Playing The Game

Entry by: quietmandave

17th October 2017
There is a pointless game that people play on the daily commute. The aim is to correctly predict the side on which the train doors open. You can play this game in two ways.

You can hedge your bets by standing in the doorway, leaving the vestibule clear, so that you gain the opportunity to wait to see which side the platform appears. It's a safe bet; most people will stand behind the internal door to avoid having to continually press the 'open' button. There are risks, of course. Unless you are in the end carriage, someone may come from the other direction and take a place at one of the doors. Still, you have a fifty per cent chance of being correct. If two come, and each take one door then you have LOST. It's rare though. Human nature would suggest that the shortest route between the seat and the door is the best.

But some people do that to WIN the game.

Once someone else has occupied one of the free doors, you have no choice but to take position at the other empty door, even if you believe it is an inferior choice. YOUR HAND HAS BEEN FORCED. It's no longer your decision. Even if you win, it is as a result of being compelled to take this choice. It is not so much a win as an avoidance of loss.

The drawback of this technique is that your victory is not visible. Why win if nobody has seen you win? Sure, you'll be first off, you might turn round and smile, but who sees the build up, the choices you made? You start to edge forward into the vestibule, far enough for people to group behind you and witness your glory, but not far enough to force you to commit one way or the other. The balance is as fine as a tripwire. You could be Indiana Jones.

The second strategy is higher risk, but infinitely higher reward. This is to actively select a door. YOU CHOOSE. Of course it helps to be a regular on the train. Perhaps that's the prize, to be able to shout (silently, without actually making any noise) that you alone repeat this journey so often that only you know which side the doors open.

If only life were that predictable. You undertake a journey every day, every week, stand by the window with complete confidence - you would bet your house on it - and for no reason, FOR NO REASON AT ALL, the driver chooses a different platform. Perhaps it's not the driver, perhaps it's the signalman, or signalwoman. Or is it remote controlled by computer now? Beaten by a random digital decision to reroute you to a different platform.

'It always stops this side,' you mouth to the woman opposite whom you have never previously seen. She doesn't even do this trip every day. You want to lunge through the crowded space to beat her off the train, but you see she has a child at her feet. HOW DID SHE KNOW?

This game is of course best played on routes where the design of stations alternates between those where the track runs between two opposite platforms, and those that have a central platform serving tracks running both ways. It's easy to learn the sequence.

A higher skill level may be available at mainline stations - London King's Cross, Victoria, Manchester Piccadilly - where platform allocation may be unpredictable. But over time, you start to see a pattern that you know nobody else can see. You alone have an insight into the predictability of the apparently random choice of platform.

You alone can win the game.