the time. But I don’t think I’ll be running more Temple Run 2 marathons any time soon.