Parlour games: better than talking?

There’s this game we have. I can’t arrange it into something a search engine recognises but I’m sure it isn’t original. We call it ‘sexcapades’, a name that necessitates a well-rehearsed follow up paragraph, so here it is:

You write down a series of things on scraps of paper. These things can be anything – people, places, concepts, a turn of phrase, a texture of emotion, a ‘that feeling when’ – then put said scraps into a vessel of some sort.

Everyone playing does this, slowly, then arranges themselves into a loose circle. One person picks two of the scraps out at random, then asks the person to their left which of the concepts they would rather sleep with.

“A version of Drake that isn’t talented, just cocky” or “angry fish”? “A clean set of sheets” or “John Campbell, 10/10 oral sex experience”? “Hot person who whispers encouragement to self with every thrust” or “Rihanna with the voice and personality of Paul Henry”?

The losing scrap gets tossed, the winning one stays in the vessel, and the person who made the choice asks the person to their left. Eventually, you’re left with a single scrap of paper that outfucked the best of em.

It is key that new players understand that the only laws to obey are moral, not physical, or they will write boring things like “George Clooney” and “John Key”. It’s the height of bad manners to put anyone else in the room in as an option, but putting yourself in is funny enough to get away with.

Like all parlour games, it is essentially an alibi – a structured conversation to use in place of that messy business of unplanned talking. Anything latent in your interaction with another person is still there, both more present (you have to talk talk) and more repressed (but not about that). For a gathering of people just too large to be intimate, it’s the perfect refuge from a lull. It provides something to talk about, a way to talk about it, and an easily magnified sense of competition, along with plenty of drinking time.

It’s also a chance to show off, to illustrate your depth, your well controlled depravity, and your knowledge of contemporary gossip. I spent a long time constructing BDSM scenarios concerning contemporary politicians simply because I found writing “They dom.” as a closer hilarious. A friend once filled the vessel entirely with types of cleanliness that exist mostly within Instagram tags and our collective aesthetic dreams, all crisp linens and evenly distributed warmth.

I’m always glad when other people excitedly propose playing parlour games because it suggests that they too find the prospect of a conversation without rules uncomfortable, if only occasionally. Multiperson conversations without a purpose or defined subject are rewarding but rather hard at times, and when its your flat that everyone else has made the effort to travel to you want to keep conversational difficulty to a minimum. Instead, you play with the dinner party’host’ character, alluding to midcentury semiotics with antiquated phrases like ‘parlour games’. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen a parlour.

Sexcapades’ populartity comes in waves; the current one has crested. It’s something of a crutch, a way to replicate immaturity in an agreed upon context. It’ll go soon, but we’ll probably find some new way to formulate social interaction. The alternative just isn’t worth thinking about.