After the completion of our May run in 2017, we realized the incredible wealth of data we had at our disposal. While we designed the creative structure of The End with the goal of creating the most engaged player experience possible, a side benefit of using applications, intake surveys, and text messaging as core components of the game was that we had generated an incredibly robust archive of knowledge about  players’ emotional state throughout the month of play, reflective quotes about their experience, metrics on the piece’s psychological impact, demographical basics about their lives, metrics about their messaging styles and timing, response to various cards throughout gameplay… the list truly goes on and on.

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Thanks to a generous R&D grant from the Knight Foundation, we are currently in the midst of an extensive analysis of this informational bounty. While that full report won’t be wrapped until middle of 2018, we can share some insights – both qualitative and quantitative – that have come out of the evaluation process so far.

Quantitative Data

Here’s a snapshot of some player basics. In the May 2017 run of The End:

  • 77.2% of players were female identified, 19.3% were male identified, and 3.5% preferred gender neutral pronouns
  • Players ranged in age from 22 to 79, and had a median age of 37
  • One person had a birthday during the game, one the day after it ended
  • 2 were “distance” players, engaging from outside the Philadelphia region
  • Philly-area players were spread across the city with the following distribution:

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In terms of interaction with the game:

  • 57 players began the game, 55 completed it
  • Players spent had a game average of 9.33 total hours interacting live via text (note this does not include time  spent undertaking their quest on their own)
  • Over 75% of players made contact 23 out of 28 days in some form
  • Players, on average, sent 6 images from their lives to The End
  • The average number of texts sent between the game and an average player during the four weeks totaled 1,041 messages
  • Players texted an average 489 messages, but had a wide range in verbosity:





Standard Deviation






Macro-level game stats show:

  • Players as a total pool sent 27,360 messages
  • Game performers sent 30,936 messages
  • 51 of the 57 made it to the final party
  • Players texted a total of 325 images
  • Each of the behind-the-screen performers portraying The End typed an average of 3,568 messages, with a range that looks like this:





Standard Deviation






We are also breaking down individual player behavior in a variety of ways. For example, here’s an overview of the stats for Player 27, one who sent a roughly average total number of texts but played a smaller number of total days than most:

Number of messages sent between player and game: 1057   Average for all players = 1041
Number of messages sent by player 27: 498   Average for all players = 488
% Days Engaged w/ Game: 65% 19 days out of 28

Here’s that player’s texting habits when examined by day of the week, which makes clear that someone clearly doesn’t like thinking about death on Wednesday…

27 week

Another way we’ve looked at player interaction is by charting their their activity over the entire month. Here’s Player 27 again:


Notice how this player interacts in intense bursts, generally corresponding to weekends. Here is the same graph for Player 38, who made contact every single day of the game and for whom day of the week made less difference in level of contact:


38 week

We’ve just started to map player contact against their specific journey, seeing how  the card  played on a given day shifts how much a player interacts:

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And there are tons more ways to mine these metrics that are yet to come. We are now examining the data for macro-level patterns – for example we know people tended to play less near the end of the third week and start of the fourth and that around three quarters of players only engaged with us in the last few hours of the day – to help guide our updates to the structure when we head back into iterative development for the next round of the project.

We’ve also checked in with players again 6 months after the final day of the game. While data from that survey isn’t yet complete, results so far show that on average players score:

  • 4.3 out of 5 when asked if they’ve talked about the game since it’s ending (1 = Not at all, 5 = Many times)
  • 4.4 out of 5 when asked if they thought about the experiences or ideas from the game since it’s finish (1 = Not at all, 5 = Many times)
  • 4.0 out of 5 when asked how comfortable they are thinking about death compared to before they played (1 = A lot less, 3 = About the same, 5 = Much more)

Finally, and perhaps most excitingly, we have concrete information that looks specifically at whether playing the game positively impacts a player’s well-being. Given that while developing the game we drew inspiration from psychological studies that state spending small amounts of time contemplating mortality tends to make us happier, we wanted to see if we could determine the object impact of spending a month talking about death. Towards that end, we consulted with cognitive psychologist Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman, who recommended the use of PERMA-Profiler’s “Flourishing Scale” – a way to assess an individual’s well-being using various categories. Based on this model, we asked players a series of questions before and after the game, and then brought Kaufman the data for analysis of the responses’ significance.

Every single category showed an average increase in the well-being of participants. In particular, there was a statistically significant increase in players:

  • Receiving help and support from others
  • Feeling a sense of direction in life
  • Feeling less anxious
  • Generally feeling happy

You read that right. We can demonstrably show that playing The End will on average make you a happier person. Our next step is to analyze the data from players as part of our 6 month longitudinal follow up to see if these results hold over time. In the long run, we can even imagine a partnership with a researcher in the psychology sector to document the effects of playing our game through a peer reviewed study.


Qualitative Data

In addition to our quantitative analysis, we have – of course – the written message content of the game itself as well as language players shared with us in their applications, intake surveys, exit surveys and 6 month check in. Beyond the numbers, players articulated with beautiful clarity the ways that playing made deep impact on their lives. A representative sample of comments we received after the game’s completion include:

Participating in The End seeped into my daily life, making me more present and mindful in every interaction I was having. I aim to keep this practice alive even though the game has ended.

