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September 18, 2005 12:56 PM   Subscribe

Get-to-know-you games you actually enjoyed playing?

I'm the program coordinator for one of the volunteer services on my campus. We have a training day next Saturday where the new volunteers will be sitting around listening for a good part of the day but with chances for half hour to hour breaks in between speakers. We want to play some good meet-and-greet and teambuilders that aren't too contrite or dull or over done. I'm sure everyone has played enough of these. This is a volunteer commitment for the year, so we'd like to start off on a good foot with hopefully jump-starting some friendships or at least friendly feelings amongst the group so folks enjoy coming in for their volunteer shifts.

So what meeting games have you played (in whatever context, although these are university students of diverse backgrounds so the games must be "clean") that you didn't feel annoyed at being made to do and maybe you actually made a connection with someone while doing? I can acquire props if they might be needed!
posted by nelleish to Human Relations (31 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
One that my staff really enjoyed was going around the group and telling the story of your name - why'd your parents choose it, how, is it a family name, etc. Very simple, no props, funny as hell, moving, and really helped us get to know each other better. Each person had about 3 minutes and was really very cool.
posted by tristeza at 1:12 PM on September 18, 2005

In all my long years of interaction with other people I have never once enjoyed an icebreaker activity. Are you sure you have to do this? You could just buy them a pizza and let them socialize on their own.

Also, you probably meant "trite" rather than "contrite."
posted by thirteenkiller at 1:14 PM on September 18, 2005

The only one of these games played under duress that I've actually enjoyed is one in which each person has to make two statements about himself or herself, one of which is true and one of which is false--then everyone else has to vote on which statement is which. (I won a prize for being the one who tricked the most people--maybe that's why it was fun for me.)
posted by Prospero at 1:17 PM on September 18, 2005

I was going to suggest the same game as Prospero. In general, though, ice-breaker games generally bring people together only through their mutual dislike of icebreaker games.
posted by muddgirl at 1:51 PM on September 18, 2005

each person has to make two statements about himself or herself, one of which is true and one of which is false

I've always heard the game called "Two Truths and a Lie" and played with the obvious difference. We did this the first day of a camping trip I took as part of college orienation. That was 10 years ago, but I remember playing, including some of the things people said, and I'm still friends with some of the people from that group. I've played in other similar situations and it goes pretty well.

Just providing food and time will probably work, but if you must do a structured icebreaker to make sure everyone talks or whatever, this is the best I know.
posted by jewishbuddha at 1:57 PM on September 18, 2005

Get-to-know-you Bingo can work well with introverts and extroverts. You basically go around the room with a sheet of descriptors, such as born in another country, lived in another country, youngest child, has read War & Peace, brown hair, green eyes, etc. The first person to get all of them gets some sort of accolade. However, for the less competitive and more introverted people, it's a chance to ask questions casually or be asked questions. Since people can just come up to you and ask questions, you don't have to seek anyone out if you're introverted. Of course, if you have a room full of A-types, it can be a bit impersonal if they spend time collecting answers and not actually listening. But then you can lead into a discussion about how the activity felt.
posted by acoutu at 2:07 PM on September 18, 2005

Response by poster: At lunch we've got pizza and pop coming, plus lots of frisbees and soccer balls and since we're in the campus Arboretum we definitely want some unstructured part of the day. These are just meant to introduce people, and fill up time between speakers.

I know icebreakers are generally annoying as hell, why do you think I phrased the question the way I did? I'm trying to do better than what I've experienced before!

I'm looking for two or three solid games to fill up an hour and a half at maximum. I really like Propsero and tristeza's suggestions, please keep the ideas coming!

And yes, I meant trite, whoops.
posted by nelleish at 2:10 PM on September 18, 2005

I'm a total dork who loves icebreakers and team-building activities even when they are somewhat dumb. That said, some are better than others. Also, team-building activities can be much different than ice-breakers - which do you really want? How well do the people involved know each other? Those are some things to consider.

