'Temple Run:' the tragedy of Guy Dangerous
I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain!
One always finds one's burden again.
In a darkened apartment loft somewhere in the cosmos, my face faintly illuminated by the dimmed screen of a smartphone, I lay in bed looking down at the fiery cap of a pixelated plunderer known to many as Guy Dangerous. It's curious that as Guy's controller I'm not quite sure whether he's carrying his given name or the call-sign of a cheeky adventurer, but I suppose that his birth credentials are the least of my worries. For now, I'm just trying to collect some blocky coins floating above a mossy stone straightaway, while straining to avoid a careless mis-swipe of my omnipotent fingertip — just a single error and Mr. Dangerous, my ill-fated puppet, will be thrust once again into his eternally penultimate peril. But as it turns out, I haven't just collected points in pursuit of an ever-higher Temple Run score: I've perpetuated an ancient tragedy.
Temple Run is a simple game — so simple that its entire backstory amounts to a petty dare that supervenes the identity of Indiana Jones. And that's probably fine, since there's not much more to it than running, jumping, and sliding with an avatar that automatically runs along a randomly generated track. At least, that's what I thought the game amounted to, and at first I was happy to plod along, slightly surpassing my own highest score every now and then. (In the game, your score is basically determined by how far you're able to run before meeting some unfortunate end.) It wasn't until Temple Run casually came up in a conversation with my colleague Aaron Souppouris — a fellow puppet master in a nearby possible world — that I realized the ceiling of achievement was much, much higher than I had imagined. Aaron revealed his own high score to be around ten million: a difficult number to comprehend for someone who felt respectable pushing 400,000. Guy Dangerous could run harder, faster, and longer, and I'd been squandering his potential.
Of course, these objectives wouldn't have been very hard to find... had I been looking. Temple Run only has a few menu options that I could have easily explored, but I found myself just trying to keep up with Guy's exceptional running ability. He may be the only human representation I know who's able to run exponentially faster over time. But to reach his full potential, Guy, like even the strongest among us, needs a helping hand — one that he earns not by cashing in his majestic idol, but by collecting coins en route to his inevitable death.
Well, his inevitable deaths.
Unfortunately for Guy — or perhaps fortunately, if your opinion on existence is a net positive — death is an inevitability. While that might not sound so cruel and unusual to we mortals, our hero is not your average ... guy. His life is like one giant buffet of death, where every dish tastes a lot like the one you just had, and they never let you leave the serving line. Shall I fall over the temple walls here, or there? Shall I be eaten by crocodiles, or monsters? Should I lose my head to a tree branch, or swim in a jet of flame? In the course of just five minutes, it's not uncommon to see the intrepid idol-poacher succumb to several flavors of death, each less memorable than the last.
Since I tend to look over Guy's shoulder before sleep, at a time when my patience is already compromised by sheer lack of energy, I often find it difficult to tolerate his failure. With a deteriorating sense of concern with my adventurer's well-being, and heavy eyelids to boot, the doom of Mr. Dangerous becomes progressively premature. Eventually my subconscious reveals actuarial realities to the few remaining bright spots atop my psychophysical self: am I really going to get any further this time, and will I enjoy it? Does my level of entertainment or ambition exceed my desire for sleep? As soon as the balance sheet ticks red, I leave Guy's world as abruptly as I entered it, storing his potential for another occasion — when I can more effectively inch closer to the goal.
Wait, what goal is that?
Is it to collect more coins? Sure, for a little while — until you've purchased all of the passive traits money can buy. Is it to fulfill all of Temple Run's built-in achievements? Perhaps — but even they don't define the game's limits. Is it to leapfrog that damn Aaron Souppouris? Sure — but that feeling of pride will no doubt crumble as quickly as the tide erodes a castle made of sand. As it turns out, there is no conclusion to Temple Run, other than Guy's death. There is no jungle clearing at the end of the path, no rescue boat, no escape: just an endless labyrinth filled with opportunities to die. How is it possible that Guy keeps returning to this place? It's hard for me to believe that one man's kleptomania runs this deep.
Guy Dangerous is trapped here.
Then it really hits me: I don't know Guy's real name. What if Guy has a family? Where is he from? Do his friends miss him there? What does this idol even mean to him, anyway — or is it meaningless? I tell myself that maybe it's not as bad as I think, that maybe Guy Dangerous is the World's Most Evil Man Who Ever Lived, and this eternal torment is the just result of his prior selves: an axle of Hellfire that righteously seats his karmic wheel. I chuckle to myself as I imagine Guy to be rather like Sisyphus, the king in Greek mythology who was condemned by the gods to roll a boulder up a hill repeatedly, only to have it fall back down each time, for eternity.
But Guy is rather unlike Sisyphus. While Sisyphus was crafty enough to steal secrets from the gods and defy their authority, Guy Dangerous has done nothing to provoke my godly wrath (and, in fact, I now feel rather sympathetic to his plight). Camus famously says that Sisyphus' myth is tragic, but only because he is conscious — and Guy is rather unconscious. Or, at least, I'm not privy to the self-awareness produced by the comings and goings of Guy's underlying electrons. Ironically, between the two of us, my task appears most Sisyphean: the endless pursuit of an arbitrary score, come alligator feast or high water.
That's not to say Guy lacks cunning. He has, after all, ensnared his god in a trap more elaborate than the slithering temple floor he treads. He is a rock, commanded to find a place atop a hill that he will never reach.
And I must push him.