Hello ladies and germs! Today we’re going to talk about games. When I say “games,” I don’t mean video games. It bothers me how the video game industry has completely corrupted the word “game,” how a “gamer” is somebody who plays video games, and how when I told my friends I was inventing a game, they all immediately assumed it was a video game (note: my game development has not been going very well. Stupid apathy). We’re also not going to talk about gambling games or drinking games, although admittedly those can be fun sometimes.
Usually when I think of games, I think of those games I love the most, which include Dominos, Boggle, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, Risk, Chess (although I am not very good. A lot of people assume that I’m good at chess because I’m descendent of Russian Jews and I was a math major. But nope—not that great, although I still don’t like losing), Mafia (best. party game. ever.), Celebrity, Taboo, Scattergories, Scruples (highly underrated, but utterly, utterly brilliant), Shlaflaff (a summer camp favorite), Monopoly, Backgammon/Shesh-Besh/Tavla, Sorry!, Clue (or “Cluedo” in the U.K.), Rock-Paper-Scissors/Janken, Euchre, Hearts, Spades, Bridge, Uno (especially Speed Uno), Spoons, Othello, Kamps (or “Crepes” or whatever it’s called—that French card game that I’m really, really good at), Crazy 8s, Spit, Frustration (a.k.a. “Double Spit”), Mille Bornes, The Game of Life, Payday, The aMAZEing Labyrinth, and Jenga. I don’t like Apples to Apples, and I’ve never played Cards Against Humanity. I’ve never played Bananagrams either. I say this because I know that you’re probably freaking out because I didn’t mention them.
This post is not about these games. I just felt like writing out that list—it brought back many warm, fuzzy memories, of playing board games in front of the fireplace with my sister, or in the common room at Jew camp. No, the point of this blog is to talk about those awkward games that society forces us to play with each other every G-d-forsaken day of our dismal lives. I acknowledge that Eric Berne already wrote a book all about these games back in 1964, and although this post is meant to be a 2013 take on the subject, there’s a high probability that Berne already said what I am about to say, and in a much more scientifically-accurate manner. I’d check for myself, but I’m currently using my copy to prop up my TV and if I pull it out the whole kit and caboodle will topple.
Anyway, without further ado, here are the games!
1. The “How Are You” Game
It’s been over 6 months (more like 7 or 8), and people are still finding my blog thanks to Jason Evanish. In fact, statistically speaking, there’s a 90% chance you found this blog because of him, and if so, I’m thrilled that you decided to read another one of my posts. Earlier this week I received an email from a pretty young woman who graduated from an Ivy-league college recently and just moved to SF. I know that she is pretty and a recent Ivy-league graduate because I Google stalked her. Yes, I do that. She asked me about the absence of a “blogroll,” and admittedly I was not familiar with the term, so I looked that one up on Google as well. Apparently, a “blogroll” is a list of other blogs that I like that I’m supposed to link to my blog. I guess the general concept is “if you like my blog, check out these other blogs!” There’s a well-founded theory that if you link to somebody’s blog, then maybe they’ll link to yours as well, and both of your hit counts will be increased.
Truth be told (and I assure you, dear reader, that I am always truthful with you), the reason I don’t have a blogroll is because, for the most part, I don’t read other blogs. For the most part, I find blogs to be irritating. I’m sure that there are many brilliant blogs out there that would put mine to shame and that I would truly love, but I simply don’t have time to find them, let alone read them. There’s only one blog to which I will gladly devote my precious free time, and that is The Annotated Zoetrope. The author is a beautiful, dear friend of mine, and her blog is probably the most stunningly intelligent and emotionally powerful display of pure, unadulterated truth that the Internet has to offer these days. In her last post, she waxed poetic (in elegant prose) about, among myriad other things, the importance of lying when asked the simple question, “how are you?”
I’ve actually thought of this a great deal over the years. In my freshman anthro class in undergrad, the professor taught us how in every culture humans have developed some form of “talking to avoid talking.” When we see an acquaintance, we are not allowed to simply ignore him. On the other hand, we usually have no desire to actually have any sort of meaningful interaction with him (and yes, I realize that I’m using the “royal we” here, but you know exactly what I’m talking about). For a moment, we appear to be navigating our dinghy of human-to-human communication between the Scylla of agonizing awkwardness and the Charybdis of unabashed dickery.* Fortunately, the laws of interpersonal relations have given us a way out: we simply say “how are you?”, our acquaintance replies, “fine thank you, yourself?”, we drop a “fine too, thanks,” and both parties go their separate ways, neither feeling irritated or like a jerk.
