Thursday, January 17, 2008

Caution: Inappropriate Games

This is a picture of a tea spread at Samovar in San Francisco. The tea is Rooibos Earl Grey, the adorable tiny containers are filled with milk and honey. This, along with the tofu/noodle/ginger/unidentified green vegetable bowl I ordered and devoured, are the perfect nourishment companions for a riotous round of inappropriate conversation games. Many people only play "drinking games." Pish posh to that, I say. Sure, play them drunk, but play them over tea, over breakfast cereal, and over late-night olive-oil-and-black-pepper-popcorn too, I say. Play them in the car with no food at all, if you must.

I'd like to be an advocate for inappropriate games. Here are a few of my favorites, which I have played in recent weeks with friends and people I barely know. What makes the games inappropriate? In my worldview, absolutely nothing. In my experience with the more socially conservative and privacy-oriented worldviews of others, they ask for "risky" sharing of personal information. Some of these I learned at summer camp. Some I made up, or people I like made them up. Do any of us need credit? Surely not. These games are our gifts to the world.

Hot Seat: This game is much like Truth or Dare, but without the Dare portion. One person is on the "hot seat," and one person times them for 5 minutes. During those five minutes, everyone in the circle bombards the person in the "hot seat" with questions of a personal nature. When they've answered for five minutes, they choose who goes next. A person on the hot seat may decline to answer one question out of their five minutes, but of course, they may be roundly criticized for doing so.

Cliff: This is a forced choice game. One player names three people: they need not be very famous, but they must be known to all players. For example: Henry Miller, Norman Mailer, Emily Dickinson. Each player then must choose one of three options: (1) live with forever but never be lovers, (2) have sex for one night and never see them again, (3) throw them off a cliff. Your choices reveal so much. (Live with Henry, sleep with Norman, chuck Emily off the cliff.) A variation of this game, which I do not recommend, is "Hardcore Cliff" where you name people in the room.

Gun To Your Mother's Head: This is also a forced choice game. One player presents a choice in this fashion: "Okay, Gun To Your Mother's Head, would you rather eat Larry Flynt's pants or allow George Bush to touch your breasts on television?" You must answer immediately, without hesitation, or "BANG!" your mother is "dead." You may say "clarification" if you are unsure what the choices are, but you may only ask for one clarification before you answer.

The Chin Game: This is a very good game to play with people you are just meeting for the first time. The object is to get the other person (who is unaware of the game) to cover or wipe their chin with their hand. The method is to alternate looking into their eyes, with a neutral expression, and glancing at their chin, with a pained/increasingly disgusted or horrified expression, as if an alien is creeping out of a mysterious crater-size pimple down there, then looking back up at their eyes and "acting normal" again. The game goes quickly, and my favorite way to play is to let the other person in on it right away. Then they usually go do it to someone else and report back in hysterics.

Confess!: During what would otherwise not be "gametime," one player points at another and yells "CONFESS!" The confessor then must announce something about themselves that they would not otherwise share.

Whenever I am attempting to solicit new people to play these games, I never advertise them as "fun." In fact, they very much are. But what I emphasize is that they tend to spark later conversation, deeper intimacy, and more honesty in daily communication. Once you are accustomed to people telling you to "CONFESS!" you start occasionally thinking "what am I hiding right now?" And this is the true value of playing them in regular situations, not just organized groups. I've seen many people discover their own preferences, for certain literature, body type, or academic field, while playing Cliff. I've had friendships change completely after questions answered and asked during Hot Seat.

Played well, these games can upset the balance in dramatic ways. I also use them as tools for writing. I think about what my characters are trying not to say. I think about whether they'd agree that Emily Dickinson is less necessary to the world than Henry Miller, and how they might argue about it. I envision them being offended that someone would name a game "Gun To Your Mother's Head," and what that means about their sense of humor.

So: Let's play a round of Cliff. It doesn't matter if any of the characters is already dead--in this universe, they all have a chance to live. One of these characters you must live with forever without being lovers. One you may have one night of passion with, but can never see again (they live out their natural life, somewhere far from you). One you must throw off a cliff. See if you can explain your answers. Here are your choices:

Vladimir Nabokov
Tim Burton
Miles Davis

Post your answers in the comments!


  1. I would have one night of passion with Miles Davis, because it would probably be pretty hot and something that would echo through the rest of your experiences.

    I would live with Tim Burton. Imagine the house, the lighting, the ideas marching through the halls in claymation parades.

    That means...I would have to throw Nabokov off a cliff. I would read the scene in Lolita where the children's voices rise to Humbert Humbert while I did it. "You are a fucking genious," I would yell as he grew smaller and smaller and then stoically disappeared into the Mississippi River (yes, this is a Minnesota cliff). "But I can only hear so much about butterfly wings." Really, I think he would be more difficult to live with because his geniused seems more internal, more private. The house would be in silence as he played word games in his head.

  2. Vladimir Nabokov - Live with forever and never have sex with. I imagine our conversations would be inspirational and keep me on my toes for a long time, besides... he's too old for me to actually sleep with.

    Miles Davis - One night of passion. I can't imagine anything better than a sensual night of love and romance with him singing and/or playing during 'interludes'.

    Tim Burton - Throw him off a Cliff. Why not. There are tons of amazing artists in the world so without Tim Burton, someone would fill his shoes (as you can guess, I'm not such a big fan).

    Great game by the way, I will be sure to try this one as well as a few others you suggested at our next group gathering here in Nova Scotia, Canada.

  3. how did I not know that you had a blog? this is fabulous! we called your cliff game "Marry, Fuck, or Throw off a Cliff" in college... but there was one fundamental difference, if you married, than you could have sex as little or as much as you wanted. Changes the game actually quite a bit when you think about it: because the person you choose to fuck doesn't have to be a night of passion, it can be obligatory "get it over with" sex. ps. I think it is advisable to be totally trashed when playing the hardcore version... so hopefully nobody remembers what you chose next day. ;) pss. i will be back to play your game after breakfast.

  4. Alisa--I think you may be on to something--it's a bit unfair to pair a living, working artist (who is already widely copied) against a few dead greats, if only because the living one may very well have already done his best. But he may not have. Or, he may be bested by someone else in the next year. We already know that Nabokov and Davis have stood a test of time.

  5. live with miles davis, sleep with tim burton, and throw vladimir.

    and as for gun to your mother's head, i like the person not having a specific time limit to answer - they can take as long as they need, just so long as their answer is honest and short.

    oh, and don't forget the whole point of the gun - that the bullet gets fired just because you couldn't answer a question!

  6. Cliff--Nabokov, largely because Lolita threw me into PTSD-infested rage, and because the other options were so much more interesting...

    Live with Tim Burton, because the entertainment value would be amazing.

    Passionate love with Miles Davis, because I'd like to experience that sort of vulnerability with someone whose passion is so evident in their art.

    Your blog is terrific and inspirational. It's my new favorite.

  7. Thank you Christina!

    New Round:

    Gun To Your Mother's Head! Would you rather suddenly be scrutinized in the popular press, a la Paris H. or Brit, or, move to a tiny island off the coast of Washington State and never, ever, be recognized for anything you do?

  8. Move to the island!

    What about you?

  9. Found this entry particularly fascinating, possibly because it was so unexpected, in the world of grad students anyway. Don't mean to say these kinds of games are age-limited--no rules say you have to be under X years old to play!

    Not sure if I've got the (courage? balls? social circle?) to pull it off, but it's got me thinking. And slightly scared. After all, you do have to be honest in the responses, and that level of openness, willingness to reveal the inner hidden devils/thoughts, become that vulnerable... Scary.

    Got me thinking. Thanks.