Authentic Relating Games & Bonding Non-Verbally Through Different Mediums
The more that technology expands into every nook and cranny of human experience, the more the oft-toted notion that our new “methods” for socializing are crippling our humanity. Surely, you’ve met someone who has deleted Facebook and reported a relief of pressure. Certainly, you’ve at some point contemplated the differences in text communication vs. talking over the phone. No doubt you’ve heard someone cynically groan that youngins are losing their ability to communicate like “real” (non-tech exploiting) people. Perhaps you’ve stumbled across scholarly figures like Sherry Turkle that have juxtaposed extra connectivity of technology with lessened connectivity, even
I’m not one of those people. I often reference Uncle Ben’s famous belief that “with great power comes great responsibility”, and all of our phenomenal tools provide us with both the opportunity for growth and abuse. I embrace technology and the different means it can provide to us to interact and bond with one another in new, unique ways.
With all that said, I won’t deny the fact that it’s easy to abuse our incredible tools. So easy, in fact, that sometimes it feels completely necessary to take a step back and consider what it means to relate to another person through text, over Skype, when playing an online game of Halo together. What does it mean to hang out, to shoot the shit, or have a deep, value-focused conversation with another person? What’s the difference in how we relate to one another when we’re mingling over a company picnic, how we celebrate a birthday boy, or how we communicate lying naked engaging in pillow talk. The landscape of how we relate and bond with other human beings is vast.
Consider what it means to relate to another person through text, over Skype, when playing an online game of Halo together.
Authentically Relating to Your Fellow Homie
Let’s say, however, you want to increase your capacity to relate to others in a variety of ways? Spotlight on a new culture I very recently discovered, called Authentic Relating Games. Even in name, the concept evokes a goal –– find a fun way to relate to others in more authentic ways than one may be accustomed to.
When my friend invited me to an Authentic Relating Games (ARG) event via Facebook, it took me probably 6 invites before I opted to actually get my ass out there. In the first week of February 2017, my ass was motivated.
When I arrived at the event, I chatted with some folks about the culture and how ARG came to be. I found out that it was a movement spawning in San Francisco, moved to Boulder CO, and then made its way to Seattle and Portland.
As Drew (my incredibly intentional and consistently authentic friend) lead the 20-person group through the initial briefing, there was a warmth and attention that palpated throughout the room. Observationally, it appeared that everyone’s physical body was matched by seemingly present mind. All eyes on the speaker, and everyone sat at attention. Drew informed us that we had 3 points to discuss in the brief.
Our theme that day was “See You, See Me” and infused in it was an exploration of what it means to see people as they actually are vs. by the skew of your own assumptions or biases you place upon them, and also what that might mean when you feel seen.
Drew presented us with ARG’s dual-mission statement:
- Micro Mission: The small scale mission of ARG is to discover new ways to relate to human beings, to expand one’s comfort levels, to ponder and question the means of interaction we’ve grown accustomed to, and to discover a new version of ourselves. The micro mission is localized to the self.
- Macro Mission: The bigger picture of ARG is to spread the authenticity we learn to other individuals and in some way change the culture of relating. A sweeping shift in culture is far from easy or practical based on a single session of 20 individuals, but the mentality of bringing these skills to loved ones, friends, co-workers, and strangers alike resonates clearly as the group leader explains the values of ARG.
We had 6 Agreements explicitly stated and Drew asked everyone to verbally agree with.
- Be Present: I immediately acknowledged the importance of this, the vibe that so many were already present, and the challenge of such an agreement due to the belief that presentness is very much a skill to be cultivated.
- Respect Yourself (Homie): Self-care for one’s needs, limitations, and discomforts were important to identify in the session. It was to be known that sitting out of any game, choosing not to participate, using the restroom, getting water, or leaving were all perfectly ok in an attempt to create a safe space to engage in ARG.
- Lean Into Your Edge: ARG is about fleshing out your comfort zones and leaning into their boundaries to expand them. Sitting in and accepting borderline discomfort is how growth occurs, and paired with the safe space crafted by everyone’s efforts made this a highly respected agreement for me. I’ve often viewed the challenge and discomfort of these types of activities as both enlightening and positive, and I was happy to hear this explicitly defined.
- Check Your Assumptions: Pump the brakes on your preconceived notions of people. Check your biases. Attempt to admit narrow mindedness, and be a tad more open to the idea that there’s more discovery to be had even when we think we’ve found an answer.