“How are you?” is not a question, it’s a prelude to a pattern. In Japan, students learn through rote memorization that the correct answer to “how are you?” is “I’m fine thank you, and you?” They do not know the actual meanings of the phrases; they just know that when an American says “how are you?” to you, you’re supposed to respond in a certain way. This has some rather comical results. Perhaps you heard the story of the Japanese middle school exchange student who went hiking with his host family and fell off a small cliff, breaking his leg. They rushed him to the hospital, where the nurse asked, “how are you?” Through tears, the boy spurted out, “I’m f-fine…th-thank you…and y-you?”
Why don’t we actually answer the question? Because we definitely don’t want to hear anybody’s answer. In Israel, there’s a common insult called “nudnik.” Google defines nudnik as “a pestering, nagging, or irritating person; a bore.” The Israeli definition is much better: a nudnik is somebody who, when asked “how are you?”, will actually answer the question. None of us wants to be a nudnik when we can avoid it, so we have to play the game. It’s a fairly simple game and there are no real winners of losers, unlike the next game on this list…
2. I Totally Know What I’m Doing
This is a game often played by young professionals in their late 20s/early 30s who are just about finished with their educations (because we all got graduate degrees, right?) and are now dipping their cute widdle toesies into the frothy class-5 rapids of the real world. The object of the game is to convince people that you are worth the ridiculous amount of money you are getting paid, even though you are hilariously incompetent. At all times, you must fight the overwhelming urge to throw your hands in the air and say, “for the love of G-d, I’m a freakin’ moron, why the hell do you trust me to produce any sort of passable work?” Unfortunately, you can’t let your bosses, coworkers, clients, customers, investors, or shareholders know the extent of your unfathomable suckitude. That’s the game, plain and simple. Some people think that the point of the game is to “fake it ‘til you make it,” but that’s for beginners. The advanced mode is “fake it ‘til people believe you, despite the fact that you are not remotely close to making it, you pathetic excuse for a lawyer.” Or doctor, or architect, or whatever.
I heard a scary story the other day about a friend of a friend who graduated from law school around the same time as me at the top of her class and joined the ranks of a biglaw firm in a small satellite office. She was doing M&A and kicking ass…or at least faking at kicking ass. The partners grew to trust her, and within two years she was leading deals with little or no supervision.
Then she fucked up. Don’t get me wrong—this is completely normal. I fuck up all the time, but that’s why people above me review my work. In her case, however, those above her were under the impression that she was infallible, and thus nobody bothered to check what she was doing. Something happened. I was not told the exact details, but yada yada yada bad things happened for which she was at least in part responsible, and she quit her job somewhat involuntarily. You may say that she “lost” the game, but after she left the firm she traveled in Africa for 6 months. I wouldn’t call that a loss.
As a biglaw lawyer, when you fuck up and nobody catches you, somebody might lose some money. Big fucking whoop. Not long ago I had surgery, and right before I went under the anesthesiologist gave me an explanatory chat/pep talk. He was young. Like, really young. Like, younger than me, fresh out of med school, wet behind the ears, just beginning his residency, doesn’t know a catheter from a ham sandwich young. I was probably among the first 100 people he was putting under. He spoke confidently, like he knew what he was doing, and all I could think the whole time is, “I speak confidently like that to my clients all the time. Hell, I’ve been doing it since I was a first-year. I’d speak confidently, gain their trust, and then completely fuck up. Is he going to completely fuck up? Because if he does…” and then I went to sleep.
3. The World Is My Pissing Contest
I’d imagine that in most parts of the world, men prove their worth by engaging in contests of strength—sports and the whatnot. There’s a lot of grunting involved, rolling around on the ground with a slew of beefy combatants while your chest hair gleams with sweat—your own and that of others. Or maybe kicking a ball down a field, or getting from one end of a swimming pool to the other as fast as possible using only your arms and legs, or using a weird paddle with strings to hit an object over a net so that it eludes your opponent. The general theory is that, as in the moose community, the male who is the most physically able gets to mate with the most fertile females. Makes sense.