The End is an invaluable experiential lesson in presence. It’s so easy to be weighed down by the details of life. The End reframes the experience of these details from duty to opportunity. I am forever changed by playing The End, and I hope it can continue to lift and empower journeyers to the beyond.

And my personal favorite:

The End should be required for all humans.

Players demonstrated in their words that they clearly connected with the game’s content, that they took in our philosophical mission and made it their own. They often specifically remarked about how the game created a perspective shift on daily life and encouraged them to create space for reflection on core values:

As antidote to a culture devoted to the denial of death, The End, gently, joyfully, and subtly makes you realize that accepting the fact and presence of death is the key to living a fuller, more engaged life.

The End was a glorious, joyous, unexpected, and complicated piece that has changed my life. I’ve learned an entirely new mindset with which to face life and I am forever grateful.

In our 6 month follow up, players continued to note the long-lasting resonance of participation with representative comments like:

This was among the most extraordinary gifts I’ve ever received.

It changed my life, and continues to do so.

And while the stats above about number of pictures sent from players tells one kind of story, seeing the actual content of their insights brings home the human reality of these extraordinary players:

Similarly, looking back through the conversations themselves there are nearly infinite quotes one could pull to show the ways that people created real beauty and meaning in the examination of their every day lives:

Passing away is so… passive. Like it just happens to happen to you. But dying feels more active. Like you can choose to embrace it. I feel like I’m honoring people’s lives and choices when I say they’ve died.

Closure is word for people outside of the situation to feel more comfortable. Americans want to button up grief. And they want it done quickly.

That is what I want to be remembered for. The gift of power through compassion. Compassion asks you to wake up. It requires access to both your loving heart and your ability to penetrate through your own masks, or the masks of another.

Just wondering when I’m going to ‘use’ all the things that are useful to me? Like what do I have to do to squander my own petulance and vague entitlement.

We always face the choice of living in our heads or fully embracing who and what is around us.

If the people in my life remember me as ‘there’ and putting in the elbow grease, I’ll think that’s pretty good.

And while the numbers tell us that the game made players happier, the joy and connection across their varied experiences at our final party is obviously evident in the images we captured of that day.


It seems clear that the game meant a lot to those who took part. We couldn’t have summed it up any better than through the words of this player on the final day:

It’s been a weird ride that’s for sure but a really good one, for what it’s worth.

Evaluative Takeaways and Next Steps

So what do we make of all this info? Well, for one thing, the team here at Swim Pony HQ feels pretty confident that we can call The End a success as a model for an emerging inter-disciplinary art form, as an intervention to create more facility in talking about the difficult subject of mortality and as a contemplative cultural experience that had deep personal impact on its audiences.

Players committed to the end in substantive and sustained ways. The simple fact of so many participants sticking with the project for four full weeks speaks volumes in itself. These texting metrics don’t even reflect the length of response and, trust me,  many of those “single” texts were miniature novels. When looking back at these conversations across the wealth of individual variation, it seems that five key values emerge from the experience of play:

  • It is powerful to feel oneself witnessed through a creative journey.

    Paying attention to our personal stories consciously through the help of a curious outsider helps us see ourselves and the world around us better. It reminds us to be both actors AND authors of our lives.

  • Knowing life is ephemeral reminds us to risk pursuing what we truly value, even in the face of failure.

    This was something SO many players articulated throughout the game, this idea that getting in touch with their deaths helped them open up to the present, that remembering we do not have forever makes us more responsible for to time we do have.

  • We become more resilient the more we confront our fears.

    Players talked about many aspects of the game as a kind of emotional weightlifting: perhaps not fun in the moment, but useful in the larger scheme of life to become more resilient and prepared. In fact, a player hating a card in the moment often later turned out to be one of the quests that they ended up expressing the most appreciation for later in the game.

  • We are absolutely capable of confronting the uncertain and unknown.

    A mantra we undertook early on in running the game was, “The Player is Fine.” We said this to remind ourselves that the point of the game was to give people time to dig down into the dirt. That mean that if they were capable of sit with their own discomfort, we could be too, without trying to manage or resolve it.

  • Every person, no matter how “ordinary” they seem, holds a life whose story is worth telling.

    As a theater maker this was perhaps the most creatively exciting discovery, that players could really take the reins in finding insight and meaning from their experiences, in connecting patterns and mining for deep artistic beauty. Making a piece that centralized the audience’s subjective perspective drove home how important is for artists to make space to tell all the kinds of stories that are possible, and that in a world where a very few hold a very great amount of our conscious attention, celebrating no one life as more important or sacred is a radical act of resistance to the dominant narratives that surround us

From here we take these lessons and go back into development to pull them out even stronger. Our aim is that in 2018 – 2019 The End will be back to a larger player pool, one that is even more diversely representative of Philadelphia. That new version of the game will focus on:

  • More player-to-player interaction
  • More help in giving players tools to bring The End into conversation with their support networks
  • More “real world” experiences and concrete encouragements in the game’s final week
  • An expanded performance team, perhaps even made up of some of those players that complete the last run
  • More ways for players to visualize their journey and those of other players in live time, through web content, public writing and communication through our user interface
  • Designed “alumni” events to help keep players connected past the game’s official end

And now, amazingly, you’ve reached the end, as well.

For more specifics of the data presented here or general information about the game, please email admin@swimpony.org.