Fall off chair, lose game

Some risks are controllable.  Some aren’t.  The distinction is life-and-death important, and also governs what you find fun.  Some people deliberately seek out uncontrollable risks (gambling mentality).  Others seek control.

First, a bit about uncontrollable risk.

As kids, my brother and some local kids and I would make our own board games.  You rolled the dice, and moved around a homemade oval track of squares, each containing a good or bad result.

By far the most memorable board game square was created by my brother’s friend Robert McNaughton (who later played the older brother in Spielberg’s E.T.:  the Extraterrestrial).  The square read simply, “Fall off chair, lose game.”  Roll the dice, and one random possibility is to lose the whole game.  As kids, we found this the funniest thing ever conceived.  Irrelevant event (fall off chair), catastrophic outcome (lose game).  Ha ha.

This perfectly captures the idea of uncontrollable risk:  no way to reduce risk, except not to play.

A good example is skydiving.  Don’t get me wrong — skydiving is very safe.  My point is that, aside from some basics (pack your chute, exit the plane, extend your limbs), there is nothing you can do to prevent a fatality.  It’s out of your hands.

Contrast this with motorcycling.  Now, motorcycling is absolutely not safe.  The fatality risk per mile is 10 to 20 times higher than driving.  Vastly riskier than skydiving.  But there is research on the subject, from which you can derive a roughly prioritized list of things to reduce the statistical risk of motorcycling death.  In order:

  1. Don’t drink and ride.  Not one drop.
  2. ABS brakes.
  3. Wide, brightly colored fairing (i.e. touring bikes).
  4. Leave the high beam on.
  5. Avoid heavy traffic and especially busy intersections.
  6. DOT-approved helmet.

Based on the amusingly named Hurt Report analysis of motorcycle crashes (named for researcher H.H. Hurt), I conclude these cut your risk by over 70% — still triple the risk of driving, but much improved.

Following these principles, I rode over 50,000 miles through the US and Canada before hanging up my boots and helmet.  No accidents, no laydowns, no injuries.  Maybe I was lucky, but the research suggests it was more than that.

For some people, such as compulsive gamblers, uncontrollable uncertainty is irresistibly exciting.  For them, gambling is fun BECAUSE of the risk of fall-off-chair-lose-game.

For others — airplane pilots, kayakers, transoceanic sailors, et al — there is no fun in uncontrollable risk.  Instead, the fun is in out-thinking the risks, learning the skills, planning for emergencies.  This is part of the essence of greensporten.

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