Stunts motivation, reflected in another pair of eyes
Having read several highly interesting and pertinent commentaries by the great Stunts racers on what makes the blood of a pipsqueak boil and sends him/her thundering in fury down the racetrack, I thought it would be a nice exercise to put down to paper my reflections about the subject. Before I begin, there are two observations to be made about this essay. Firstly, the discussion here will be from a psychological and quite subjective point of view. While there are several quantitative studies that can be made on motivation - seasonal changes in activity, statistical analysis of racer careers, etc. - I will leave these for another opportunity. Secondly, I will focus on racing activity and momentarily ignore other aspects of community building - friendships, shared interests, modding, and so on. The main reason for that is because, paraphrasing Mark L. Rivers, there are many wonderful things that make us want to stay in the Stunts World, but in the end it is actual racing that makes us stick to it.
The first important remark to be made about the nature of racing motivation is that it is not a single, monolithic force. Instead, it is a multi-faceted devil, which manifests itself in several different ways depending on the personality and experiences of the racer. Coupling my own Stunts vivences to the observation of the approaches of my fellow racers, I would tentatively identify three main kinds of motivation, separated by the nature of the inner, psychological need which drives them. The first kind, the most obvious and widely discussed one, is the craving for competition, the desire to affirm power in the hunt for the tallest step - or, just as often, for coming out on top of one's rival. Nearly all of the top racers were, at one point or another, propelled by this primal instinct - for, in the short run, it is the most efficient source of motivation, and arguably the biggest ally during those gruelling overnight RH marathons. As it often happens with aggressive impulses, though, motivation solely based on competitiveness tends to wear itself quickly, be it through mental and physical exhaustion or through making community life insufferable by fanning the flames of Forum arguments too wildly. The self-limiting nature of the competition instinct in Stunts is one of the key reasons for extended sabbaticals being a virtually universal practice among experienced pipsqueaks.
The second kind of motivation is diametrically opposite to the urge for competition described above. Rather, it stems from a profound love of community life - and, crucially, of its non-racing aspects - which ends up leading the pipsqueak to see racing as a symbolic activity, an opportunity to exercise and display the respect he/she has for their fellow racers and the beautiful things they built together over the years. While this source of motivation is, when present, generally very sincere and deeply ingrained in the racer's psyche, it is not without its risks. When Stunts becomes strictly an exercise in personal symbolism - often to the point of being a sort of "monthly listfiller ritual" - it is too easy for the racing activity to detach itself completely to the actual pleasure of driving. At that point, the contests become appointments which the racer honestly wants to take part in despite a number of complications (both the Stunts-related and the "real-world" ones), and soon enough - usually when life steps up in complexity - the pipsqueak will, often feeling great guilt, drop out from racing, and eventually from the community altogether. If "alpha male" competitiveness tends to self-combust, the altruistic, "a debt with the community" approach can be just as unstable, except that it fizzles out more slowly. In any case, it should be clear that it is pointless to discuss whether it is better to burn out or to fade away - in this context, both fates are bad enough, and we have seen too many fellows go away through either of them (fellows which we sincerely hope that will be able to strike a balance and come back to us some day).
It quite often turns out that when there are two competing and equally unsatisfactory solutions to an issue there is a third way out of the polarized dilemma. As far as racing motivation is concerned, the middle way consists simply of realizing (consciously or not) which elements make Stunts racing unique and using them as a source of enjoyment. Unlike the two other kinds of motivation, racing for the beauty of the race does not call for a unconditional demand or a contract, but can take on a multitude of concrete manifestations, according to the personality and current mood of the racer. Furthermore, it can incorporate some of the other two sources of motivation without becoming an all-or-nothing compromise. It may mean, for a newbie, to diligently perform long RH sessions in order to master the basics and develop more natural driving instincts. Or it can be exercised by driving and watching replays for pure aesthetic value. Maybe it can materialize by, when having only twenty minutes to conjure a listfiller, to drive it NoRH just for the kicks. Or then, in a month when one realizes one's racing concentration has gone missing in action, to merely drive the final lap focusing on one particular cool trick, regardless of how awful the rest of the lap will turn out to be due to lack of time. Sometimes it can be as simple as randomly showing up on the smaller contests, just to say hello and enjoy the change of atmosphere. And, on occasion, it can even morph into doing shrewd tactical racing only to provoke an old rival who is vying for a podium spot... The key point is that, once a pipsqueak realizes that the main reason he/she keeps racing is because Stunts is awesome it becomes much easier to find reasons to race. No pressure, hard rules or obligations - just a simple pleasure which can be developed into something surprisingly refined.
I would like to conclude this essay by sharing some meditations on one of the great quotes about the Stunts World. It is the island metaphor, first enunciated by Akoss Poo
Stunts Racing World means only an island... we're having a rest there until our ship arrives, and we sail away with our girlfriends...
and then generalized by Bonzai Joe
Stunts is an island for the lost and desolate. A purpose for those who don’t have a purpose.
There is a fair amount of truth behind that imagery, but the feelings it portrays affect differently the different kinds of motivation. For instance, let us consider love: falling in love with someone certainly can affect Stunts motivations, by reshuffling priorities and easing the hunger for competition. The concern about racing will thus be reduced - leading to less time spent per track and worse results - but the interest in Stunts does not need to follow suit. That means it is possible to be in love while still a Stunts racer, as long as the racing motivation is not mainly provided by the hunger for competition. Depression would be another pertinent example: while being in a dark season of life can sometimes lead one to race harder as an outlet for frustration, it just as often happens that the low spirits make it wholly impossible to appreciate the peculiar charms of Stunts. Looking back on my own experience, I would say that while I had some really good races while in a generally awful mood these were exceptions rather than the norm. To sum things up, psychology as a whole and racing motivation in particular are just too complex to be understood by just a single model. Given such diversity of explanations and feelings, the best thing we can do is to shelve the easy stereotypes - the angry and ruthlessly competitive young adult, the frail and despondent romantic, the aloof and reclusive RH technician, and so on - while realizing we all have a bit of each of them within us. By doing so, it will become possible to see Stunts not as an island, but rather as a fine summerhouse, surrounded by rolling hills and the scent of country air.
Duplode 10 September 2010