“Telephone” with a twist

Photo by Cameron LeeCourtesy of my niece and her husband, we’ve stumbled into a great party game, which livened up our Christmas and New Year’s Eve festivities.  And believe it or not, there’s even a life lesson to be taken from it.

Remember the old game of “telephone,” where people stood in a line and whispered a secret phrase to each other, one by one, to see how far the final result would stray from the original?  Toss a bit of Pictionary into the mix, and you’ve got the idea behind Telestrations.

Players sit in a circle.  Each begins with his/her own card full of words, and a dry-erase flip-book and marker.  Players have one minute to draw a word or phrase from their card without using letters or numbers.  The flip-books are then passed to the next player in the circle, who guesses the phrase from the drawing alone.  The books are passed again, and the next player draws what the previous player has written.  So it goes, around the circle: draw, pass, guess, pass, draw.  When the round is over, points are awarded for correct guesses and the drawings that prompted them.

Sometimes the final guess matches the original word perfectly–but often the communication goes hilariously awry.  “Braid” eventually turned into “table for two,” passing ingloriously through “toilet paper.”  The vast state of “Alaska” shrunk to “French poodle.”  A “sea lion” found its way to a “sinking lighthouse,” and a perfectly decent “grizzly bear” degenerated by stages until someone wrote “measure the large pig.”

Along the way, of course, some players staunchly defended their drawings and guesses, or wondered loudly what others were thinking, or admitted that they had no clue how to draw a word like “gypsy” in one minute (not that ten minutes would have helped that much).

As I watch the frivolity, I can’t help thinking: Isn’t that just the way communication goes sometimes?

We pass on something whose meaning seems perfectly obvious to us.  But we don’t know on what part of our words and images the next person will focus, or how he or she will automatically fill in the gaps in the story.  Embellishments are added, sometimes without the conscious intent to do so.  By the time it gets back to us, we’re flummoxed that someone who supposedly knows us could possibly have thought we meant that.  Or, more painfully, we’re shocked at how quickly a tiny bit of gossip has morphed and grown into something we never intended.

It can be incredibly funny when it happens in a game.  Not so much in real life.

How we say what we say matters.  If we really want the other person to understand, it won’t do to take the successful passing of the message for granted.  Saying the first thing that comes to mind may not get the job done.  If the goal is real understanding, we need to take the time to be more thoughtful and intentional about our communication.

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Update, 12/28/14: Be careful — I still love the game, but I’ve ruined two pairs of pants now playing it.  Be forewarned that dry-erase marker will NOT come out of fabric…not with stain remover, alcohol, hair spray, Murphy’s Oil Soap…