Like millions of good Americans, I spent part of the holidays playing a parlor game. It’s meant different things over the centuries, but for the purpose of this post, I’m designating as a “parlor game” that species of organized leisure activities more “creative” and often more interactive than a board game—that have likely shed their cumbersome “board” altogether—but which nonetheless requires rules to be read, and of course hardware to be purchased.

There are many to choose from: the old stand-by, Trivial Pursuit, the “open-minded yuppie” bestseller, Pictionary, the geeky tech-boom darling Cranium, and a host of newer spinoffs. What we played was Taboo. In Taboo, you have a set amount of time (I think two minutes?) to make your teammate guess a word appearing at the top of a card. You are given a list of five or six “taboo” words/phrases you may not use in your attempt. Like all such parlor games, it’s frustrating, slightly annoying, quite fun, and of course most importantly, gives people suffering from minor panic attacks and cabin fever something to do.

But let’s face it. It beats around the bush. So a month or so later, with a clear head, I share with you my idea for a parlor game that cuts through to what parlor games are really all about. The name? Conversation. I haven’t ironed out all the details yet, but here’s roughly how it would be played:

  1. Cards would be distributed among the players, on them a variety of sentences carefully constructed to be broadly applicable yet specific enough to alter the direction of game play.
  2. A randomly selected player would begin, and whoever has on their card a sentence that “naturally” carries the Conversation may say it, and receives a point.
  3. All players must contribute at least once to each Conversation, or they have to sit out the next round, and perhaps make everyone cookies.

It’s pretty straightforward, no? Of course, like all good games, its success will rely as much on the content of the game cards as it does on the idea itself. And I haven’t figured out the point system completely, but I’m thinking that points will be deducted for conversational missteps such as non-sequiturs, gaffes, and other inappropriate remarks.

But what I really like about the idea is its honesty. I can already envision the TV spot: “Too tired to have your own conversation? Have one of ours!” And I think it would be ripe for more specialized versions: “Kids finally gone to bed? How about a game of Adult Conversation!” Or, for advanced players who want subjects both complex and emotionally volatile: “Break it off with the loved one, with Difficult Conversation!



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SHYA SCANLON is the Fiction Reviews Editor for The Nervous Breakdown. Scanlon's work has appeared in the Mississippi Review, Literary Review, New York Quarterly, Guernica Magazine, Opium Magazine, and others. His book of prose poetry, In This Alone Impulse, was published by Noemi Press in January, 2010. In 2009, his novel Forecast was serialized online across 42 journals and literary blogs as part of the Forecast 42 Project. Forecast will be published by Flatmancrooked in December, 2010. He received his MFA from Brown University, where he was awarded the John Hawkes Prize in Fiction. Please visit him at www.shyascanlon.com.

7 responses to “Let’s play Conversation!”

  1. Erin says:

    Nah, would never work.

  2. Phat B says:

    My favorite part of playing Taboo is picking up the buzzer and pretending it’s an electric razor. Comedy dynamite!

  3. “Taboo” is awesome… I love that game. Of course, it always gets ruined when, for example, the word is “orange” and the taboo words are “fruit” “colour” “juice” etc, and someone just says, “It rhymes with ‘borange.'”

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