- Ask Before You Ask: This was easily the most conceptually difficult and hard-to-implement agreement. We were to make no assumptions of other people, and to ask permission before even asking. Instead of shaking hands as a natural status quo greeting, why not ask if that’s something your potential partner in ARG would like? Instead of asking a direct question about a transgender person’s life and what it’s like to be them, ponder inquiring first if they’d like to be placed into a teaching/representation role. Of the 6 agreements, this one seemed the most inconsistent in theory and practice, and I can’t really say if this one remained in participants’ heads throughout the night. With the amount of ebb and flow of ARG that followed, it stands to reason that this particular agreement might need some additional fleshing out in future talks.
- Confidentiality After You Ask: Stemming from the Macro Mission’s overarching goal to spread the lessons of ARG, confidentiality was not assumed in the room, but specific identification was prohibited. The relatable lessons heard from other folks were to be shared outside this room unless the speaker specifically requested it not be shared. Unlike other “relating” games I’ve played (for my Suicide Hotline training, at board game conventions, at relationship culture meetings, etc) where confidentiality in the room was specifically advocated, this ARG mentality was a striking 180.
I sat in appreciation of the clarity of our agreements, and the fact that everyone was somewhat out of their comfort zone. All participants vocally and loudly announced acceptance towards each of the six agreements, and then we jumped into our very first game.
Let the Authentic Relating GAMES Begin:
I won’t dive too deeply into an analysis on what makes a game a game, but these score-lacking “games” are more aligned with actual experiences and challenges. They do have a distinct element of fun, energy, and accomplishment though, and they appeared to be structured by the 2 leaders of ARG well before the event took place. The games I describe below do not have defined names, so I created names as I saw fit.
Game 1. Warm Up and Conjure:
Right off the bat, all 20 of us are moving about the room. There’s enough space. The host tells us to be present of our feet. Everyone looks down yet no one collides. This, like many activities in ARG, are non-verbal. Soon we’re instructed to lift our eyes to meet each other’s gaze. “Hold that gaze”, Drew instructs, as we walk between individuals and share mutual minor discomfort. While I have no qualms making eye contact during conversation, it strikes me how challenging it is to make unsolicited eye contact without talking. I consciously push through it. I identify a minor edge that I’m leaning into. I embrace agreement #3.
Soon we’re tasked to naturally touch another partner, non-verbally (this is where agreement #5, Ask Before You Ask” seems to immediately dissolve, but no matter), and we use our occasionally unclear body language to convey consent. Hands are held. Elbows linked. Weight placed upon one another. Silliness bubbles up as folks chuckle nervously. Others are in their edge as well.
Then Drew gives us the very challenging task of imagining an object with a partner. I conjure a ball of light and pass it to a random passerby. She takes it and we take turns acting and reacting with the ball. The ball expands, and I react. The ball becomes hot. It becomes weightless and able to be kept afloat with just our mouths. We giggle and find ourselves running out of creative things to do. Challenge. Anxiety. Then we switch partners, and we do it again.
When Drew calls the time, we re-gather in our circular formation and share insights with the group. I wasn’t the only one leaning into an edge during that experience. Forced, non-verbal teamwork and creative flourishing proved a bit more complex than expected, and yet we all did it. No one quit. Echoes of “that was sillier than I expected” ring through the room, and we all take one collective deep breath. It occurs to me just how body centric and intentional ARG will be tonight.
Game 2. The Language of Hands:
Next, we count off up to ten and match our partner. I find the other 7 and we sit facing each other, once again non-verbally. The host remarks that tonight’s ARG seems to naturally gravitate towards discussion and chatter – undoubtedly a product of natural human connectivity.
Facing my one partner, we’re asked to focus our gaze on their hands. We attempt to feel energy just through our hands. Reacting and leading my partner’s hands, him and I ebb and flow in this hand-oriented dance of attempted flow and communication. Is he saying something? Can I sense his anxiety? How is this making him feel? What happens when I guide his hands towards the ceiling? We find that even without a clear language of our fingers, the extent of movement is immense. Wrists, thumbs, fingers, waves, and 90 degree angles form across our hand-dance, and I find myself thinking about the art of gloving and fingershows.
