Published on 22 December 2019 in the Philippine STAR.
How well do you really know your friends and your loved ones? How in touch are you with yourself and your own feelings?
We live in strange times — never have the stories of our lives been more readily available for the perusal of others, friends and strangers alike. But at the same time, never have we been more isolated. Yes, social media allows us to share our lives with so many people, but mostly only on a surface level. What we put on the Internet is, to some extent, still just a performance. So rarely will you happen across real depth and true vulnerability. (It’s there, it’s just hard to find.) And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing — it’s wise, to be smart about what you allow the Internet to know about you. But sometimes, our real friends are relegated into the same categories. When social media becomes our primary form of communication, a lot of intimacy gets lost along the way.
Does the Internet make you feel lonely, too? Of the hundreds — or thousands — of people you follow on Instagram, how many do you feel you really know, and really know you in return? There is a yearning for deeper connections that is more common than any of us imagine. I know I feel it.
I consider myself fortunate, in that my friend group isn’t afraid of a ‘deep chat.’ In fact, we seek them out. We’re the kind of people who, at a party, will find a quiet corner in which to sit together and ask each other the kinds of questions you don’t really get asked very often in more casual conversation. “How are you, really?” “What has been your biggest regret in life?” “Are you who, or where, you thought you were going to be by now?” (This is exactly what we did at a pool party the other week. It was, perhaps, a little antisocial to break away from the main party to find some lounge chairs and talk to each other, but I think what we ended up doing was ultimately of more value than some forced superficial niceties over gin-based cocktails. We got to know each other better.)
It’s why we’ve all been so excited for a number of items that I ordered online recently — decks of cards, of all things. The mechanics of each are different, but their purpose is the same: to encourage openness, facilitate deeper conversations, and foster intimacy by gamifying it. One of my resolutions for the coming New Year is to make better connections and to build real relationships with the people in my life that go beyond a casual hello at the club. I said I didn’t want to play any more games with people in 2020, but for these games, I’ll make an exception.
We’re Not Really Strangers
I discovered the Instagram account @werenotreallystrangers through a few other friends who followed it. It’s been a favourite ever since, mostly because its posts say many things I feel I need to hear, or need to think more deeply about. Vulnerable statements that anyone who’s ever lived a little can relate to. In the course of following the account, I learned that its creator also produced a card game meant to encourage meaningful connections and ‘deepen your existing relationships and create new ones.’
We’re Not Really Strangers is optimised to be played by two individuals, but can be played by up to six. The card game has three levels. You draw a card, the other person answers. You can opt to answer the same question yourself in turn. There are clear ‘Dig Deeper’ cards that every player can use once per round to ‘encourage transparency if you feel your partner is holding back.’ Sounds simple enough. The depth is what you bring to it.
Level 1, Perception, which, with questions like “What was your first impression of me?” and “Do I look kind? Explain” is all about exploring initial impressions and challenging the assumptions we make about others, and others make about us in turn.
Level 2, Connection, goes deeper, and asks questions that help you get to know each other better, and explore your own emotions in the process. “Have you ever told someone ‘I love you’ but didn’t mean it? If so, why?” “What is a dream you’ve let go of?”
Level 3, Reflection, is about looking back on the previous two levels and the new connection you’ve hopefully made. It’s meant to explore any new understanding of each other that you and your partner might now have after allowing yourselves to be open and vulnerable with each other. “Do you believe everyone has a calling? If so, do you think I’ve found mine?” “Why do you think we met?”
And the final card involves a bit of writing — each player writes a brief note to the other, that can’t be opened until they have parted ways.
The game isn’t always in stock (it’s currently available for pre-order), and shipping to the Philippines is quite expensive, but if you can manage to ship it to a friend in the US or have it shipped home through services like MyShoppingBox, it’s well worth having on your coffee table for the next time you have friends over.
BestSelf Co. Discovery Decks
In a similar vein, but with no complicated game mechanics other than “pull a card and answer the question,” BestSelf Co.’s Discovery Decks are also meant to foster deeper communication or better understanding of yourself and of others.
