Instructions For Good Clean Fun This Christmas

Photo: Universal/Everett/REX/Shutterstock
Last month I went to a wedding in Spain, because I’m friends with cosmopolitan people. While there, we did all the usual stuff (speeches, getting so drunk over dinner that you can’t manage dessert) but something else started happening, too. As with most parties I now go to, it became a festival of spontaneous games.

Case in point: I walked by a girl using a mop to show someone how double-jointed she was and, when I returned (from the bar, like a legend), there were 15 people clapping and yelling at two wedding guests trying to get said mop around their bodies without taking their hands off it. The girl, obviously, was refereeing.

We didn’t know this girl, or most of the players, but there’s nothing like a quick round of “Can you get the mop around yourself” to make you bond with strangers. Same with the spontaneous time-trialled hula hooping, hours later. And I met a cool guy during a round of “Let's line up the inflatables and whoever gets to the other end of the pool without getting wet wins” (there was a pool, because I’m friends with rich people).

It wasn't just that wedding, though. I’ve been invited to three murder mystery parties this year, and me and my uni friends rarely see each other when not dressed as 1920s gangsters for biannual evenings of Mafia (google it).

While there’s not much in the way of spontaneous game research other than my own experience, there are signs. Firstly, sales of board games have increased year-on-year over the last decade or so. Secondly, there are board game restaurants cropping up across the UK, from Draughts in east London to The Crown in Hastings and Ludo Lounge in Bournemouth. So much more fun than yelling at each other across a packed gastropub. And talking of fancy pubs, it’s no longer the odd one that stocks board games on a Sunday; they’re all at it. Complete with couples Monopoly-ing their weekend tensions away.
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There’s nothing like a quick round of “Can you get the mop around yourself” to make you bond with strangers


Maybe it's because playing board games is a stress reliever. “When playing, you just need to focus on the activity and, because it needs concentration, it grabs your attention and stops you worrying about other stuff,” says Dr. Sue Firth, business psychologist and expert in stressors. “You get a break from troubles and that releases the tension you hold in the muscles – it helps get rid of build-up of the stress chemicals adrenaline and cortisol.” This is more than can be said for getting trashed (alcohol and hangovers = more stress) or going to the cinema (okay not strictly scientific, but 80% of the films out at the moment are rubbish, and this stresses me out).

It’s telling, too, that the rise in popularity of board games almost exactly matches the advent of the smartphone. As we’ve become more zonked on pixels, we’ve gotten more into IRL fun to counterbalance the fact that, on average, we spend nine hours a day staring at a screen. This counteracting behaviour runs deep; studies have shown that if you give a millennial some cash, we’ll spend it on an experience rather than a load of stuff, so desperate are we to live and feel things outside of our newsfeed.

At one point, you could go for a drink with a mate and it would alleviate the eight hours you’d just spent staring at your computer. But now, "going for a drink" usually turns into "trying to ignore your phone as it buzzes 17 times in your pocket". Which is why a good game of Mafia (seriously, google it) or Chinese Whisper Charades (ditto) makes you feel like you’re actually connecting to another human, bypassing shit small talk that, thanks to our phones, we’re becoming crapper at anyway.

Yes, tentative studies have found that the more buzzed off our tits we are on screen-chatting (Facebook message, texting, iMessage, WhatsApp, etc.), the shittier we are at actual mouth-talking, which makes sense, because it’s much easier to sound cool on a WhatsApp group than in a bar, through your face.

It’s a social anxiety that didn’t exist in quite the same way before an emoji of a poo was a viable response to a question. And it may be a first-world problem, but I’d quite like a bit of help when thrown into a social situation after five consecutive days of writing alone in a café for nine hours at a time, iMessage my only form of communication (Hey guys, I’m currently writing this in a café...).

Thankfully, according to Dr. Jessamy Hibberd, clinical psychologist and author, playing a game bridges the gap between screens and IRL mouth-talking, with which we all struggle sometimes. “There are different levels of communication. The first level is talking about things like weather, sport, news. It's superficial, but useful, as it gives us a simple way to speak to new people and test out if we want to speak more, or a way to fill a silence – so a game is a great way to do this. Everyone is involved in the same thing and you can easily talk about what's going on,” she says. “The next level is talking about plans, facts and non-controversial beliefs. It's not until the next level that we show more of ourselves and our emotions, which involves trust, intimacy and at the higher levels we are more transparent and give the person more of ourselves. At a dinner party, it's normally the lower levels you're operating at and a game is a simple way to facilitate this. Oh, and it’s good fun!”

So what are you waiting for? Switch your phone off, kick that social anxiety into the sun and play a game. Everyone loves a game. To start you off, I put out a Facebook status asking which games my mates were into and got an absolute deluge of fun. Below are some of my favourites…

Situations

“One person leaves the room and the others agree on a situation for when they get back in. That person has to guess what it is. A particular favourite example is ‘Standing on that green rug is a social faux pas’.”

The cereal box game

“Everyone has to pick up the cereal box using their teeth, with only their feet touching the floor. When everyone has done it successfully, you tear another layer off the cereal box. If you can’t do it, you’re out. Keep going until you have a winner/ someone is rushed to A&E.”

The corridor game

“You line a corridor with pillows and cushions and have a ‘Gladiator’ in there also armed with a pillow, and the contestants have to get past the Gladiator to the finish line in the quickest time. It's incredible.”

The balloon game


“Everyone has a balloon on their foot and goes about their night. They have 30 minutes until they can start popping other people's balloons. Some people forget and some set timers. Then it's the last balloon man standing who wins. It gets mental.”

The hat game

“Everyone writes the names of famous people (real or fictional) on pieces of paper, which are folded and added to the hat. Two teams take it in turns to nominate a member to describe as many people as they can to the rest of their team in one minute. The hat passes between teams until all the people have been guessed. Then the people all go back in the hat for the next round, which is anything goes, but you can't say their name. Second round you can only use gestures (like charades). Third round, you can only use one word. Fourth round is just using facial expressions. Fifth round is where you specify a topic then you have to speak about that topic as whoever you pull out of the hat.”

The wedding game

“One weekend away we just decided to pretend we were attending a wedding of a (non) couple. There was a best man's speech and father of the bride. I don't know what was in the wine.”
Photo: Universal/Everett/REX/Shutterstock
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