Back in the 1990s I used to be a hardcore video gamer. The definition was a little looser back then because there was no such thing as professional video game players but I owned a lot of systems and played a lot of games over the years, I owned an NES, SNES, Gameboy, Gameboy Color, Gameboy Advance, Gameboy Advance SP, Sega Genesis, Sega Saturn, Sega Dreamcast, Sega Nomad, Sega Game Gear, Atari Lynx, Atari Jaguar, Playstation, Playstation Portable, X-Box, X-Box 360, and a NeoGeo Pocket.

When I used to work in the Marvel Bullpen back in the 1990s there were a whole bunch of us who played video games. We talked about them all the time. In those pre-internet days there were tons of magazines about video games and that’s where we got our information from. There were probably at least two new magazines a week and every time we got a new one in the office we’d pass it around and get psyched up for all the new games the magazines previewed. I must have had a half dozen subscriptions (they were much cheaper that way) to video game magazines in the 1990s. It was a fun time.

At the end of the 1990s if you were to ask me what my favorite video game was the answer would be Card Fighter Clash for the NeoeGeo Pocket. There were plenty of other games over the years that I liked but I always counted that one as my favorite because I played it so much. It was a card battle game along the lines of Magic The Gathering but a lot simpler. It also had a feature where it kept track of how long you played it for. I’m not sure of the exact number all these years later but I think I was up around 250 hours. I don’t think that I ever played any game more than that. After a while playing became like meditating. I could do it without using a lot of my conscious mind. It was also a turn based game and not a twitch game so I could go at whatever was my pace at the time. Since it was a hand held game I could easily watch TV and play it.

Sometime in the early 2000s I gave up my hardcore video gamer status. It had a lot to do with video games and a lot to do with me. I like games that have a lot of game to them and video games went down a path where there was less game and more immersion into a world. There were still a lot of good games but I wasn’t as interested in getting lost in a video game world for hours at a time. I’d rather spend my time creatively making art and then take a break with video games. I grew to prefer games that I could pick up and play for ten minutes and then put back down again. But those games were few and far between.

Football video games also let me down. Being a big fan of the NFL video game football was a favorite of mine. But then in the early 2000s John Madden Football paid for the exclusive rights to use the NFL and its players. That meant the end of competing football games. Where there used to be three or four football games to chose from now there was only one. That one game also became increasingly complicated. It got to the point that I was better at football in real life than in the video game. That’s not the way things should be. I realized that, if I wanted to get good at Madden Football, I’d have to practice at it. I had no interest spending more time playing that game so I gave it up entirely.

The last video game system that I bought was the X-Box 360. I think I bought it in 2006 when the Halo Edition came out. Halo was the last video game that I really liked. The last one that absorbed me into its world even as I grew disinterested in such video games.

What ended up saving video games for me was the rise of the iPhone and the invention of “Casual Gaming.” Not that I’ve ever owned a smart phone but I have owned an iPad touch and an iPad. Casual games are right up my alley. Almost all of them are made to be played for a little while when on a commute or waiting for a few minutes somewhere with a little time to kill. The controls on a phone have to be simple so the game designers have to strip things down and put some game in their games. Making an immersive world isn’t the point of casual games. Making colored blocks disappear with the touch of a finger is.

So now if you were to ask me what my favorite game is I have a new answer. Once again there are a lot of good casual games but if I base my answer on which one I’ve played the most over the years then the answer is Subway Surfer.

Subway Surfer is a game that falls into a category that was invented for the casual gamer. It’s call and “Endless Runner.” You control a character who is constantly moving forward as trains are coming at you. You have to move left, right, up, or down in order to avoid being hit by a train. There is no end to the running. You go until you get hit by a train and you score points and collect coins along the way.

Subway Surfer is also not the type of game, like Tetris, that keeps speeding up until it’s no longer humanly possible to play it and you lose. Subway Surfer does increase its speed over the first few minutes but then it tops out and stays there. I much prefer that. I always hated all those 1980s games like Pac-Man that always ended because they just got to fast.

Subway Surfer is not a turn based game like Card Fighter Clash, and I can’t watch TV while I play it, but it still can be a bit meditative. Once I get going dodging those trains my mind can go clear and I no longer think about anything and just react to the game. I move my thumb up, down, left, and right and just keep chugging along. The game rarely ends before I want it to. As it’s an endless runner I can keep running about as long as I like. It may be casual rather than hardcore but I still like it.