Weird Games and Gen X
February 12, 2009 9:37 AM   Subscribe

Here's a question: Would you say that "conversation" games--like "Would you rather"--came about in the last 15-20 years and are the product of Generation X? Games that spark conversation and don't have any winners or losers? I'm thinking that they came about roughly with the rise of "Reality Bites" and the "slacker" generation.

I know this is kind of a random question, but bear with me, I'm working on a thesis here. Specifically, that conversation games like "would You rather" or "Walrus" are the product of Gen X and are geared more towards the contemplative, the silly, and the the non-competitive. Would you agree?
posted by pipti to Society & Culture (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
No. I learned games like those from my grandparents.
posted by hydropsyche at 9:38 AM on February 12, 2009

Response by poster: Really? "would you rather" from your grandparents? That shoots my thesis right out of the water.
posted by pipti at 9:42 AM on February 12, 2009

Your wiki link includes "Twenty Questions".
That one, at least, is quite a bit older than Gen X.

If you narrow your premise enough, I'm sure you can find some set of games that were invented in the last 20 years.
posted by jozxyqk at 9:47 AM on February 12, 2009

Response by poster: I was thinking specifically the games that are meant to spark silly conversation. And I suppose that would limit the premise to Walrus and Would You Rather. Though now that I think about, there are some Victorian parlor games that involve making up reasons why your love is like [something random]...which means that silly pointless conversational games are nothing new. Thanks for your thoughts.
posted by pipti at 9:52 AM on February 12, 2009

I'm probably a gen-X-er, and I think of those kinds of games as being kind of retro and old-fashioned.
posted by amtho at 9:53 AM on February 12, 2009

There have probably been a lot of conversational games that have been "invented," thrived for a time in a specific area, and then died out when another generation came in. The problem is that it is tough to market conversational games, so their provenance/legacy is a little tougher to discern. Essentially, your thesis is pretty weak, because you're not also considering all of the thousands of crap games that have been invented and marketed in the past 20 years that are essentially tired old board games, competitive in spirit, etc. Or do you just ignore those in your thesis? I'm thinking it'd be interesting to look at the commercial aspect of games that are easy to play with others and would be difficult to market. For example, it's more fun for me to ask my friend, "Would you rather screw a cow or kill your mom" (Kicking and Screaming reference...) than it would be to purchase a game with a lot of cards, then read one to my friend: "Would you rather be Abraham Lincoln or Martha Washington? Oh Jesus this game is stupid." Competitive games are easy to market and sell, therefore they have a legacy in our society, whereas conversational games ebb and flow, are regional, constantly changing, come in and out of fashion, etc.
posted by billysumday at 9:55 AM on February 12, 2009

Comedy improv training has roots that go back a long ways, and has been full of conversation games without winners or losers for longer than GenX has had a name. The New Games Foundation is all about games without winners and losers, if emphasizing physical games over conversation games, and was founded in 1975.

I would disagree that these games could be called the product of GenX.
posted by Zed at 9:55 AM on February 12, 2009

Similar game, which probably is a little newer would be fuck, marry, kill.
posted by Iteki at 9:57 AM on February 12, 2009

Mad Libs? Circa 1960s?
posted by fixedgear at 9:58 AM on February 12, 2009

I was thinking specifically the games that are meant to spark silly conversation. And I suppose that would limit the premise to Walrus and Would You Rather. Though now that I think about, there are some Victorian parlor games that involve making up reasons why your love is like [something random]...which means that silly pointless conversational games are nothing new.

Various surrealist games such as exquisite corpse also had similar intentions.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:59 AM on February 12, 2009

As has already been mentioned, these conversational games go back quite a long way - if I'd time, I'd love to read up on their origin and history (if you pursue thesis work on this, that'd be a good place to start for a lit review).

While it doesn't look like you can claim that these games are a new phenomena, I suspect you might find that they've changed in character. How to players approach the game? Do younger generations play more or less than older ones? How has technology and the rise of connected culture influenced the games?

There's lots of interesting stuff to look into here.
posted by aladfar at 10:07 AM on February 12, 2009

BBC Radio's "Just A Minute" fits your description, and it's been around since 1967.
posted by grumblebee at 10:13 AM on February 12, 2009

I also remember being a kid in the 60s and 70s, playing "telephone" and games where we tell a story as a group, each person leaving off in the middle of a sentence and the next person continuing.

I suspect "conversation games" have been around forever. In fact, they were probably more popular before television.
posted by grumblebee at 10:15 AM on February 12, 2009

The Ungame was a commercial product in the 1970s.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:19 AM on February 12, 2009

Games that spark conversation and don't have any winners or losers?

