Thursday, July 21, 2016

Group Therapy: Was It Really a Game?

Before A Question of Scruples, Loaded Questions, or Curses; decades before Cards Against Humanity, Drunk Stoned or Stupid, or Never Have I Ever; before Nasty Things, What’s Yours Like?, or Disturbed Friends, there was Group Therapy, the original psychological adult board game. Released in 1969, Group Therapy straddled the free-love ’60s and the ’70s Me Decade, groovy and real, a plain black box with white text, just the name and question: “Is it really a game"? Yes, reads the instruction booklet, Group Therapy is a game. “But Group Therapy is for people who want to do more than just play games. For people who want to open up. Get in touch. Let go. Be free.”

The rules are simple. Players move their tokens along a game board from the beginning space marked “Hung Up” to the final space marked “Free.” To reach “Free,” players must draw from three decks of cards and perform the cards’ instructions. These tasks grow more difficult as you move along the board, from yellow to blue to red.

From the yellow deck: “Ask someone to hold you and rock you. Give yourself to the experience.”

From the blue deck: “Stand facing the group member who threatens you most. Pushing your hands against his, tell him why he frightens you.”

And from the red deck, my absolute favorite card: “You have been accused of over-intellectualizing your hang-ups. Respond — without falling victim to that criticism.”

Within a minute after performing each card’s instruction, players must issue a judgment by displaying a card. One side reads “With It,” the other “Cop Out.” With each “With It” judgment, players advance a space, and go back for each “Cop Out.” A player may also read, pass, and move their token one space back.

A better tagline for Group Therapy might be one I read online: “It’s like Candyland except with more awkwardness and crying.” (...)

Saturday, November 3, 1973. All in the Family, the number one show in the country with an average weekly audience of 20 million viewers, airs an episode entitled “The Games Bunkers Play.” Mike, better known as “Meathead,” breaks out a board game after dinner and invites his friend, Lionel Jefferson, and the Lorenzos, the Bunkers’ neighbors, along with Archie, Edith, and Gloria to play.

“It’s a psychological game — if you play this game right, you could really learn a lot about yourself,” Meathead explains enthusiastically. “You pick a card when it comes your turn, you read it and do what it’s says.”

“Sounds left-wing to me,” Archie quips.

Archie picks the first card: “Do an interpretive dance that shows how you feel when you think nobody likes you.” The audience erupts in laughter. Archie makes a face, picks another: “Discuss the part of your body which you are most proud of.”

With that Archie exits (“I’m doing my interpretative of a guy going down to Kelsey’s for a couple of beers.”) The group plays on. Meathead loses his cool when they judge him as a “Cop Out.” He accuses everyone of criticizing him just as harshly as Archie. Edith follows him into the kitchen. Archie doesn’t hate you, Edith explains. He criticizes you because he sees in you all the things that he can never be.

When Archie comes home, oblivious to what had gone one, Mike says he understands and hugs him.

Inside our home in Maple Shade, N.J., a working class suburb of Philadelphia, the Summer of Love arrived around 1975. Mom, who worked part-time as a secretary at our Catholic school, read Leo Buscaglia pop psychology books and prayer booklets she kept in her bedside table. Dad, a local delivery truck driver, played whale call cassettes and ordered home wine-making kits. We traced biorhythm charts with a Spirograph-looking instrument that determined if our energies were compatible, if we were having “up” or “down” days. Mom and Dad may have taken part in a few hippie things, but were far from hippies. They had more in common with All in the Family than Jefferson Airplane.

Dad bought Group Therapy at a toy store in 1974. Mom’s high school friends, ex-cheerleaders all, came by to play, and brought their husbands along. Marlboro smoke filled the kitchen on these adult get-togethers. I am reminded of one night when I was eight years old, sitting down next to empty bottles of Boone’s Farm wine, and insisting on playing the game as well.

I drew the card that read “You are advertising yourself as a lover. What does the ad say?”

Mom told me to pick another one, then sent me back to bed, without the group giving their judgment.

by Daniel Nester, The Millions |  Read more:
Image: Daniel Nester