I recently got an ad for Solitaire 95 on Instagram. I don’t know what I did to piss Instagram off so much it put me in the demographic of ‘people who play Bejeweled Blitz on non-timed mode,’ but the ad worked, because I downloaded the game. I enjoyed the novelty of the classic Windows 95 tabs and the iconic pixelated palm tree cards for one game before I forgot about it, but the experience did get me thinking about when I moved to New York City three years ago from South Korea, and the first time I saw someone on the subway playing Solitaire on their phone.
Trains in South Korea run with impeccable precision, the subways are spotless, and there’s fast Wi-Fi onboard on every line. Things are different in New York City. One time, a rat came aboard my train and all hell broke loose until someone kicked it so hard it hit the wall and died. It was the most bonded I have ever felt to other New Yorkers — and this happened around Christmas, adding to the holiday magic. The point is, this is the kind of MTA service we’re dealing with here, so of course there’s no Wi-Fi, which makes playing mobile games that need an internet connection hard.
This is actually good in its own way, because New Yorkers use their time on the subway to read or listen to podcasts, and it definitely motivated me to pick up my Kindle again. But sometimes you just want to idly waste time on a pointless game when you’re bored!
In Seoul, I was working in game localization at a mobile game studio, and sometimes I’d see people playing our games on the subway. It was always a thrill, but short-lived, as the mobile game industry shifted so fast that every few weeks, there was another new game that people had already moved on to. Still, it was the fast internet that made playing MMORPGs on the train possible, and for three years on my daily commute, I saw every different kind of mobile game you could think of on the screens I’d peek over at.
Moving back to America after living in Korea was like stepping into a time warp. I couldn’t believe people were still playing Candy Crush, or even worse, 2048. To me, this was like walking into an all-you-can-eat buffet and only eating spoonfuls of ketchup. But now I have become one of the very people I have mocked. I exclusively play Minesweeper on my phone, because I saw someone playing it on the very subway I love to hate on.
I was on the train this week when I noticed a woman playing Minesweeper on her iPhone. There are a ton of Minesweeper games in the App Store, but I’ve never been able to find the right one, and here was someone in front of me, mining away. But she had her AirPods in, so I couldn’t bring myself to interrupt her to ask which Minesweeper game it was. I imagined a scenario in my head in which I would timidly ask her what game she was playing, and she’d look at me like I was a feral animal who’d never had the classic Windows game suite of 3D Pinball and FreeCell (which to this day, I have no idea how to play. Show me one person who knows how to play FreeCell), much less heard of Minesweeper.
So after downloading a bunch of different Minesweepers from the App Store, I finally found the version she was playing. It’s Minesweeper Q by Spica, and it has the best UX you need to play the game on a phone: a quick flagging mode, and a quick open feature when you tap a number next to a flag. I’m glad I didn’t have to ask her for it, because she seemed kind of rude when she was pushing people to leave the train at her stop. But without her, I never would have been reunited with the first game I obsessed over as a procrastinating high schooler. Now I never need to find another game to play on my phone when the train’s been stalled for 30 minutes in a dark tunnel somewhere in Brooklyn. So thank you, rude stranger.