San Franciscan men on the other hand, G-d bless us, are complete pussies. The only “sports” you will ever see San Franciscan men play are air hockey, skeeball, and a friendly activity we like to call “cornhole.” This is what cornhole looks like:
Don’t worry, I was also a bit disappointed when I witnessed cornhole for the first time. It’s basically like horseshoes for frat boys and hipsters. I think it comes from the Midwest.
Despite our non-athletic nature, we San Franciscan men still desire to one-up each other, but instead of doing it with our arms and legs, we do it with our minds…or at least that part of our minds that collects knowledge of obscure cultural references that nobody understands. When two San Franciscan males meet, they will often engage in this battle of the wits, which is similar to the “pissing contest,” an age-old tradition in which two men, fighting for a woman’s attention, would whip out their cocks and each try to shoot a stream of urine that is more powerful than that of his foe. Here is a breakdown of a typical San Franciscan pissing contest:
The Scene: A bar on 16th street, just after midnight on a Saturday. An ATTRACTIVE FEMALE stands at the bar, attempting to order a vodka soda. SAN FRANCISCO MALE #1 is standing next to her, having spent the past 7 minutes trying to get the attention of the SNOOTY BARTENDER, who is wearing a Misfits/San Francisco Giants T-shirt and has no fewer than 6 piercings on his face. SNOOTY BARTENDER finally addresses SAN FRANCISCO MALE #1, who is about to order a PBR when he notices ATTTRACTIVE FEMALE standing next to him. With a nervous and cracking voice, trembling from head to toe at the sight of ATTRACTIVE FEMALE, SAN FRANCSICO MALE #1 decides to make his order a little more interesting, in the hopes of impressing her.
SFM1 (loudly, so AM can hear): Excuse me, what do you have that’s malty, but not too hoppy? Something kind of Belgian-style, preferably imported (of course)—do you have anything that’s like a combination of Delirium and Hobgoblin?
Meanwhile, SAN FRANCISCO MALE #2 has been sitting on the barstool on the opposite side of ATTRACTIVE FEMALE, tweeting about he’s stuck in a bar that’s totally lame and full of doucehbags, with a crappy jukebox that doesn’t have any punk rock other than the Ramones and Sex Pistols, which are total sell-out “punk” bands that only corporate suits listen to these days (on an unrelated note, SAN FRANCISCO MALE #2 is currently trying to found a startup with his bros that improves customer experience in online shopping platforms). Upon hearing SAN FRANCISCO MALE #1, SAN FRANCISCO MALE #2 looks up from his phone and notices ATTRACTIVE FEMALE standing next to him. Perfect—a chance to display his San Francisco-style manliness!
SFM2: You should try the Drake’s 1500. It’s an American extra pale ale. Their brewery is actually just in San Leandro—I sometimes ride my bike there on the weekends.
SAN FRANCISCO MALE #1, realizing that another male is competing for the attention of the female, ratchets his game up a notch.
SFM1: I’ve had Drake’s before. I’ve never been to the brewery, thanks for the tip. I’ll go there next weekend before hitting up the Trappist. But actually, I don’t think I want beer now. (To SNOOTY BARTENDER) What kind of scotch do you have?
SFM2: You’re going to get scotch? I only drink scotch when I’m in Scotland. You can’t really get any of the quality stuff in the U.S. You can get good bourbon though—Portrero is nice and pretty smooth. It’s made by the Anchor Brewing Company.
SFM1: Well, I can’t really afford the good stuff. I’m fine with my Johnny Walker Red and Jim Beam.
Here SAN FRANCISCO MALE #1, realizing that SAN FRANCISCO MALE #2 has him beat on knowledge of alcohol, tries out a new strategy: “poorer than thou.” Females are always impressed when a guy doesn’t have a lot of money but still manages to be cool (on an unrelated note, SAN FRANCISCO MALE #1’s father is a real estate mogul who has given, and will always give, SAN FRANCISCO MALE #1 money whenever he asks for it).
SFM2: I love Jim Beam! It reminds me of the good ol’ days. I drank a whole bottle of Jim before I snuck into Slim’s to see the Mr. T. Experience when I was 16!
