Wednesday, January 1, 2014

100 x 100s New Years Day Game

At 6AM on January 1st forty people gathered together to swim 10,000 yards. An observer might think it's a little crazy. They might wonder about this suspect group of individuals who would rather swim ridiculous lengths than drink with their friends. These people are not alone, though. For decades this event has been taking place. Years and years have been rung in by swimmers swimming long distance at the Glens Falls Family YMCA and I'm proud that I've had a little part in it even though I've never swum the actual distance. My participation has been to help make it fun. I make it a game. 
Jane McGonigal, one of my heroes, defines a game as anything with, "a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation." That's the 100x100s.

The goal is to swim a very long distance. It doesn't have to be 10,000 yards. Some people chose to do 5,000 or 7,500, but they don't just stop when they're tired. These people have a large goal set.

The rules of the game are simple, but they are taken pretty seriously. You have to swim the laps on a certain interval. This year the coach picked 1:40. You have to swim 100 yards every one minute and forty seconds or you will mess up your whole lane. When you are doing the swimming you also have to answer a trivia question every sixth lap. It's an artificial limitation, to be sure, but a fun one. In the same way that golf wouldn't be fun if you could just put the ball in the hole the 100x100s wouldn't be fun if I weren't there as trivia master. I'm the question queen because it breaks up the monotony of a hard swim. It adds another layer of challenge to the participants of the game. Everyone loves a rule to make a game harder as long as the feedback system still encourages them appropriately.

The feedback system tells players how they are doing. I keep track of how far they've swum and how many questions they've gotten right. They are always sure how close they are to their objective because I write on the board exactly how far they've gone. It provides the motivation to keep going.

Everyone comes to the 100x100s voluntarily. They buy into the objective, the rules, and the feedback system. They know they are going to swim long and hard while somebody asks them obscure questions. It establishes common ground that everyone is playing the same game. They can enter or leave, but they are doing it because they are being intentionally stressed with challenging work in a safe environment. It feels great.

In the past I've wondered about why I loved the 100x100s. This year was the first year I realized I love it because it's A GAME. I always love games. Anytime someone teaches me some rules and asks if I wantto buy into the artificial limitations I agree. I like supporting good game design and that swimming event is great game design. It's hard. It has many levels depending on how good of a swimmer you are because you can do 50s, 75s, 100s, or IMs. It's just brilliant. I hope I'm there next year to see people play the game again. Games make us better. They make us more fit, more likely to like the people we play with, and they throw endorphins at you. Great game design to start a new year. I'm in love.

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