That said, I don't think that just providing pizza and pop and saying, "socialize!" is the best way to do it. At the very least, do something that gets everyone to say their name and something about themselves. How they got their name would work fine, so would 2 truths and a lie (even though I think this is overdone)....but I wouldn't suggest something like, "tell us why you want to be a volunteer" or anything that comes across like a college essay. Keep it silly and light-hearted.

This is more team-building oriented, and you need a fair amount of people for it to work (at least 25 I would say). Music is played, and people are encouraged to walk around, shake hands, introduce themselves, and then when the music stops whoever is leading says a number, say, 4. Everyone must form a group of 4 people, and quickly. If they can't, they are out of the game. Eventually you start using higher numbers and the task gets more difficult - but it's good at breaking down barriers, I think.

Another important thing - it's true that most everyone hates these activities. Which means you have to be super excited about it when you lead. It helps if the people there are good-natured about this kind of thing, but keep up the dorky enthusiasm and positive energy as much as possible.

I can probably think of some more if you want..
posted by jetskiaccidents at 2:15 PM on September 18, 2005

I generally hate ice breakers, but when I was doing a social experiment with a group of freaky friends, we did some to get to know each other better. My favorite was:

Stand in 4 different parts of the room according to birth order (oldests by the window, youngest by the door, middle, and only, etc.). Then they had us brainstorm what was the best and worst part of our birth order and share.
posted by bikergirl at 2:27 PM on September 18, 2005

The going around the circle and saying your name thing is good, espcially as the first game. We usually make it customized to the activities of the day / theme / etc. Sometimes, we pick something that's zany. Examples:

1. Name and Favorite Breakfast
2. Name and Favorite Icecream Flavor
3. Name and Favorite Kitchen Utensil
4. Name and Favorite Ammendment to the US Constitution
5. Name and Favorite Historical Epoch
6. Name and Favorite Philosopher / Scientist / Chef / {other profession}

Then I'd move into a more active game, either a run-around and do the bingo-type game suggested above, or here's my favorite version: Have a set of index cards with names of famous people printed on the back. Tape them to everybody's back and let 'er rip with everbody trying to guess their character / historical figure. Also can be themed. Cartoon characters work pretty well. Especially when mixed with other non-imaginary folk.
posted by zpousman at 3:06 PM on September 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

You didn't mention how many people are in your group, but any gathering of seven or more people is an excellent excuse to play Werewolf.

It's not technically a meet-and-greet game (actually, it's more of a "meet-and-deceive" game) but everyone playing spends a good deal of time discussing, debating, and arguing with each other. I've often played with at least a few people I don't know, and I always feel like I've gotten to know them much better than I would through an awkward icebreaker game.

That page I linked to is a little daunting...I assure you, the game isn't as complicated as it seems from the rules. It's super-easy to pick up, and after a round or two no one should be confused.

(You might know the game as "Mafia", but--like the author of the site--I prefer "Werewolf" because Mafia stuff is so played out now. Further, maybe you find a game about werewolf massacres and lynch mobs to be inappropriate for a meet-and-greet, but there's no reason why you can't change the set-up.)

On a more personal note: OMFG it is so much fun!! One of the few times I regret living my life like a hateful hermit is when I think of all the games of Werewolf I'm missing out on...
posted by Ian A.T. at 3:20 PM on September 18, 2005

Another important thing - it's true that most everyone hates these activities. Which means you have to be super excited about it when you lead.

This is possibly the least true thing I've ever read. As one of the number who hate these things, I can tell you that it only makes it worse when someone acts like this.

Remember why the people are there. They want to volunteer, not play silly games. The people who actually enjoy the games aren't the ones you need to worry about w/r/t making friends, anyway. You could shepherd a small group conversation about why they chose the organization and what they hope to accomplish and gain most of the "icecbreaker" benefits without making every feel like they're on Double Dare.

