If someone had asked me, prior to my arrival at Swarthmore, what the worst game to play with friends was, I would’ve responded with Monopoly. After all, the number of relationships it has destroyed must be immense. But then I got to Swat, and I realized that I was incorrect — the worst game to play with friends is Misery Poker.
In all fairness, Misery Poker is often regarded as a Swarthmore staple, much like pasta bar hate and the plethora of social justice groups scattered around our campus. Without it, Swarthmore just wouldn’t be Swarthmore. And in a lot of ways, that’s true. But that does not mean that it is a healthy or smart game to play in an environment that’s already fraught with stress and need for greatness. Misery Poker is not a means for success, whether that be academic or otherwise. Misery Poker, in the end, becomes a brittle crutch upon which many of us rely on not only to fit in, but also to pretend we are effectively dealing with our emotions. It comes out like a weak cry for help that no one responds to because we’re all too busy with our own problems, constantly competing for the title of having the worst problems instead of hoisting each other up in an environment that naturally tends to stress and poor mental health.
As first years, many students enter Swat eager and wide eyed, excited to experience all that they believed made Swarthmore unique. Maybe some look forward to the freedom that is granted to them, some the chance to finally study something they have a shred of interest in. Whatever it may be, excitement and happiness tends to coat the initial first year experience as everything appears so new and foreign. But as Swarthmore wears on and easily achieved good grades begin to feel like a thing of the past, it becomes difficult to hold on to that positive energy. There’s a reason why the first month or so at Swarthmore feels immensely different for the whole campus — the energy from the freshmen is somewhat contagious. But then nights start earlier, and the sun shortens its journey across the sky slowly but surely, and students need a new outlet. Assignments pile up at an unreasonable rate and Sharples seems to stop serving anything one can actually look forward to, which is the perfect time for Misery Poker to stroll in and take the honor of becoming a favourite past time.
“I have four assignments, three essays, and a problem set due Friday.”
“Well I have three problem sets, a group project and two labs due Thursday, plus my club meeting today is going to take three hours.”
“Oh really? I have two hour practice every day this week, plus an hour lift. On top of that, I have four problem sets, five essays, two group projects, and a lab all due tomorrow at midnight.”
Conversations like these seem to crop up everywhere on campus, and they tend to end with the group admitting defeat and telling the one person with the ‘hardest’ week they have won. Won what? The honor of having the most responsibilities that week? What kind of win is that?
In our perpetual use of Misery Poker, we tend to glorify the stress that’s an inevitable factor of our experience at Swat and encourage the sadness and frustration that so often accompanies it. This in turn leads to many students feeling as though they need to beat each other in terms of who has the most on their plate, leaving little to no room to actually enjoy and appreciate their precious time in college, rather opting to vilify the institution for the way it’s making everyone miserable. That’s not to say Swat is perfect — it’s far from perfect. But it’s not the enemy either. There must be a reason why we all ended up spending four years getting our education here over anywhere else.
Perhaps the competition that Misery Poker fosters is trying to make up for something. Perhaps we as a student body are desperately trying to make up for the lack of academic competition the academic culture at Swarthmore sponsors. So to make up for that void, we all buy into a different kind of competition, which can quickly turn dark. It can too easily destroy the motivation and drive some have because it demands too much of their time and mind in order to win. Maybe in this case, winning isn’t worth the price.
Misery Poker, in any and all forms, sucks. It’s absolutely the worst game in the world. Sometimes, it works to exacerbate depression and anxiety since it feeds off the sadness and stress of students. The more sad and stressed a student can make themselves, the more they win the game. Unfortunately, by the same token, they also work to deteriorate their mental health, which is easily hidden in a culture that eggs on such behaviour. We can’t spend the rest of our time at Swarthmore demeaning the school, because once we walk away from it we’ll regret all the times we wasted there being miserable over temporary problems as opposed to focusing on bettering ourselves. It’s not an easy game to step away from, but the best we can do is collectively try to focus on the best parts of our days, without competition and judgement, and work to cultivate an environment in which the positive vibes the freshman infuse during September stick around all year. Because college is hard enough without having to compete for the worst experience out of everyone.