Fingershows and Gloving are an art form that frame finger movement and shapes into a wonderful and intimate performance, usually for one person. In that same vein, we have the ability to flow and communicate with others just by vibing on that finger movement.
I ponder the concept of what it’s like to place your mind and your mouth into your hands. What expressive instruments we have, and yet, how interpretable is this language? Drew asks that we contemplate where we find the mind to sit in the body. Before this exercise, that question was floaty, untethered, or maybe even hokey. Now, as I sit here typing away with my fingertips, my mind delivers my thoughts to you readers.
Game 3. Eye Gaze and I Gaze:
Another partner. We sit and face, and we’re tasked to take turns sitting and gazing into each other’s eyes. One partner sitting and “seeing”, and the other “being seen”. Staring into the eyes of a stranger, even for 30 seconds, feels like a long time. This ended up being my most reflective experience of the bunch.
When I was doing the “seeing”, my mind engaged into analysis mode. My eye fixated on the man before me and his eyes. I racked my brain with questions. What is he thinking. Who is this man? What does he feel? Where is his mind? What led him here? My gaze felt so intentional and I could feel the energy I gave the exercise.
Then I was to be “seen”. Apparently, as was elucidated during our verbal debrief with one another, my entire demeanor changed. I switched from an engaging human to a blank slate, almost as if I became defensive or as I placed the onus of responsibility onto my partner to see me through his own interpretation. While my face lost all shadow of communication, my mind too became blank. I stared deeply into his eyes, and really, just his pupils. All engagement when “being seen” went right out the window, and I allowed my calm yet unmoving body to be a vessel of limited communication. But in reality, it wasn’t a consciousness that I “allowed”, but rather a subconscious behavior that simply happened.
This revelation had me pondering my levels of comfort, what it meant to be seen, and what it meant for me that my natural inclination for being seen was to reduce communication. Did my body become its own dominant form of communication? Was I wary to express anything because I felt it was up to my partner to interpret me? Why did my mind blank out so completely? Am I most engaged when analytical and in a position that demands interpretation?
When we switched to the third round of see/be seen, we were tasked to step into both roles at once. Immediately it was noticeable just how much communication could be interpreted simply through our eyes. If verbal communication is a skill honed through practice and developed vernacular, is non-verbal communication more akin to a hammer that attempts to sway someone with broad hits?
As we transitioned to a group discussion after our 1-on-1 debrief with our partner, the group brought up a variety of feelings that took place. One noteworthy mention was around the notion that we match body language to our partner and see how capable our partners are of meeting us. When we feel big, does our partner match our bigness? When we feel small, does our partner match that minutia? Can, or even should, we match the energy our partner presents? When they act small, is it on us to match that size? Being small, hiding, or even being non-communicative is also a power. A power that can be flexed and felt by the person one communicates with.
Game 4. Object Appreciation:
The fourth and final exercise attempted to build positivity through appreciation, and was somewhat challenging. We were tasked to peer around the room and mentally grab an object, close our eyes, and then visualize it solo. This led into a challenge of framing the object in purely positive ways. An appreciation exercise, so to speak. Soon we moved to a new partner and discussed mutual appreciation for that object. We laughed and giggled about the abundant warmth and brightness an extravagant chandelier could bring to our lives as we formed a kind spirited aesthetic observation.
The challenge came soon, as we then locked eyes with another couple across the room and began building appreciation comments with them. Relatively easy to do, as compliments about appearance and creative embellishments about that couple came pretty easy to me… but then we were asked to move within earshot of that couple. There is an inherent difficulty when trying to talk to a partner while having another couple talk about you. This mismatch between wanting to hear their compliments and being able to form our own was much harder than expected. Perhaps it was in the difficulty of subduing that innate selfish desire to build up the ego, but also in suppressing curiosity about their words. After-all, why even mention complements if the audience couldn’t receive them? Yet here we were, standing 6 feet apart and directly praising this couple while being praised ourselves and it was so hard to ignore their words. This reflection on the power of praise, and the importance of having an audience, and even in the value of appreciation without any acknowledgement from the recipients was pretty tricky to wrap my head around.
What’s the point of a compliment, after-all? Is it even a compliment if the recipient doesn’t hear it? Does it have as much value if I can’t connect with that party and let them know that I like something about them? Is there not lessened value in praising them silently? These were questions that remain floating in my head even now, as our group discussion didn’t build on these questions, but rather doubled-down on more appreciation that we shared with the group.
