Does anyone else remember the Ungame? You know, the game where there’s no winner or loser, where you talk, share, and voluntarily visit places like the Complaint Campground. If you look at the box top of this “game”, it appears to be bringing families together, breaking down barriers, and fostering real communication between people.
I won’t go so far as to say this is blatant false advertising, but that’s not at all how it played out in my family.
I remember the day my mom brought the game home. It was in a plastic bag, the tell-tale sign of something new, something not picked up at a garage sale, like almost everything in our house. I hovered over it, waiting for my mom to say it was ok to look inside the bag. Then my sister stomped into the room, roughly grabbed at it, sending the plastic bag into the air. I watched my sister’s face contort into a look of confusion as she stared at the game box. The bag gently floated to the floor, logo side up. This was no Toys R Us bag, it was from the Christian bookstore.
My mind switched into action. Run! It told me. Feign illness, faint, go blind, anything! Before I could act, my sister threw the game back onto the table and bolted. Damn my slow, clunky reflexes. I was left in the kitchen with my mom and the game that smacked of religious education. I did my time every Sunday in the church pew, wasn’t that enough?
She picked up the box and explained it was a really fun game, and the best part was that there was no winner or loser so there would be no hurt feelings!
Ok, first of all, if you have to explain that the game is really fun, when you’ve never actually played it, this is a red flag. Also, trying to justify the game’s presence in our home by saying there would be no hurt feelings is pathetic. There were always hurt feelings, namely my sister Sheryl’s. I’m just going to say it, she was a menace.
Everything had to be going perfectly according to Sheryl’s plan or there would be hurt feelings. If she had hurt feelings, it meant she would inflict physical harm on me. It’s just how it worked. Like an algebra equation, there had to be balance — her day at school stunk = punches for Rachael. So promise on, mom, but I wasn’t buying it. Plus, let’s get back to the fact that it came from the Christian bookstore. Nothing fun ever came from that place!
We waited until Saturday to play the game as a family. It was disastrous.
The Ungame appeared to be like any other board game, with different colored pieces that moved around a board. Every few spaces of the path on the board, which connected in an unending loop, encouraged you to pick a card. The cards were prompts to get the players “communicating”. To my surprise, they were actually meaningful, for example, “Tell about a time someone hurt you.” or “Describe your perfect day.”
Because the game is free-form, and there is no winning, a player can opt out. Just skip the cards all together and go hang out on Solitude Island for some serious self-reflection. That’s what my dad did, then promptly fell asleep. He was the only one who could see where this was going. Not me. I actually believed the hype (from the inside cover of the box) about this game.
I was ready to share my feelings! I was actually getting pumped to have a forum to express my long held, secret thoughts. Even though it was just a board game, finally, someone was asking how I felt. Oh, naive child.
Sheryl took the first turn. Her card asked her to talk about her favorite actress. She said it was Claudette Colbert. When my mom asked her to elaborate, my sister reminded her that there was no talking aloud during another person’s turn. My mom conceded. Nothing more was said about Claudette Colbert, probably because my sister had never actually seen any of her movies. She heard the name somewhere and in an attempt to sound sophisticated, said that name.
My mom talked about a time she was scared when she was little. We had all heard the story before, but it was one of our favorites. As I said before my dad was meditating on an island. It was all going ok, until I got the prompt I alluded to above, “Tell about a time someone hurt you.” The only way I can explain what I said next, is the game had created some kind of reassuring bubble around me, suspending reality and emboldening me to <shudder> be honest.
I got these words out of my mouth before the full force of my sister’s fists met with my face. “When Sheryl and I got matching diaries last Christmas, and she used her key to open mine and read…” Whap! I didn’t cry, I was already eleven, and had endured years of Sheryl’s pummeling. Like a seasoned boxer (who never fought back) I was beyond pain. She stormed off, never to play the Ungame again. My dad never played again either, openly admitting he’d slept through most of it, and that never happened with other games (except Monopoly and Risk).
So it came down to just me and my mom. We played the game together every once in awhile, the two shy, reluctant people in the house. The two who needed to be heard. We read the prompts, we answered them, but I don’t think we were ever really listening to each other, instead we were imagining our own answers. Neither of us minded, in fact, it was better to not have the other person listening.
All we needed was for someone to witness our words.
Decades later I wonder if The Ungame taught me anything useful about communication. I can’t say all of these ideas sprouted from playing the game, but at least three or four did:
Keeping quiet was safer than talking
There are consequences to being honest
People need to be heard (see my post on Listening).
It’s difficult to be an effective communicator
What I say about you is a reflection of me and vice versa
Voice my thoughts carefully, mindfully, because even when people want the truth, it doesn’t have to be callously delivered
No one has the right to know what I think or feel, I’ll share if I want
Never ridicule what someone shares in good faith