If you absolutely must do icebreakers, only have them last the first 5-10 minutes of any break and then let people go for awhile. Any common traits/interests/whathaveyous will be better estblished informally. But you probably knew that.
posted by jaysus chris at 3:32 PM on September 18, 2005

Continuing zpousman's idea...

7. Name and first (rock) concert attended.

While a lot of people will cite some boring concert, I'd imagine that at least one or two of your (more outgoing) volunteers will admit having gone to something very very embarassing (New Kids on the Block, for example). Others may have had parents who dragged them to something extraordinarily cool when they were younger. This exercise tends to work well because it's short and straightforward, allows people to restate their names as a quick reminder to the group, and prompts conversation (especially when people admit to something a bit embarrassing).
posted by lumiere at 3:53 PM on September 18, 2005

Prospero's suggestion sounds bearable and moderately entertaining if you want to do this sort of thing.

Tristeza's suggestion would be great for those who have stories to tell and miserable for those who are put on the spot with nothing to say. Ditto anything to do with "favorites;" picking superlatives is one of my least favorite things to do. That extends as far as saying "something special about yourself." It's generally a bad idea to assume shared experiences or force people to come up with opinions, because those people who don't share that experience or don't have a premeditated answer for the question aren't likely to enjoy the game at all. (Historically, I've usually fallen into one of those categories.)
posted by musicinmybrain at 4:08 PM on September 18, 2005

A game I once played, similar to Werewolf, is called Killer. The point of the game is to determine who the killer is. Basically, one person in the group is secretly named the killer and then everyone goes around and shakes hands and introduces themselves. The killer shakes hands with one finger folded down or something. If you shake hands with the killer you die. People can have elaborate, dramatic deaths. Meanwhile if a person thinks they know who the killer is they can shout "I accuse!" and point to who he thinks the killer is. If he is right, the 'sheriff' kills the killer. If he is wring, the sheriff kills the accuser, and the game continues.
posted by clgregor at 4:22 PM on September 18, 2005

I went to a library conference in another country where most of the people at it were newer librarians. Over the two days there were a few "getting to know you" games that were framed more as meeting the other people at the conference and not as "share something about yourself" events. Here were the two things we did, both of which were pretty painless for me, and I hate this sort of thing generally and didnt' know a single person at this event when I started out.

1. At the first event, as we came in everyone was handed some sort of tag/puzzle piece/colored something. After opening introductions you had to go around and find the people in your group who had the same item. There were maybe 4-6 people in each group, maybe ten groups. We had some very short amount of time to "do introductions" in pairs among ourselves where we'd say where we were from, where we worked, some basic stuff about us. Then the pairs would introduce the person to the larger 4-6 person group. Again this was very brief. At the end of this time, there was a sort of contest where the one person leading the event would call out some sort of a characteristic "only child" "from a town of less than 2000 people" "more than two time zones away from home" "blue eyes" and the group who had someone with that characteristic [or sometimes had a majority of members with that characteristic] would have to raise their hands. Points went to the first group or two with raised hands. At the end, the two or three highest scoring groups got some goofy prize. The whole thing went fast [maybe 30-45 minutes start to finish] and was a good way for small groups of people to sort of get used to talking to each other, asking questions, learning a thing or two. This was at night, among adults and cocktails were also part of it.

2. Over dinner. We all got seated at tables again somewhat randomly. In the center of the table was a take out container filled with odd items and a "what are these?" list of questions. Items included a vial filled with a mystery liquid [lime juice] an odd flavored jelly bean [toasted marshamllow] a weird sort of fabric [rayon] some misc animal fur [alpaca] a mystery spice [cardamom?] and a few other things to identify. People passed these things around and looked at them over dinner and then filled out the sheet with their guesses and again two or three groups with highest scores got prizes.

