written near the end of my first month of freedom from smoking and originally posted on december 16, 2001, this describes an antisocial game i played with my boss's boss at a christmas party.

the conversation game

2009 January 15

during a recent email exchange with a friend, something prompted me to remember what i call "the conversation game"; have you ever played?

the other day, we had a party at work, and although i’d rather set my hair on fire than spend a minute more than i absolutely have to with some of the people who i knew would be there, i knew there’d be some people there that i would enjoy seeing...

the rules are pretty simple:

first, you need an opponent. this could be anyone you know, or anyone you might be introduced to at a business or social function, or even a total stranger you meet on a plane or the subway.

next, you pretend to engage your opponent in conversation (in other words, you say things to them and they say things to you, usually alternating between you talking and them talking). a word of warning: since it's considered very bad form to explicitly state that you're playing the conversation game (as opposed to simply having a conversation), there's no real way of knowing if your opponent is also playing; this can get tricky...

the object of the conversation game is to appear to be listening intently to what your opponent is saying (as if you were actually interested in them, or at least in what they're talking about) when what you're actually doing is planning what you're going to say next; the fewer words it takes you to get from wherever they left off to whatever it is that you've been planning on saying, the more points you get.

you also get bonus points if you can get all the way to the end of the game without your opponent realizing that you've been playing the conversation game rather than holding an actual conversation with them. (of course, you have to remember that an expert player can make you believe that they've really been engaged in a conversation with you when the whole time they've actually been playing the game; as i said, it can get tricky...)

i don't know when i first realized that there were people around who play the conversation game all the time, but i do know it was a long time before it ever occurred to me that i was one of them...

that was pretty traumatic; when i realized that i could be just as rude and inconsiderate and self-centered as all those other people that i'd observed playing the game, i set out to stop myself from playing any more. and i think that, to a large extent, i've been successful (although i'd be lying if i said i never catch myself doing it any more).

which (finally) brings me to the point: the other day, we had a party at work (one of many around the holidays), and although i'd rather set my hair on fire than spend a minute more than i absolutely have to with some of the people who i knew would be there, i knew there'd be some people there that i would enjoy seeing (and besides, it's kind of a "command performance"; this party is hosted by senior management, and non-attendance is frowned upon...).

our director is one of the grand masters of the conversation game; she's a manipulative, lying megalomaniac who absolutely refuses to hear anything but, "Kim! What a brilliant idea!" and other statements along that line; her assistant directors are notorious "yes-men" (and "yes-women"). what makes these qualities even more annoying than they might otherwise be is that she's almost totally incompetent, and is protected from scrutiny by any higher-ups by her boss (but that's another story)...

at any rate, not long after i arrived at the party, i was delighted to run into Susan (who i hadn't seen in some time), and we settled in for a long "catching-up" session. unfortunately, not long after that, Kim approached, insinuated herself between us, and started playing the game. since Susan doesn't work for our office (and therefore has no incentive to spend any time playing the game with Kim), she quickly excused herself, leaving me and Kim alone together...

i don't know what possessed me, but i decided i would try to make the most of the situation, and thought that the best way to do that would be to play the conversation game with Kim; i would try to make as many references as i possibly could to the fact that i had not had a cigarette for 25 days, how much i was enjoying not smoking, and how determined i was that this would be the last time i'd ever have to quit, without tipping her to the fact that i was playing the game, too...

it turned into an epic battle; she's very good - not only at the game in general, but in the intricate art of the conversational non-sequitir - and, as i generally find the game distasteful (much preferring actual conversation) and am very badly out of practice, there were some moments when it looked like i wouldn't be able to hold my own...

in the end, i guess you'd have to call it a draw (although i really felt that i edged her out, purely on style points, i'm sure that she felt that she won by virtue of her incredibly obstinate personality...).

i was later approached by some of my co-workers who wanted to know how i could possibly have spent an entire hour talking to Kim, and why i'd want to. i pretended that i had no idea; it was just "one of those things" - but i'm not so sure that they bought the story; my dislike for Kim is well-known, almost legendary in our department - but i stood my ground. because, win, lose or draw, after all is said and done, i'm not really all that proud to have been able to compete at her level in the conversation game...

kevin - day 27

2 responses leave one →
  1. 2003 March 5
    John Kellden permalink

    Brilliant !

  2. 2009 January 15

    note: the comment above was left on the original tale at the date and time indicated.

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