I watched the Winnipeg Blue Bombers get spanked by the Saskatchewan Roughriders today. I am moderately interested in the CFL, but the Bombers suck. Every time I invest time in watching them play, I am disappointed, and I swear I won’t spend any more time on them until they fire the coach. But then I come back and spend another two or three hours watching them lose again. Maybe it’s because they are the home team, and we don’t have many of those, but more likely, it’s the Vegas effect.
Sport fishing benefits from the Vegas effect too (except that fishing is more rewarding – sometimes when you fish, you get dinner). A couple of weeks ago, we took a little road trip to visit our lake friends. We went out 2 or 3 times a day fishing, which was so much more fun for everyone than I ever thought it would be. Quiet, relaxing, an exercise that proved to me I actually do possess patience under the right circumstances. The kids enjoyed themselves – I think even more than I did. I spent some time wondering how such a low-returns exercise could be so engaging. It has to be about the process, because so often tall the fish are still in the lake at quittin’ time (Happy Hour, or “I have to pee!!”, whichever comes first). In the end, I think the key is variable reinforcement.
Every single time, just as we were getting bored and ready to move on, someone would get a bite, there would be a flurry of activity. We’d stay a little longer, maybe get another nibble, sometimes even haul up a fish. Even more randomly, there would be one of appropriate size for eating, or someone would mention a legendary 55-pounder that rules the lake, and an unspoken challenge would hover over the boat until it dissipated with a barely-perceptible tug on the line. It got to the point where the kids would holler at the lake, “Hey, fishes! We’re leaving soon! Hear that? We’re going!!” Often, it worked.
It’s all about the pure lack of predictability. You drop a line in the water and within a metre or two, it’s invisible. The surface of the water is as impenetrable as if it was a brick wall. No clues what is happening on the bottom. Even the fish finder on the boat didn’t always help – hours would go by with lots of fish on the monitor, and nary a nibble. And then, someone gets a big one with a perfectly clear screen. You just never knew – and it made you want to wait just 5 more minutes, just another 2 minutes, because any second, you’re gonna hook the big one. And even if they ones we did catch were tiny, little bigger than minnows, it stood as proof that the next one could just be the record breaker.
I call it the Vegas effect, because it’s the same principle that Las Vegas was built on. One little taste of what could be, and you’re as hooked as my 5-pound pike. Even Jack, who had the fortunate skill of being able to pee off the back of the boat, got the first bite, and would probably have stayed out all day if Happy Hour hadn’t come so darned early. And this is a kid whose main motivation in life, his currency, as it were, is television/Xbox/Nintendo/Wii/fill-in-the-electronic-entertainment-device… one whiff of the thrill of the catch, and all he needed to be happy for hours was a fishing rod and a few minnows. It’s what keeps the little old ladies dropping quarters into the slot machines, I guess. Psych 101. Only fishing’s fun.
Unlike watching the Bombers, who lost today by a colossal margin. I actually started wondering if the team was throwing the game to get the coach (who seems to be a pretty big jerk) fired. I have been quietly suggesting for weeks that they fire him, but today, fans in the stadium were actually holding signs to that effect. And I keep saying I won’t even watch a game on tv (hear that, advertisers??) until they turn it around… but I will. Because maybe the next time it will be a closer game. Maybe even a win.