E: So basically The Game is, once you know about The Game, you’re playing The Game and if you think about The Game, you lose The Game and that’s it.
E: So once you think about The Game, you lose The Game and then you say “I just lost The Game” and then everyone around you now hates you.
S: It’s beautiful in its simplicity.
Q: So.. you guys would learn about this from, like, your classmates?
E: Yeah, so someone would just be like “I just lost The Game” and then you would ask
S: (simultaneously with ‘E’) “What’s The Game?”
E: And they were like “you just lost The Game” and you kinda just pick it up.
I collected the following piece while hanging out with friends from the University of Southern California and we all began to share games from our childhood and school days. On the way back from practice, one of the informants (‘S’ in the exchange below) announced that she had just lost The Game, prompting ‘E’ to express disgruntlement and me to inquire after what ‘The Game’ was. I am ‘Q’ in the conversation, and there were three participants in the conversation, denoted by ‘E’, ‘S’, and ‘M’. For two of the informants, the time period in which they learned about The Game approximately matched up, with ‘M’ being in elementary school, ‘E’ being in middle school and ‘S’ being in high school. The informant denoted by ‘M’ also did say that he has seen The Game on the internet. It should be noted that all of the informants were in different locations when they learned of The Game, ‘M’ stated that he attended elementary in Okinawa on an American military base, ‘E’ attended middle school in California, and ‘S’ attended high school in Michigan. None of the informants seemed to know of the origin of The Game.
The Game is a particularly interesting piece of folklore in a number of ways. For starters, it is a purely psychological game where you have to avoid thinking about The Game in order not to lose The Game. That being said, there also seems to be no apparent method of winning, so some of the motivation to continue must derive from making others lose The Game instead. Also, there is really no physical evidence of The Game at all. Although there is digital evidence as referenced to by ‘M’ online, otherwise you would only learn about The Game if someone around you loses they game because they are technically supposed to announce it. The only clue to the origins of The Game would be that the staple saying, “I just lost The Game” is in English, but I am not sure if there are versions of this in other languages or if this game may have originated in another language before being translated for English speakers. The Game also very clearly dichotomizes the world into those who are playing The Game and those who are not. Furthermore, The Game is not restricted to a particular time and place. In fact, its spontaneous nature is what allows it to be passed along for so long. Also, because of its simplicity and the universality of human thought, The Game spreads easily across cultures as well, particularly on the internet where the space is incredibly global. Regardless of the fact that there seems to be no apparent motive or winning strategy to The Game besides not thinking about it (which is much harder than it sounds), people continue to play it. It may be because it is fun to introduce people to the game, or entertaining to see the people around you express disgruntlement when you made them lose, but it may be because it can serve as a reminder of the fact that our brains work between the subconscious and conscious in response to the world around us. Trying to figure out how thought works brings about the psychology questions of whether we can “un-think” something, and if we cannot, whether we can and how to avoid thinking about it.
Additional Informant Data:
The data for the informant denoted by ‘E’ is included above the item. The same data for the other two informants is included below:
‘S’ – Nationality: USA; Age; 26; Occupation: Ph.D. Student; Residence: Los Angeles, CA; Primary Language: English; Other Languages: Spanish, Portuguese, Hebrew
‘M’ – Nationality: USA; Age: 19; Occupation: University Student; Residence: Los Angeles, CA; Primary Language: English; Other Languages: Spanish, Mandarin