SFM1: It reminds me of the first time I saw the Residents at the Great American—I did shots of Jim with their manager. She was gonna let me meet them but I got too drunk and ended up passing out in the men’s room.
SFM2: That’s like the time I saw the Mutants in a reunion tour in Mexico City. I told them I was from SF and partied with them after the show! They said that they were clean and sober, but you know they weren’t…
The two SAN FRANCISCO MALES are now combining three forms of one-upmanship, “I am down with more obscure bands than you,” “I have more crazy drug and alcohol stories than you,” and “I have had partied with more famous people than you.” Meanwhile, ATTRACTIVE FEMALE has ordered, received, and paid for her beverage, and now returns to her FRIEND.
AF (to FRIEND): Ugh, just once I’d like to go out in this city without getting caught in between two douchebags having a pissing contest.
4. Let’s Avoid Looking at Each Other
If there’s one thing that human beings hate, it’s being forced to interact with other human beings, except in special designated “human interaction” times (such as hoe-downs and box socials). In order to avoid interacting with other human beings at all costs, we’ve developed all kinds of distractions that enable us to get lost in our personalized tiny universes. I suppose it all started with books. When you’re reading a book, you are clearly focused on the pages in front of you and not the world around you. However, books do have covers, and a particularly astute (and/or creepy) observer, upon seeing somebody reading a book that he or she either enjoyed immensely or is interested in knowing more about, may interrupt the reader to ask a question or otherwise initiate a conversation. I remember two such instances when it happened to me.
The first was when I was in 16. I was in Israel, on a summer teen tour, and on my free weekend I was riding a bus in Jerusalem to my savta’s apartment in Rehavia while reading Jitterbug Perfume. As I was nearing my stop, an American woman, maybe seven or eight years older than me and dressed from head to toe in hardcore orthodox garb, said, “is that your first time reading Jitterbug?” When I replied yes, she said, “I am extremely jealous of you—to get to read Jitterbug Perfume for the first time, not knowing what you’re in for.”
The second was about ten years later, when I was flying across the country reading A Prayer for Owen Meany. I finished the book just before landing, and as I was disembarking from the plane, an elderly woman tugged at my elbow. “You just did one of my favorite things in the world,” she said. When I asked what, she replied, “You just finished A Prayer for Owen Meany. I was sitting in the row behind you across the aisle, watching you as you read. I could tell that you were loving it—I saw the hairs on the back of your neck prick up. I’ve been a writer all of my life, and whenever I read that book, all I can think of is, ‘plot! How do I make a plot work like that?’” I suppose that had I been an elderly man, and approached a young woman to tell her that I had been watching her read from afar, that would be a little off-putting. But this woman was pretty adorable.
Of course, many anti-human-interactionists got irritated with people commenting on their reading habits (“Oh my G-d, I love Steig Larson!”), so some depraved introverts in Japan invented the walkman. After the advent of such a device, no matter how many of those grating chatter machines known as “people” surrounded you, blissful isolation could be achieved simply by putting on your headphones. This opened the floodgates for personal electronic devices capable of generating social force fields, and soon the streets, elevators, busses, subways, airplanes, and even family cars of the world were packed with zombies, locked into their diskmen, Gameboys, iPods, iPads, iPhones, and Kindles, like prisoners in a chain gang who are forced to wear blinders, but who, for whatever reason, are under the impression that they’re enjoying themselves.
For the most part, our devices allow us to avoid talking to, or even looking at, other humans at all times. When I lived in New York a decade ago, people would talk to each other on the subway. Now they are plugged into their phones. Not only is this antisocial, it’s actually problematic, as people fail to notice when an elderly person step onto the train (or at least they pretend to fail to notice), and unless that elderly person is particularly vocal, he or she may be forced to stand. I actually witnessed this on BART a couple of weeks ago and had to intervene to ask the Berkeley students sitting by the doors to make room for a septuagenarian gentleman who was teetering on his cane. I was quite disappointed; I expect this kind of obliviousness from Stanford brats, but not from good-hearted Berkeley liberals. I suppose that I’m naïve to believe that kids these days aren’t all freakin’ morons.
