Let’s Fix the World! A 21st Century Parlour Game

Here’s a game that’s become popular among those of my acquaintance in recent years.

“Let’s do something to fix the world!” requires 3 or more players. Otherwise it risks descending into “Two boring gits mouthing off in the pub.” 20-30 folk make for a really good game.

The players are gathered out of business hours in a conference suite of a leading company or a government department. In the foyer, they are given mineral water, orange juice (occasionally cranberry), tea and coffee. Sometimes there are peanuts and kettle crisps. Gamesmasters who introduce alcohol at this stage are asking for trouble. The players are left to mingle. Most huddle in corners with their old pals. One or two, not knowing the etiquette, pursue other players around the room trying to press business cards into their hands while describing their highly valuable services.

After this warm-up period, the players are led into a meeting room which may contain tables and chairs arranged cabaret style or just chairs randomly scattered or, in the Owen variation, there may be little or no furniture at all.

The gamesmaster/mistress announces the theme for the evening, the “Big Question of the Night” or BQN (once hilariously, but mistakenly referred to as “the bacon” – ie “If we can please just get back to the bacon”). If any mild excitement has already emerged s/he will dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd by reading the contents of a long and detailed Powerpoint presentation. The theme is usually a confusingly worded question. Those devising the BQN should ensure that it covers a very wide subject area – it needs to be BIG, man, really BIIIIG. Squash out any specificity and introduce as much ambiguity in the question as possible. To add spice you may wish to declare that supposedly well-defined and well-understood terms are up for re-definition in this context.

Players are now grouped by a method of the gamesmasters choice, though “Boys v Girls” and distinctions based on social class or ethnic background are generally frowned upon in today’s politically correct dystopia. Don’t worry, the socially capable can get on with anyone and those who look a bit lost can be shepherded up into a “Nerds” group.

Now the “conversation” starts. There are a number of recognised opening gambits: “There’s nothing new under the sun”, “We must firmly lay the blame at the feet of the last government”, “I’m alright, Jack” etc. are played as a dummy to make sure that any new players don’t have a clue about what’s really going on. Then the real play starts. Players take it in turns to offer their solution to the BQN.

You may find the following observations on play to be useful:

1. If you are there to sell a commercial service that might at a stretch be a solution to the BQN, you must not refer to that service by name, nor may you reveal (except in a whispered aside to a trusted co-player) to the group this happy coincidence.

2. If you know or suspect that a co-player is trying to sell such a service, it’s considered bad form to declare this outright. However, you might make some knowing remark which makes your co-player blanch while the rest of the team remain unaware.

3. Wherever possible your contributions should refer to solutions that stress certainty, incentivisation, efficiency, driving out redundancy and duplication and the well-known fact that all human-based systems tend toward equillibrium. Phrases such as “it’s human nature”, “survival of the fittest”, “no pain, no gain” are all splendid signs that the game is going well.

4. Points are available for telling a story you once read in a book. With a bonus if you manage to get the title of the book and the name of the author completely wrong. Extra bonus if you actually heard the author speak but still get her name wrong.

5. Points are sometimes awarded for inventive use of diversionary tactics such as arguing definitions, restating the important differences between the public and private sectors, drawing pyramid-shaped diagrams on the back of a napkin. However, most conoisseurs will recognise these as the hallmark of the newcomer or amateur.

6. At the discretion of the gamesmaster, a “plenary” session may follow where those players with inflated egos get to repeat everything they said and ignore what the rest of their group offered. If these people are particularly self-important, you may wish to provide “scribes” to make a glowing record of their wise words on flipchart paper. Then it’s off down the pub.

Disciplinary notes:
1. People who try to point out that this is just a stupid game that we play and it never gets us anywhere except salving our consciences, and it’s always the same old faces and god, what are we doing here? may be pronounced “A Bore” and sent to the corner to think about their wicked ways (mostly though they are simply ignored).

2. Anyone trying to start a real human conversation based on individual, personal experience, that isn’t about selling anything, or making people look wrong, or making ourselves look good is given one chance to try again and a withering look of pity. If they start up again they will be escorted from the premises immediately.

The winner is anyone with a vested interest in their little bit of the world staying exactly the same as it is, thank you very much.

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5 thoughts on “Let’s Fix the World! A 21st Century Parlour Game”

  1. You’ve just described 80% of partnership working – people sitting round a table waiting for the point where they get to do the thing they always did before, but preferably using money from someone elses budget.

  2. I don’t mind these kinds of games but the “I want to tell people how awesome I am” tactic shits me a bit. Can we just start from the default position that everyone is equally awesome?

    1. Yes, as long as everyone knows it’s a game. I think I’m most peeved that people think it’s something else… but then I guess it depends on what you think of playing games :)

      Remembering equality of awesomeness is a daily practice.

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