I have the Icebreaker Deck, which is full of thoughtful questions that are intended to facilitate deeper discussions and encourage vulnerability, and some that will pull interesting life stories out of you so that whoever you’re playing with can get to know you a little better. The Intimacy Deck is more of the same, but geared towards couples. (Hope springs eternal — I purchased it thinking that I might use it someday, and until then, coupled up friends can borrow it. Though to be fair, a lot of the questions in there can be answered by platonic friends as well.) I also picked up the Wordsmith Deck, which is full of writing prompts, for those who want to write or journal more but don’t quite know where to begin. A handy tool if you’ve ever been stuck with Writer’s Block. I certainly have.
Each deck comes with 150 cards.
US$24.99 each, bestself.co
‘A Game of Horny Ghosts & Vanishing Clothes,’ Happy Ending is probably not a game for the faint of heart or the particularly conservative, but it will definitely be good fun for couples and consenting adults. It’s the brainchild of Birdie Salva; his first foray into game design, with art and illustrations by visual artist and graphic designer darlingkink. The challenge was to create a fun, social game that explores sensuality, intimacy, and sexual tension in a safe environment.
There’s no actual — ahem — happy ending in the game, and while taking articles of clothing off is part of the game mechanics, that can easily be swapped out with taking shots of alcohol instead. The game is collaborative — two to six players work together, and win the game by completing three Revelation Cards, three Desire Cards, and one Climax Card per player.
The Revelations Phase is all about telling personal stories or answering questions. Much like the previous card games listed here, it’s actually a great vehicle for encouraging more open conversation between yourself and your partner about more intimate subjects. If anything, it can certainly help you both be better partners to each other, if you answer honestly. It’s also a pretty fun way to get to know your friends better, if you choose to play the game with friends. (Let’s not pretend we haven’t already had these conversations with our close friends. Have you been to a Girls’ Night In? The things women discuss when there are no guys present…you have no idea.)
The Desires Phase gets a little more physical, but can definitely take a turn for the hilarious. Some cards, for instance, ask you to do things like “Take turns striking an erotic pose, then vote on who performed the sexiest one,” or “Choose a person who must crawl and beg for a body rub like a cat.” Some cards are a little more straightforwardly sensual, but since this game is all about consent, there is a NOPE card on the table at all times that anyone can use to opt out — with some consequences.
There is a die that gets rolled after each card is performed, and a marker that goes up an Attraction Meter corresponding to the number. Every time your marker makes it to the top, you either take an article of clothing off, or take a shot.
And finally, the Climax Phase is the happy ending of Happy Ending. Once every player performs one of them, the game is over.
A suggestion: If you have any friends getting married anytime soon, pop this game into the gift box along with the cheese knives.
18+ — US$32, happyendinggame.com
To be honest, while I’ve definitely sat for divinatory tarot readings before, I personally have always used tarot cards as a tool for self-exploration. I don’t believe that they can tell me the future. But I do believe that the way I interpret them tells me much more than I realise about myself, and the way I feel about or see a situation.
For me, tarot cards have always been tools for storytelling, and the story I tell with them is my own (since I haven’t read for anyone else in years). Each of the 78 cards has a meaning or interpretation behind it, and when I do readings, I look for the interpretations that resonate most with me. They always end up illuminating feelings I’ve kept hidden or end up helping me understand the hard situations I am dealing with. Yes, Three of Swords, I do feel absolutely heartbroken. The Tower — something has fallen apart; there has been a sudden but necessary upheaval in my life. And Death means change is coming; one thing has ended to pave the way for the birth of something new.
I received my first deck (a Celtic deck) as a Christmas gift from my friends in high school. My next two — the traditional Rider-Waite, and a DC Vertigo deck — I purchased myself. And my fourth and latest deck, Dalí’s stunning Surrealist Tarot, was something I just had to own when I saw it. Originally commissioned for the James Bond film Live and Let Die, Salvador Dalí’s deck was released in 1984, and has just been re-released again. The perfect gift for the Woo-Woo Tita With Taste in your life.
I’m telling you. It’s all in the cards.