In both games, it was usually important that everyone's answers were solicited, and no one had to deal with getting dropped out early and thus missing out on whatever other benefits these sorts of things confer.
posted by jessamyn at 4:29 PM on September 18, 2005

Eh...people can disagree, but let me reword. If you're leading a game and you want people to have fun, you need to have fun as well, or at least pretend to have fun, or no one else will. That's how I feel anyway.
posted by jetskiaccidents at 4:52 PM on September 18, 2005

I *hate* these stupid games. Hate. Passionate, vitriolic hate. That said, the one I hated the least was one we had to do at a work dinner once. At each table was a series of questions, some of them related to work, and some of them related to the world. They were things like 'In what year did IBM start using the slogan Think?' or 'What percentage of the population donates blood?' The table that had the most correct answers won a prize.

It worked to get people talking because it was a group project and not everybody would have the answers to everything. They were highly specific questions generally with numeric or date oriented answers so there was room to argue about the answers. People would discuss their expertise in any given subject: 'I think it's about 23%, based on my experience as a volunteer with the Red Cross.'

It didn't get the whole room talking, though, just the individuals in the small groups.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:02 PM on September 18, 2005

I think jacquilynne's suggestionis the best I've heard. I always liked Jeopardy better than Double Dare.
posted by jaysus chris at 6:46 PM on September 18, 2005

Jessamyn's Game #2 sounds genuinely fun to me. It's not so much the mystery objects themselves, as the opinions, arguments, and speculations that are likely to arise. This sounds as though it would really start conversations, and would also immediately let you know who's confident, who's shy, who's loud, who's pushy, who has a lot of knowledge, etc. I'm gonna use this one at work.
posted by Miko at 7:33 PM on September 18, 2005

A fun if stupid one is where you draw a line down the middle of the room, and say something like "stand on this side if you prefer chocolate, the other side if you prefer vanilla." You do this repeatedly with different prompts. It doesn't really tell you much about the other people but it does get people feeling more comfortable.

Chocolate vs. vanilla
Morning people vs. night people
Introvert vs. extrovert
Going out to the movies vs. renting a movie
Driving vs. biking

posted by mai at 8:13 PM on September 18, 2005

Many a year ago, I enjoyed utangling a human knot as part of a National Park Service orientation.
posted by LarryC at 9:04 PM on September 18, 2005

I hate these games as well (though I absolutely love Mafia/Werewolf, it was great for keeping kids busy on rainy days when I worked at a camp).

If you want to go with the "stand on one side of a line" or "tell your anwer to a small group" options, I will now share the single greatest question you can use. Some people will not quite feel comfortable sharing the answer, as it's rather personal, but everybody does it. When you get everybody just a little uncomfortable and sharing things they wouldn't normally tell other people at any time, it really loosens things up. It's also usually good for a few laughs, especially if you get people honest enough to give some unconventional answers.

The magic question: "Do you fold or wad your toilet paper?"
posted by kyleg at 9:04 PM on September 18, 2005

As a bit of an introvert I've always hated ice breakers. After reading the website Werewolf sounds like so much fun though. I'm trying to think of ways that I can organize that game, anyone have any estimates at to how long it takes to play one game?
posted by curbstop at 9:37 PM on September 18, 2005

Funny -- unlike most other repliers, as an introvert I pretty much require icebreakers. It's not as though I'm just going to wander up to someone and start a conversation.
posted by climalene at 9:53 PM on September 18, 2005

curbstop: The wikipedia article on the game suggests 15-60 minutes or longer. It really depends on how quickly the werewolves get sniffed out, so there can be some amount of chance involved. For the first game, I recommend allowing at least half an hour for explanation and letting people get a feel for it. I would also suggest limiting it to one mafioso/werewolf for the first few times you play if you have less than 10 people involved.

Also, if you have people who really like to argue, or hold personal grudges that would make them want to see other players get eliminated, it will lead to a longer gameplay time. When I led third- and fourth-grade kids, it went by fairly quickly, as their reasoning and persuasive skills are less developed. It is a lot more goal-oriented for them.

