Temple Run 2 is the game of the moment. The main character, let's call him Indiana, is running to escape an ancient temple with a stolen golden idol. Chased by a giant apelike beast, Indiana has to run through a maze of obstacles, fire breathing statues, rushing rivers, spinning spikes, all while collecting coins and gems for power ups and special abilities. But like a doomed Sisyphus of old, our intrepid adventurer can never escape. The longer he runs the faster the obstacles come until eventually he falls to his death. Then he starts the whole run over again from the beginning.
This little mobile game, Imangi Studio's prettier and more well rounded remake of the first Temple Run, (besides being fun and challenging to play) broke records earlier this year becoming the fastest-downloaded mobile game in history. MacRumors has the numbers: "Temple Run 2 originally launched exclusively on the App Store on January 17 and quickly rose to the #1 slot in Free Apps, earning over six million downloads in less than 24 hours."
But frankly, none of those statistics matter because the best part of Temple Run 2 isn't even the game. The best part is playing through life after life on the way home from work on the BART. Swiping to jump, tilting your phone or tablet wildly from side to side, clearing your mind from a day at work only to see someone -- an older guy in a business suit or a high school girl with patches all over her backpack -- sitting one seat away doing the exact same thing. It's like a giant game of citywide multiplayer, no internet required.
Ever participate in the One City One Book program put on by your local public library? These community reading programs try to expand the book club concept to cover the entire city. One City One Book attempts to get people reading and talking about the same book at the same time. It's a great feeling to sit on the train or at a coffee shop with your paperback only to see someone else reading the same book a few tables away. Even though you're unlikely to actually talk to the person you feel a kind of instant kinship with them when otherwise they would have just been another stranger. Happiness gurus talk about the necessity of feeling like part of a community for the purposes of everyday contentment. Playing this game, at least while it's still wildly popular, does just that.
But why not make the same argument about Word with Friends? This very popular Scrabble remake hooks players up across multiple platforms, and you see people playing it now and then. But more so than Words with Friends, which you play with people you actually know, playing Temple Run 2 makes you feel as though you're part of some secret happiness club. Sure, you're playing by yourself, but unlike Words with Friends, the game requires active real-time concentration. It produces a feeling of flow, a state of energized concentration Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi theorized was crucial to human happiness, in this case shared with other players you run across in your daily life.
So why not play? We can all use little doses of happiness in our day-to-day lives. Temple Run 2 is free, easy to learn, and wonderfully mind-clearing at the end of a long day. You might even get a friendly smile from a stranger when they see your screen, and we can all use more of those.