Ever wonder what goes through the crazy minds of The Go Game's founders? When they aren't scheming up new ways to make people do ridiculous things in public, they are re-arranging life into a game. Below, our co-founder Ian Fraser explores how something like a transportation strike can turn even the most mild-mannered citizens into super gamers.
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To my pleasant surprise, this week’s annoying BART Strike was actually a blessing in disguise. At first glance, the disruption was a terrible inconvenience. I was going to lose precious hours of my day. A grade-a nightmare. My regular life was going to be derailed. I should have known that it was about to turn my life into an epic daily adventure.
Over the course of 3 days, my normal Walter Mitty-esque commute became a combo of Run Lola Run and Cannonball Run. It reads like some syllabus of a game design manifesto. It was all at once:
A bonding experience
An unexpected adventure
A mental puzzle
Us East Bay commuters had to collectively problem solve, support each other, battle hardship and eventually WIN for 3 straight days. Winning (obvi) = getting to work or home (within one hour of stated goal) without crying, hitting someone or selling your body for transportation favors.
When I zipped past an atrociously stuffed AC transit bus on the bridge while chatting animatedly with my fellow passengers in some lady’s E class Benz – I was winning. I could see it on the eyes of a desperate, trapped bus-rider whose nose was mushed between 2 strangers armpits. I caught her eye – she was in hell. That was NOT gonna be me.
I never chat in casual carpool. But over the past 3 days, everyone I rode with wanted nothing more than to scheme together, celebrate one another’s ingenious travel solutions, and help each other. I honestly was on the edge of my seat when the Mercedes driver explained that her championship kickball game got rescheduled to 6:30PM that night IN OAKLAND, and now she had no idea how she was going to make it. The other passenger and I helped her make the most cockamamie plan wherein she would lend her co-worker her car, take a ferry (she’d never done that before), borrow sneakers and kick some ass at Kickball. Our plan was rock solid. Or it could have been a disaster. I have no idea what happened to her. I bet her game was epic.
Oh, and bonus -- while aboard this leather and walnut auto-chariot, I handed out business cards the other ‘poolers. Everyone in the car was so enthralled by my description of The Go Game. Coincidence that they were interested in having a Go Game-esque adventure? I think not! WE WERE IN THE MIDDLE OF ONE!
Everyone was little more forgiving during the strike, too. For example, that night, upon my return, my persnickety dinner host didn’t complain once when I rolled in an hour late, rosy-cheeked and sparkly-eyed from my vigorous trek from west to east. She slapped me on the back and put a huge glass of grog in my hand like I’d just slain a dragon that threatened Westeros.
It was kind of like a large scale version of the traditional team building exercise called Acid River where everyone has to work together to cross an imaginary river without getting eaten by fake piranhas and not show their butt-cracks. But this was real life!
No one embodies the spirit of this transit adventure like Sam, our office manager. On day 1 of the strike, I awoke thinking of him because he lives in Alameda. Plus we talk a lot about baseball and there was some stuff to discuss. So, I texted him to see what his commute plan was. Homeboy texted back and let me know that in a fit of foresight he’d caught the last train back into the city the night before and slept at the mf-ing office. BOOM. Game was on. So I jumped in the minivan, swooped up some casual carpoolers and battled my way to the office. No way I was working from home now. Plus he admitted to having zero plan for how to get back to the East Bay, and I wasn’t about to leave a man behind. We rode back east together that afternoon and I dropped him under some underpass in Oakland. I seriously considered giving him my last pemmican, but that would have been cheating.
On Monday, my car died. Heavy. But I took it in stride. It was like I’d lost an immunity challenge, but I was still in the game. Honestly stumped for a solution, and considering working home, I rallied. I learned there was a bus that could take me to the city that left 3 blocks from my house. Who knew?!? But after seeing that armpit lady on Friday, I knew I was destined for something better. So I walked, then jumped in a minty-smelling Subaru, then downloaded some bus app, and learned all about the Muni 12 line. Got off 2 blocks from work 49 minutes later. Sam had ferried + jogged and beaten me by an hour. Technically Sam was crushing me at this game, but I was firmly in medal contention.
Sam’s latest episode involved running all the way to the Ferry on Tuesday night, ‘cuz the 14 bus never came. Well, he figured it would eventually catch up with him, but it never did. He literally beat the bus. Apparently he started running, and as he descended Market Street towards the ferry, the streets got more and more crowded. I think he was in some sort of Flow State. He said he did the Walter Payton/ Sweetness juke-fest through the crowd, never breaking stride.
BART’s failures turned my city into a game-board where lots of us were eager players and it was honestly fun. I learned things about my cities I’d never have known. I laughed with strangers. I rose to the challenge.
Now that I’m standing on the platform of BART, awaiting my train (3 mins away!), staring at the same old iPhone 5c billboard, I realize that I’m kind of bummed it’s all over.
The well-oiled routines that comprise our regular lives – sitting on the train, starring emails, drying dishes -- are efficient, familiar and comforting. And kind of lame. I don’t think I’m alone in my suspicion that there’s a secret, epic world veiled behind the lame one. It’s filled with alter-egos, special missions and heroism. So what if it’s mostly in our imaginations. Sometimes it’s real, and it’s awesome.