Caution: I was going to write a disclaimer here, but in the end, I figure that even those regular readers who've never met me or my household can probably guess the likely outcome of this game. It's probably a symptom rather than a cause, but it may yet cause you to end up like us. Careful now.
I. Bitchy Banalities
You know as well as I do that a lot of the interaction we have with others is uninteresting: formal politeness, feigned interest, the sort of conversational equivalent of those blips your mobile phone sends out to tell the transmitters that it's still there in case anything interesting comes along for it. No matter how witty and intelligent you and your compadrés are, a reasonable amount of your interaction is going to be: "Doing anything tonight?" "Prob'ly not." "Work OK?" "Can't remember." "Have you seen my spoon?" "No."
Now, don't get me wrong. I agree that this sort of stuff is necessary, as social glue, information exchange, or nuclei around which actual conversations can form; but that doesn't mean it's fun. Until now.
The game is simple to learn and play, though rather harder to convey in written than in spoken form. The idea is to say the things that you would normally say, but in the most poisonous, sniping tone of voice that you can muster. "Have you seen my spoon?" becomes an accusation, "Doing anything tonight?" an implication of abandonment, even "Hello" can be given that 'I'm upset with you and you ought to know why' cadence. Instantly enlivens conversations, as your unwitting fellow players react revealingly: responding in kind, asking if anything's wrong, backing down immediately, or trying to defuse the situation in some other way. Not only does this tell you something about their approach to personal conflict, but also about their assessment of your personality. If people shut up and back down, they may see you as scary. Did you know that? Is that the image you want to be projecting? If they just say "Oooh, someone's got his grumpy hat on today" you're apparently either too happy-go-lucky or too uninteresting to be taken seriously. Why not jump to your own pop-psychological conclusions? The hard-core might like to feed such assessments back into the game by accusing the other player of reacting inappropriately. The more light-heartedly devious can feign incomprehension and stop the game after one comment, leaving the other players feeling paranoid and over-sensitive. Improvise.
In our house, we know each other well enough to pick up quite fast on the insincerity inherent in this game, and it's now become almost habitual. The initial fun of inducing neuroses has passed, to be replaced by a friendly in-jokey atmosphere. What this implies about our household is anyone's guess; but when asking if anyone's taken the rubbish out can induce giggles, I figure we must be doing something right. This does have the (potential) disadvantage of flummoxing visitors, particularly as archie and I in full bitchy swing can give the impression that... well... let's just say that the impression is not that we live together just to save on rent, if you know what I mean.
At work, things are a little more complicated, but some people on a similar wavelength to me quite enjoy it, though tend not to play too; while most of the others are sufficiently used to not taking things I say at face-value for me to have avoided any situations escalating beyond the entertaining.
Surprisingly high. As mentioned above, you can infer a lot about people and their perceptions of you by their reactions to this game. Also, if you play properly and say only things that you would say anyway, you can discover just how subtle your tonal shading can be and still completely change the reception of your words. You can also learn the terrible consequences of toying with the implicit trust that binds people together, and run the risk of never being taken at face value again. In fact, thinking about it, when I meet my mates for our traditional gathering down the pub tomorrow, if one of them greets me in a hurt tone of voice I will be unable to decide whether they've read this and are playing, have read it but aren't or haven't read it at all. I may thus have poisoned a good few friendships, dealing them a blow that could take much careful rebuilding to recover from. Fuck. Still, it's taken me ages to type, so I have to post it now. Maybe I should make it 'not friends only'...
When writing this, it occurs to me that you could play the reverse of this (perhaps called 'Sweet Nothings'?) and simply make small talk in the most charming way possible instead. Disturbing thoughts that this occasions:
- Why didn't I think of this before?
- Why do I suspect that most people would just think I was taking the piss, and that I wouldn't actually be able to convincingly feign fascination with trivia?
On giving this further consideration, I supect that it might actually be quite fun if I could carry it off, because people would assume that they must be looking particularly fragile and upset to merit such special treatment. Disturbing thought this occcasions:
- Why does someone have to be unnerved for it to be fun? I'm such a bastard.
- People thinking that your interest implies that you fancy them.
- People thinking that your interest is genuine concern and unburdening themselves to you, while you attempt to sympathise, all too well aware that if they had any idea that you were feigning sympathy for your own twisted amusement that that would make their situation far worse.
- The very existence of this game crippling you emotionally, unable to express your true feelings to anyone, no matter how sympathetic-seeming, because you are living proof that there's a possibility that their concern is a sham, and inside they're smirking at your pathetic latching onto the flimsiest of off-handed simulations of interest.
On the whole, probably the version we play is better.
Play safe. And mind your head.