Checkpoint 3. A checkpoint of danger, decisions, and a dilemma.
The way I hear it, the idea originally came from Loki. When that idea is amplified by anna one and Spidere, dangerous things are bound to happen.
We were told that for Halloween, we should be thinking "scary" for our checkpoint. So the question is: what is most terrifying to a runner? What can make them flee, inconsiderate of dangers like speeding cars and falling on hard concrete? What is is that they most fear?
. When you are a runner, you live in constant fear of encountering them. You can hope only that they will never find you, and perhaps some glimmer of hope that you might be close enough to a safe point to outrun them.
Imagine, then, that you are a runner. Paranoia your constant companion. Your only desire, to remain unnoticed and uncaught. Now imagine that you have a bell tied to your ankle. With every step, a jingle. Running just makes it worse. Every move becomes a call to any nearby chasers. Here they are. Here is prey
The rest is just details. We had to be able to ensure the runners kept their bells with them; and so we gave them instead of a signature. We had to be sure they did not simply pocket them while running and replace them later; and so we ziptied them to the runners. We wanted to give them a moral choice and react accordingly. Thus, our version of the Prisoner's Dilemma
Runners were paired up as they entered checkpoint 3. In pairs, we would then separate them. Separately, we would ask each the question: knowing that something bad is going to happen, you have a choice; you can either make things harder for yourself and easier for your partner...or you can make things easier for you and harder for them. The question gets at the heart of one's pride and selfishness. The results are as follows:
B is Nice B Betrays
A is Nice
Each: one small bell Runner A: one large bell
Runner B: no bells
Runner A: no bells Each: two small bells
Runner B: one large bell
We didn't make the payoffs clear to the runners--but we did set this up as a proper Prisoner's Dilemma: the best overall outcome is to each have one small bell, which makes a very soft noise. Two bells are fairly jangly, and the large ones make some real noise when you run. And if you have no bells, they make no noise at all.
The interesting aspect of the Prisoner's Dilemma is this: although together, the runners would like to get to the one small bell, one small bell outcome, it is nonetheless in each individual runner's interest to make it easier on themself. If your partner is being "nice" and making it harder for themself, you can either end up with a small bell (by also being nice) or no bells (by "betraying"). If they are "betraying" and making it harder for you, you can either end up with a large bell (by being nice) or two small bells (by also "betraying"). Thus, no matter what the other person is doing, it is always better for you personally to make it harder on them. Because of this, it seems like the only rational outcome is that both players betray (make it easier for themself).
Sidenote: I love the Prisoner's Dilemma. The fact that it's a game where it is always in your interest to act badly, a Nash equilibrium which seems impossible to escape, and yet, by the iterated nature of it, permits cooperation as an optimal strategy! A game which serves as analogy for so many useful things, which has had years of study through populations of computer programs and business students, a parable and a rich vein of analytic insights. I love it. -S
All of this said, there were some surprising outcomes. Not so surprising (to Spidere, at least) was the fact that most pairs of players were nice to each other. Despite the rational arguments, most people seem to take it as a point of pride to make things worse for them, and a point of fairness not to harm the other person for their own benefit. Not to mention, if you are running with this person, you don't want things to be worse for them (since this will result in it being harder for you as well). What was interesting, though, was that this still seemed to hold when people were arbitrarily paired up. While a couple of people said, "I don't know that person--make it harder for them.", most said something to the effect of "I think I can take it--make it harder for me."
Even more surprising, we allowed individuals to also take the test. While the first player got a big bell just for being in the lead, and Herbie Hatman got one just for being Herbie, we also allowed them to answer the question "Do you want to make it harder for the next person, or easier?" and gave the next person a different number of bells, based on their answer. Almost everyone said make it easier for the next person to come along, someone they didn't know and were running against in this race. Almost everyone.
anna one started out attempting to document the runner's names, their choices and the outcomes, but note taking got abandoned entirely in jumble after our checkpoint was shut down. The notes, such as they are, read something like this:
Aaron, 1st runner. nice- big bell (individual)
Carlito, 2nd runner
Zach, individual, not nice
Shevak (I think that's what I wrote), nice
Herbie, doesn't matter, big bell
Colin and his brother, betray/betray
? (couple), nice/nice
Now then, intimate details of the Prisoner's Dilemma aside, it seems to me (anna one) that it might be important to fill in the rest of the story, and especially to point out that
A- our checkpoint was on the 9th floor rooftop of a parking garage
B- the most obvious way to get to the rooftop was to take the elevator, which was
C- positioned directly in front of the building's security and cashier's office.
That being said, we focused our attention from the outset on a checkpoint which wouldn't require much to move for when we inevitably got kicked out. Which we did, after those first 33 or so people, documented in my notes above.
Actually, originally, the friendly security guard told us that the top floor of the garage was reserved for the Hertz rental staff for the whole night, but that we could continue to run our game on the 7th floor, which was public parking. By this point Rabbit had arrived to see if we needed any help, and Spidere asked him to go down the elevator to wrangle runners attempting to come up, and let them know the new arrangement. Meanwhile, Spidere and I finished with the last remaining people we already had in line, packed up our bells and zipties and drove down to the 7th floor.
By the time we got down to the 7th floor, I'm not sure whether we had direct information from the lobby, or just a bad feeling, but repositioning our checkpoint inside the building just felt like asking for trouble. Spidere got out to take the elevator down, while I drove the long, circular ramp to the street. On the ground floor, the security guards were yelling at runners, and had set up a system to check for parking ticket stubs before letting anyone into the building. Rabbit had runners lining up along Mason St. and waiting.
And waiting, because in our rush, we hadn't thought to send Spidere down in the elevator with bells. And waiting some more, because not only is the parking lot the only parking downtown, the one way streets converge at Mason & O'Farrell in such a way that a trip around the block is actually more like seven blocks. It took me a while to get the bells to the boys.
I understand that at this point, Rabbit and Spidere just threw bells onto runners as fast as possible, with little or no explanation. By the time I arrived back from finding parking, the massive crowd of runners was mostly gone, and Spidere and I swung back into our rehearsed routine.
By the end of the night, we'd gone through approximately 148 runners: 28 got big noisy bells, 27 got two small bells, 74 got a single tiny bell, and 19 received a sparkly, white, totally silent pipecleaner.
NOTE: If any SFØian has a need or want for a few hundred jingle bells, large and small, or pipecleaners, or even big, black 14" zipties, you just give ol' anna one a call. She can hook you right up with the good stuff.
Thanks for the great Journey, all! Special thanks to the organizers, to Rabbit for all his help, and to Rubin and Noisebridge for hosting the end party!