I don't think that "Would you rather" is a replacement for something like, oh, Monopoly- at least not in the sense of those middle school soccer leagues you hear about where everyone gets a "first place participation trophy". I've always seen WYR used as a time-killer on road trips, used as an icebreaker, or as a sort of mental puzzle (i.e., answer this question that makes everyone lose). It's definitely not a trend of games slowly losing the concept of winners/losing by any means. In fact, I recently played a game with a bunch of (college-age) friends which was basically WYR with more open questions, and every round the "asker" had to guess who wrote down which answers. It was basically WYR with competition thrown in.
In short, as a just-post-Gen-Xer, I'm going to have to disagree with at least the non-competitive part of the thesis, because a)WYR doesn't replace competitive games by any means, and 2)there's always a bit one mental one-up-manship competition in WYR when I've play anyway.
posted by niles at 10:29 AM on February 12, 2009

The specific games you mention are very new, but you should remember - it was not that long ago that, even beyond things like board games, even the technology necessary to listen to recorded music was either uncommon or nonexistent. People had all sorts of ways to pass the time with others; one of them was silly games. Even before the Victorian era, I can remember a few moments in Jane Austen novels when people play such games.

I have a feeling that, far from being new, they're actually much more rare now than they once were, now that we have so many more pastimes.
posted by koeselitz at 10:35 AM on February 12, 2009

I don't know if this counts, but Apples to Apples is played as a conversational, non-competitive game among my friends. That is to say, we still play by the rules (with the exception that ironic/sarcastic answers tend to win very often), but we don't really keep score, and we end when we want to move on, rather than at a certain victory condition.

Helen Keller:Having a baby :: Touchy-Feely:Boisterous
posted by explosion at 10:55 AM on February 12, 2009

Conversational games in general? No, not likely.

Scruples, though.
posted by klangklangston at 10:56 AM on February 12, 2009

I'm a Gen-Xer and child of a hippy-ish Boomer couple, and I can say with all certainty that their generation made those types of conversation-starting, touchy-feely, everybody-wins games popular, because it sure wasn't me and my friends making them up when I was 6 years old and playing them. (I'm thinking specifically of the New Games Book, which is awesome, and the Ungame, which I never liked.)
posted by chowflap at 10:56 AM on February 12, 2009

I swear I saw a link on metafilter to a video (on youtube?) within the past few weeks that had a 50's couple learning how to entertain. It was all about these type of games. I hadn't heard of most of them. I think these games died with Gen Xers
posted by hal_c_on at 10:56 AM on February 12, 2009

It probably comes down to that the general concepts of these games have been around in one form of another throughout history, but they're seen as so insignificant few people bother to write about them. They have few rules, so no documentation is needed, and usually the humor and conversation is only funny with those people (complete with knowledge of their history, personality) in that situation, which books and TV have trouble conveying or preserving.
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:58 AM on February 12, 2009

My grandmother has an old book with rules for at least a hundred Victorian parlour games. As I recall many of them are quite conversational, and not particularly competitive.
posted by teg at 11:36 AM on February 12, 2009

The is a passage in Generation X by Douglas Coupland where they discuss a conversational game concerning how long things (esp consumer durables) will take to disappear/decompose. The winner is ski boots. It seemed affected to me.

Also, does The Game fit your bill?
posted by dmt at 11:44 AM on February 12, 2009

I've got a book here from the '50s with non-competitive conversation games. I'm trapped at the desk right now, so that's as much info as I can offer.

My grandma taught me a few conversational games, my grandpas contributed a couple, and my mom told me about bunches she played when she was a wee babyBoomer. These were generally in response to hearing about a similar game I was playing with friends, often in the vein of "well, in my day when we played that game, it went like this..." types of answers.
posted by batmonkey at 12:09 PM on February 12, 2009

I picked up a copy of the Mary Dawson Game Book from 1916 at a used bookstore. There's hundreds of parlour games, many of which fit into the style you describe. Lots of them are extraordinarily racist, which was a bit of an eye opener when I started nosing through it.

teg :: maybe it's the same book your grandmother has?
posted by jpziller at 12:13 PM on February 12, 2009

I have a copy of The Fun Encyclopedia, from 1940, which is full of games like this and also tons of other insanely ridiculous nonsense. Sadly, the Google books version is not browsable, so you'll have to take my word for it or track down a copy.
posted by yarrow at 12:19 PM on February 12, 2009

Chapter 9 of Jane Austen's Emma is all about a game of riddles or charades, which seemed pretty popular back then, in the early 19th century. The common thread here might be people with a great deal of leisure time looking for a way to fill it.
posted by chinston at 12:27 PM on February 12, 2009

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