Basically, I would say plan to have a big block of time available, at least an hour but I would suggest 90 minutes or more. The replay value is very high; if you have the right mix of people they'll want to play several times, but if not you can have extra time to do something else they might enjoy. Finally, I recommend the Mafia variant simply because you can have more fun deviating from the standard script, especially in describing players' deaths. You might say: "All the townspeople woke up, except for Mike, who continued to sleep with his new friends at the bottom of the Hudson River."

That was a little long for an off-topic reply, so I'll just say that anyone with questions should feel free to send me an e-mail.
posted by kyleg at 10:10 PM on September 18, 2005

Curbstop: One game takes anywhere from fifteen minutes to, I don't know, an hour? But you'll end up playing more than one game. The length of each game really depends, of course, on how many players you have. (And, uh, how smart they are. Heh.) If you have any more questions, my email address is in my profile.

Nelleish: The complete rules of a lying game like the one Prospero and jewishbuddha mentioned is described in great detail at the very beginning of Arthur Phillips' so-so novel Prague.

Oh, look: here's the chapter in question. Dude, I just saved you, like, fourteen bucks.
posted by Ian A.T. at 10:15 PM on September 18, 2005

[Weird! Kyleg and I just posted pretty much the exact same off-topic answer within minutes of each other, each soliciting email from Curbstop. It's like we're spambots or something.]

[Now Kyleg and I get to wait and see which one of us he emails. Wagers, anyone?]
posted by Ian A.T. at 10:19 PM on September 18, 2005

I'm a hater of icebreakers too, but here's one I saw work really well with a group of grownups (even though it's a kid play thing).

stand in a circle. throw a balloon in the middle. object of the group - not to let the balloon hit the ground.

first round: to keep the balloon off the floor, people in the circle have to dash in and hit the balloon up while saying their name (the same person can't hit the balloon twice).

second round: the same, only now people have to call out someone else's name, who will then dash in and do the same.

I know it sounds really childish, but the activity really loosened up the group with a lot of laughs and helped people learn names. Because it only a name thing (no personal statements and such) and voluntary (a person who doesn't feel up to it doesn't dash in for the balloon) I felt it isn't very threatening for someone who's shy.
posted by mirileh at 11:06 PM on September 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

Here's one that gets people up and moving. We called it Friends and Neighbors. You need n-1 chairs, where n is the number of people, arranged in a circle. One person starts in the center and says something that is true for them, e.g. "I love Thai food." Everyone else for whom this is true has to get up and change places with someone else. Last person standing is it for the next round.

Here are a bunch of other icebreaker games.
posted by ottereroticist at 12:03 AM on September 19, 2005

My favorite icebreaker question of all time was 'What superpower would you give yourself, and why?'

A buddy of mine came up with the 'Bone Grip,' that would let you psychically grab a persons bones like Magneto always did with Wolverine. His 'demonstration' was hilarious.


The trick with any icebreaker is to make it engaging (and useful!) enough to hold the interest of the group, but not make people feel like they are being asked to tell total strangers too much. It also needs to be relatively quick.

Two Truths and a Lie, which someone mentioned above, is a favorite of mine. In a less formal group setting, you can opt for the ridiculous, i.e.: 'Say your name, and the first thing that popped into your mind when I say the word 'nipple.' If nothing else, that one gets everyone laughing.

I don't like things like 'Name and favorite [thing],' because it always feels to me like not very much thought was put into the activity, and that we're wasting time with it. Why do I care what Joe's favorite baseball team is, after all? I don't like that game because it doesn't tell me anything about Joe except that his name is Joe and he likes the Mariners. On the other hand, favorite sexual position could be going too far (with most groups, anyway.)

Try to avoid things that will make people uncomfortable; asking everyone to tell a joke will put them on the spot, bad idea. 'Most embarassing moment' is another one like this.

Another good idea is to tie the activity into the group's goals. Depending on what the volunteer thing you're doing is, you can ask people what their goals are, or why they're here, or what they hope to get out of this. I do this with budget teams a lot. At an political canvassing job I had, we would practice repeating the door rap while we played hot potato with a nerf ball.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 12:08 AM on September 19, 2005 [1 favorite]

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