A year and half back, my wife had gone to Gurgaon on work. One evening, she called and told me that she was “going to go for a party at the guest house”, which I duly conveyed to our daughter.
The next morning, our daughter woke up and asked me about her mother’s party. Having been appraised of the proceedings late in the night, I shared the summary. “That is all fine, Appa”, she want, “but WHAT WAS THERE at the party?”.
I was a bit puzzled by the question and said there was nothing. “Why does a party need to have anything?”, I replied, “in this case there was big people juice, which people drank and talked to each other”.
It was in the course of that conversation that I realised that most kids’ parties usually have “something”. Some have bouncy castles. Some take place in play areas. Some people organise magic shows. Others have art workshops. And so on. A lot of kids’ parties are “structured”, with “stuff to do”.
Coming to think of it, this is not true of kids’ parties alone. Even a lot of adult parties nowadays have “themes”. So people have “poker nights”, or “board game nights”, or “movie nights” for which they call other people and socialise and together perform what can sometimes be a perfectly satisfactory single player activity.
Poker nights, I can understand, since it is sport, and one that can be much better played offline. However, I can’t imagine calling a bunch of random friends for a “poker night” – if it’s a poker night, it ought to be a bunch of people who are also interested in poker.
That aside, why should you bother hosting a party for a bunch of friends, and then not give them the opportunity to talk to one another, and instead subject them to some “party game”? “What is even the point of having structured activities at a party?”, my wife wondered loudly one morning.
My theory is this – not everyone is interesting and capable of holding an intelligent conversation. However, everyone has the need to talk to other people and socialise.
So if you are not sure about the quality of conversations that the people you are inviting to a party are likely to contribute, you want to somehow ensure that the party is at least somewhat interesting to everyone that attends. And so, you get rid of the upside (of some fantastic conversation happening at the party), and instead limit the downside (of everyone there getting bored), and put some structured activity on the party.
In other words, you put a “collar” on the party.
I have written here about the concept of “alcohol buddies“:
My friend Hari The Kid has this concept of “alcohol buddies”. These are basically people who you can hang out with only if at least one of you is drunk (there are some extreme cases who are so difficult to hang out with that the only way to do it is for BOTH of you to be drunk). The idea is that if both of you are sober there is nothing really to talk about and you will easily get bored. But hey, these are your friends so you need to hang out with them, and the easiest way of doing so is to convert them into alcohol buddies.
Now, there are some people who you can’t hang out with in “ground state”, but when one or both of you is drunk you can have an interesting conversation. Those are alcohol buddies.
However, there is a (possibly small) set of people who are fundamentally so uninteresting that even if both of you are pissed drunk, it is impossible to have a conversation is interesting to both people. And if you are having a largish party with a diverse set of guests, it is likely that there are many such pairs of guests, who cannot talk to each other even when pissed drunk.
And that is where having a party game helps. It prevents people from having random conversations and instead corrals (notice that wordplay there) everyone into the party game collar. No upside, no downside, nobody needs to find that there are others at the party who are absolutely boring to them. They all go home happy.
So far, we have resisted this “themed party” concept, except maybe in the context of NED Talks. Even our daughter’s birthday parties, so far, have been at home (once in Lalbagh during the pandemic), with the only “planned activity” being eating cake and snacks, and kids randomly playing in her room.
Let’s see how far we can carry this on!