May 6th, 2009

Cute overload

More fun and games

I find myself in the mood to document another one of the games that archie, iruineverything and I played when we shared a house many years ago. Looking back, it seems clear that they all arose from the tension between our basic human need for communication and the realisation that we didn't actually do or think much that was of interest even to ourselves, let alone worth communicating to others. Lacking the resources (financial, physical, emotional) to resolve this in a healthy way (perhaps by experiencing things then discussing them), we turned communication or the corruption thereof into its own end, resulting in a series of semi-ritualised interactions that I choose to think of as 'games' (as opposed to, say, 'symptoms').

My motive in describing this particular one is not simply to share a wonderfully damaging passtime, nor just to remind myself of how much better I am these days, but also to protect my reputation. You see, some of those that knew me and my housemates during the period in which we were playing still recall (or, perhaps more accurately, 'find themselves unable to forget') the more lurid imagery that developed as a result. From time to time, therefore, said imagery will arise in conversation, attributed to me, at which point anyone within earshot who is unaware of the context tends to blink in incomprehension or recoil in horror, depending on the vividness of their imagination. The conversation is derailed, and a lengthy and hasty explanation is necessary to provide the proper perspective lest I become known as, say, a Frankensteinian incestuous zoophile. I hope that the remainder of this post will supply that context, and that this introduction will have served as a warning to potential players.

When Surrealist Terrorists Attack

You will need: Two or more players with scant regard for the mental well-being of themselves or others.

Rules and history:
"If X and Y were in a burning building and you could only save one, who would it be?"
The game began with the above question, a classic inducer of a thousand traumatic conversations. We soon realised that its real power was in iteration: repeated applications of this question with appropriately chosen variables can rank a person's entire set of acquaintances in strict order of affection. This can be troubling/entertaining enough, but only begins to explore the possibilities inherent in the game. Logical readers will already have spotted, for example, that the question poses a strict inequality: you have to choose one option over the other, allowing ill-defined edge cases where the two options are of equal value. Sadistic readers will note that the closer in value the options are, the harder the choice. Creative readers may realise that any two options could be brought closer together with inventive riders. Being logical, creative sadists, we soon moved on...

"If X and Y were in a burning building and you could only save one, who would it be, if you knew that Y was going to die of cancer within a year?"
Here we have a simple yet ingenious extension of the original question. By painstakingly tweaking each option like this, we can eventually reduce any choice to insoluble equality. Again, the logical will realise that this allows the players to rank conditions as well as people. For example: "Would you save your sister or your brother? OK, but what if your sister was pregnant with twins, but your brother was running an orphanage?" Let your imagination run wild! Soon you'll be forcing other players to choose between saving their mother or a paedophile who's on the verge of curing cancer. The disadvantage is that eventually you'll manage to present your victim with a dilemma so difficult to resolve that they will opt to toss a coin, or even to lie down in the building and let all be consumed. That, of course, is when you escalate...

"If terrorists burst in and forced you to choose between saving X, saving Y, or having yourself and everyone you've ever loved tortured to death, which would you choose?"
Another simple extension of the premise, but its advantages are clear. Replacing the impersonal catastrophe with sentient agents (albeit with rather cryptic motivations) makes the question much harder to avoid. Not only does this more strongly compel a choice, but it neatly defeats clever-dick answers to the original burning building scenario like "I'd save X because Y could probably escape on her own". Essentially the terrorists become a proxy for the questioner, shutting down all avenues of escape from the central decision. Once again, we find that this extension has unexpected benefits: you are no longer limited to life-and-death choices, these terrorists can and will force you to choose between anything at all. This opens up another questioning technique: rather than attempting to traumatise the victim with impossibly equal options, you can present them with alternatives which are traumatic even to evaluate. Once this questioning paradigm is established, you'll find it becomes second nature to face each other with entirely unacceptable decisions at the drop of a hat. The end results are, of course, limited only by your imagination, but as an example of high-level play I will present one that we developed when playing eight years ago which is still quoted to this day:

"If terrorists burst in and forced you to choose between fucking a tiger, fucking a chimpanzee with the mind of your sibling, or having everyone you've ever loved tortured to death, which would you choose?"

End: A choice is presented which reduces all players to blank-faced horror or helpless giggles.

Winning: No-one wins.
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