This week’s assignment was to choose a known game and change the rules such that it manipulates the behavior of the players. We were also supposed to document the reactions and refine our rules to produce multiple iterations. I decided to go with an experiment that I’ve been thinking about for awhile: taking the easy, well-known game of Tic Tac Toe and adding hugs and kisses to the game playing. I’m calling it XOTTT. I wanted to see how comfortable people are with hugging and kissing each other, and how it makes them feel to do this while playing an otherwise boring game that almost always results in a draw. I also want to encourage the idea of “give-and-take” to soften the adrenaline rush of competition and to promote a feeling of equilibrium and harmony.
About a year ago, I posed this question in a facebook status update: “in xoxo, which is the hug and which is the kiss?” The debate that ensued was amusing. While most people think the “x” is a kiss and the “o” is a hug, some insisted that it was the opposite. I won’t go into details, but I decided to go with the mainstream and map the “x” to the kiss and the “o” to the hug for my game (if I didn’t do this, then the players would likely debate it). I incorporated this mapping into the Tic-Tac-Toe game by requiring the player who blocks the other’s row to give a hug if they are “o” and a kiss on the cheek if they’re an “x.” I ended up adding one more rule when I observed players letting each other win in order to avoid having to hug, and especially kiss.
My first game-testers were Toby and Gaby. For the first game, I gave them my rules but told them that they could play either “x” or “o”. Toby chose the “x” and began the game. Gaby chose to let Toby win a row so she could avoid having to hug or kiss him. Toby did the same. When I asked them about their experience of the game, they felt there was confusion because there were too many possibilities and no particular consequences. So then I had them play the game with two tweaks: the choice of “x” and “o” needed to be random (and thus they didn’t have control of who was the hugger and who was the kisser) and they would have to stick to my original rules. Because the game naturally produces a draw with intelligent players, there was a nice balance that emerged of hugging and kissing after blocking the other, that was of course accompanied by some blushing and awkwardness. The game purpose shifted from not letting another person win to going with the rules and the flow and surrendering to this give and take of affectionate actions. They said they enjoyed this second iteration and that they got the purpose.
The second game-testers were Poram and Leo, both from China. For them, I kept the game rules the same as the second iteration and I observed even more awkwardness. In fact after the first hug exchange, they decided to let each other win their rows to avoid having to do it again. No kissing-on-the-cheek happened in this game. They explained to me that hugs and kisses are far from the norm in Chinese culture, and if I had asked them to play this last year, i.e. shortly after arriving in the US, they would’ve freaked out and said no. Leo said that this was the first time he’d hugged Poram, and they laughed. It would be interesting to test this with other nationalities, like Italians who generally seem to be very comfortable with hugging and kissing.
The first two sets of game-testers were male-female combinations, so now I wanted to find a male-male combination. I found Fred and Peter (one American, one European). After I told them the rules, they verbally strategized to avoid having to block and then hug/kiss. Unlike the others, they didn’t even play out more than one row, so it was a super-fast game. I wanted to avoid having players dodge the hug/kiss layer, so Peter suggested that I add one more rule: if a player dodges a block and lets the other player win, then that player (the loser) has to kiss the winner on the cheek. No escaping now!
I tried this last iteration out on Nien and David and they allowed me to record it via my laptop. David blocked Nien twice and initiated hugs. Nien didn’t want to have to block David and initiate a kiss, but when he let David win, I reminded him that he had to kiss David on the cheek anyway. Clearly they were uncomfortable, but I appreciate that they went along with it and had fun with it.
I think this game could be utilized for a sociological study involving people of different ages, cultures, relationships, and so forth, or as an icebreaker in different group contexts. My hope is that the game serves to enhance friendly, warm feelings between people, even if it means overcoming awkwardness.