This game is not confined to public transportation. A café used to be a place where you could make new friends or chat up cute girls. Now when you step into café it feels like you are diving into a sea of laptops. Or consider the workplace—in my office, it is considered rude to have your headphones on in the elevator. But don’t worry—they’ve installed a TV inside so you can watch on the 30-second ride up to avoid ever having to exchange awkward small talk with your coworkers.
I recently suffered a brutal loss at the game of LALAEO. It was last week, on Monday. I normally ride my bike or walk to work, but I was wearing a suit so the former was tough (wearing a suit is a rarity for me, but I had an important client meeting) and I was running late so the latter wasn’t an option. Instead I took the Muni. On the platform I saw a woman with whom I had gone to high school. This happens when you grow up in Marin and move to San Francisco. Back in high school I was friends with her, but people grow apart and now we’re at “good acquaintance” level. One night last year I bumped into her in the Mission and we realized we both lived in the same neighborhood so we exchanged numbers and talked about how we should meet up, but that meeting never materialized. You know the deal.
She was plugged into her iPhone, so I tapped her on the shoulder and said hello just as the train was approaching. We boarded the train together and she removed her earbuds. It was packed and I said my usual “packed train” line: “come on people, there’s plenty of room. In Tokyo subways they have a rule: if you can still breathe, there’s room for one more.” Some people laughed, but she did not. We then realized that we would probably have to talk with each other for the 10-minute train ride downtown. Re-inserting her earbuds was not an option; that would have been rude. Instead, she asked “how are you?” The correct answer would have been, “I’m fine thank you, yourself?”, to which she would have replied “I’m doing well.” Unfortunately, that would have left us with 9 remaining minutes of uncomfortable silence. The “how are you?” game really only works when you can make an easy escape.
What could I do? I answered her honestly, nudnik-style. It was a Monday and I had an important client meeting, but had also awoken to a dozen emails from Tokyo telling me all sorts of ways that my day/week was going to be ruined. This was just a tip of the iceberg—I was also slowly getting deeper and deeper into my existential crisis that comes with being a dirty hippie communist luddite working as a technology lawyer in a large corporate law firm. And I just got a ticket because I forgot to move my car for the street cleaner, and, oh, is this your stop? It was so nice to bump into you—have a great day!
Needless to say, she was happy to arrive at her destination. You win some, you lose some, I suppose.
5. Spread the Love
This one isn’t necessarily a game people play, but it’s one that I hope more people in San Francisco, and the U.S., and the world, engage in as much as possible and eventually master. The way it works is that if somebody does something nice for you, you go and do something nice back for them. A more advanced version is where you just randomly do something nice for somebody, even if they didn’t do anything for you first.
I’m going to play a round of STL right now. If you’ve read this whole post, I consider that to be something very nice that you’ve done for me. This shit was more than eight pages—that’s ridiculous! Who the hell has time for that? You, apparently (I mean, you didn’t skim it, right? Because that would be cheating). Anyway, to reward your kindness and patience (and masochism), I will gift you something special. THE FIRST FIVE PEOPLE TO SEND ME AN EMAIL WITH THE SUBJECT “GAMES PEOPLE PLAY” WILL WIN A FREE MIX CD! And if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s making mix CDs. I say so on my online dating profile, so it’s gotta be true (along with my height of 6’4”). My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. It doesn’t matter if we’ve never met, or if you live in Ouagadougou. And if you don’t have a CD player (because apparently people under the age of 29 don’t have CD players), you can steal an external disk drive from work and use it to burn the CD into MP3s and onto your iPhone (at least that’s what a friend of mine for whom I made a CD did recently).
If you do send me an email, please include:
1. The first concert you ever attended.
2. The most recent concert you attended.
3. The best concert you ever attended.
4. Your mailing address
Also, in the subject line, please include your spirit animal. If you want to be clever, you can do some kind of variation on the proposed theme. For example, you can say “Games Walruses Play” if your spirit animal is a walrus.
THERE IS ONE ADDITONAL RULE TO THIS GAME. If I have ever sent you a mix tape, CD, or playlist, then you are disqualified. Sorry! The game is call “Spread the Love,” not “Deposit More Love Where You’ve Already Put Some.” However, if I’ve ever made you a mix, that means you’re probably a dear friend of mine, and if you give me a call I’d love to catch up with you. I’m sure I miss you a ton.