Group Wrap-Up and Debrief:
We came back together as a whole group and debriefed. Round-robin style, people chimed in with validations thrown to the whole 20+ group as a way to cement our final game. Folks praised the style of interaction that allowed a blossoming of empathy. Others praised all of the men in the group for suppressing some of more common status quo guardedness often seen when in natural male bonding. Others appreciated everyone’s participation and commitment to creating a safe and secure environment. I praised everyone’s intentionality and the hosts’ continual support of all the participants.
In the end, I looked at my time there as a unique method for rather unusual bonding. The focus on non-verbal communication and lack of easy escape or diving back into a comfort zone really made leaning into an edge a pretty necessary experience.
ARG and Videogames:
Authentically related to strangers and vibing out on an entirely different kind of connection with them than friends I’ve had for years was both inspiring and empowering.
Whether it’s about how we gamers discuss our experiences and love of the community, or about how we connect with the protagonist we embody in various titles, we gamers evoke a need for empathy on a regular basis. If we want to improve our gaming communities and social interactions, these empathy skills and care for each other are kinda necessary for that to blossom, ya know?
When we gamers play for the challenge, play against a harder difficulty, or spend countless hours gritting teeth and gnashing thumbs against a hard boss, we are leaning into that edge. This is where we find consciousness, where we’re tasked to actually be cognizant of our tactics, and where we’re likely to have the most skill development.
All these ARG skills can, and perhaps should, be found more and more in games if we search for them and advocate for them.
Shout out to e-vaughn for taking on this activity and posting about it in such a thoughtful way. How communication styles change based on the setting, especially on social media and within games, is something I’ve always loved to ponder – but this took the pondering to new levels!
As I read through e-vaughn’s experiences, I couldn’t help but think of the ties to what we try to do here at Hopeful Homies, and how that translates to our professional and personal lives as well. In a way, I like to think that we’re constantly Leaning into our Edge of optimism and hopefulness. We all know that some parts of our lives are rough – breakups can feel like they’re tearing you down, work can feel like it’s eating you alive, and honestly the metaphors just get worse from there. But Leaning into an Edge of optimism and hopefulness, especially when it seems ridiculous, can be such a game changer. Even though we do that for games, media, and tech, it’s something to keep in mind daily.
I was also vibing on the fact that all of the different types of interactions were called ‘Games’. In a way, it seemed odd at first, but actually it makes total sense. If you think about it, most games are very similar. They help us interact with other people in ways that we wouldn’t normally think about interacting, or straight up would have no chance of doing in our normal lives. Even something as silly and casual as Cards Against Humanity can be appreciated because it allows you to take a step you almost definitely wouldn’t otherwise (Be real, you’re not about to make a bigger blacker dick joke without Cards Against Humanity in your life). From that to intense strategy games, to AAA console titles, they all help us think about how we interact with our world and other humans – but only if you Be Present, Make the Moments Memorable, and really Lean into your Edge.
Relational Interaction Worth Advocating For:
- Leaning Into That Edge: An easy thing to advocate for but hard in practice is the notion of leaning into your edge. The concept that anxiety and discomfort drive attention in the self is experienced through ARG, but then that dissipates and one acclimates in time. The challenge then becomes to remain engaged and find that new new to focus on. This advocacy applies, more often than not, to almost every single venture in one’s life.
- Every Moment Can Be Memorable: Through engagement and attempting to tackle a common experience through a new lens, every moment can become something worth remembering. Why not take a common element of your routine and fuck with it a little? Do something unorthodox and contemplate that change.
- Non-Verbal Communication Shouldn’t Be Ignored: The heart of this particular session of ARG exposed the value and complexity of non-verbal communication. Connecting through other people and their movement, being left to ponder their internal processing, reacting to their body language, and all at once being aware that your body communicates something is a lot to mull over.
- Move to Express: With a loved one or a friend, try dedicating 5 minutes to interacting without words. Use your hands. Identify signs over time, and see where that progresses. Notice how things stand out in different ways when required to use new skills.
If you ever get a chance to explore ARG, holler at us hopeful homies. And while we at HH are often verbosely analyzing media, games, and experiences, consider how much we relate over the media that seemingly ties us together.
Stay dope, and stay hopeful