Life is full of games. Social games. Conversational games.

It turns out, I’m rather shit at understanding the rules of social games.

I am, I think, an awkward person to talk to most of the time.

One of the key foundations here at the Gaulier “clown/acting school” is that games are everywhere. We spend a lot of our time literally playing games in the classes. Grandmother’s footsteps, Samuel (no, not Simon) Says, Wall-Ball, and many more.

A key to doing well here is to find games that you enjoy playing on stage…

You’re not “acting the part” of a priest, for example, in a serious Stanislavsky style. You’re “playing the game” of being a priest. Or even playing the game of being a priest in the style of a horny chicken, while your legs are tied up.

If you can have fun playing these games as a solo performer and (in group scenes) as a group, you can do well.

In class, I can sometimes find games I enjoy. As can most people. Some find it easier than others.

But the “rules of the game” are fairly clear in class. And you know for sure that you are playing games.

The challenge for me is that people play games all the time in normal social conversations.

Games in normal social conversations have unclear rules. Which, for me, turns out to be quite difficult. It’s also unclear in a social conversation whether someone is actually playing a game or if they are having a serious conversation.

This past week, I have realised that, for example, I’m bad at picking up sarcasm. I tend to take what people say to me literally (unless I am aware they are playing a game).

I am an almost compulsively honest person. This can be quite a good thing, on balance (though it does mean people have said I lack tact). It usually doesn’t occur to me that people are kidding around or saying something they don’t really mean.

But many games are based on saying or doing things that you don’t really mean.

Growing up, I never had groups of friends where people made fun of each other in a playful way, for example. My friends have been honest and open, but we didn’t have the joking dynamic that many friend groups have.

When I am in such situations, it makes me kind of anxious. Because I’m not sure how to “play the game.” And I am afraid that I will “make a mistake” in those situations.

Games in conversations can involve:
— Sarcasm and making fun of each other.
— Playing and expanding on an idea to make it ridiculous.
— Adding to someone else’s story with your own story.
— Asking “off piste” questions that steer the conversation into more fun avenues.
— Repeating “odd” behaviours to find fun elements of it (we had a group social interaction the other day, for example, which involved exploring different ways to put your hand in the pocket of someone else’s shirt or dungarees – which is about as far away from a “standard conversation” as you could get, and not recommended as your first attempt at interacting with your new partner’s grandmother)

These and many other games are confusing for me.

I appreciate them. But I feel shy to engage with them.

They can be fun, but they are also a minefield for someone like me with social anxiety and probable “Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria” – where my brain takes any tiny sign I might have “made a mistake” in a social interaction and quickly spirals it into the worst case (that people don’t like me).

As a result, I often fall back to “safe” conversations. Which are fine sometimes.

But they bore me just as much as they might bore the other person. Because I like to talk about deep topics and, yes, play conversational games… but only when I am comfortable with the people and I am clear on the “rules” of the games.

Or I try to play the game. I fail. Then, as a defense strategy, I retreat back into my own brain and (my brain tells me) make me look like one of those “odd lurking weirdos” who just sort of hangs around conversations but doesn’t get involved.

On Friday, we did an exercise in class where a group of people had to play playground-style games (duck duck goose, leapfrog, etc). They had to change the game often, with different people proposing each game.

One member of the group was “the outcast.” They had to try to get involved in the group’s games but always be pushed out or ignored by the others.

The idea of the exercise was to connect with the audience who was watching, so we connect with that outcast and their struggle.

I didn’t get up to play the exercise, but I probably should have. Because this felt very close to home for me. It’s exactly how I feel when a group of people around me are having a conversation or group interaction. And I want to get involved and contribute… but I make mistakes and I get afraid to contribute because I fear rejection.

Life at Gauiler is very interesting.

I was mulling over this fact as I struggled to get to sleep last night.

Because it’s not just about making you a better performer. It’s also about making you a better person.

Not only do I want to become better at being a Bouffon performer, which is the module we are doing right now. I also have to become better at engaging in such social games…

Because I do enjoy playing them…

I would like to be good at playing social games…

I just don’t have the skills to do it…


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