The Inkblots and other party games

Posted on November 6, 2010

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I mused that images of old houses are like a Rorschach Test and then decided I needed to find an informative link and one thing led to another and before I knew it the whole morning was shot.  There are an astonishing number of psychologists who still believe in the scientific validity of interpreting a person’s interpretations of inkblots.  Personally, I think of the whole thing as a party game. 

So one of the things I discovered was that there are just ten Authentic Inkblots in an Authentic Rorschach Test. I had never seen them before. This, it turns out, is by design, on the theory that if people knew in advance which inkblots they’d see, they’d cheat on the test. Yes, well. Anyway, Rorschach’s images are safely out of copyright, so just in case you’ve never seen them either, I thought I’d give you a little gallery, along with my actual, factual, first thing that came into my head response to each image.  (OK, sometimes first two things. I am distractable.)

To see what I think it is, just hover your mouse over the image.  But before you do that, ponder your own actual factual responses to Rorschach’s blots at your leisure. Sharing optional. For that matter, lying optional.  Just like any other party game.

Did you ever play the game–what was it called anyway, very popular in the eighties–a game that was supposed to reveal your character? Questions about whether you’d cheat on a test if it meant you’d get a better job, that sort of stuff. Dumb game. Probably the forerunner of speed dating. Everyone saying what they thought you wanted to hear, or what they wanted you to believe, or what they thought would be devastatingly clever.

There was another one, though, that turned out to be very interesting at one particular party. It was a “values auction” intended to bring out priorities among the things that were important to you.  Where would you allocate your precious resources–truth, beauty, success, immortality, power, influence, admiration, serenity . . . all laid out in little pieces.   You could pool resources to become joint owners of, say, a starring role in a movie.  Mind you, I thought this sounded like a tiresome game, but I liked the people and figured I’d be nice and just play along.  How long could it take them to get bored with it?  To my surprise, there were two things I found fascinating.

First, I kept finding myself “bidding” against a person I would have thought wanted very different things than I did. We both wanted that cabin in the woods. More time to think. Second, there were some things that everyone in the room wanted. We knew each other fairly well, after all, and all of us knew that someone was going to buy world peace. In fact, we knew that Earl was going to buy it if he had to bid all his chips and borrow more. So why put him to that trouble? Nobody bid against him, Earl got world peace cheap, and the rest of us got it too. I don’t remember what else he bought with his unexpected largesse, but it was a nice feeling, that silent acknowledgment that we could count on Earl to be Earl, and perhaps on each other to do the right thing.

I don’t remember what I bought, either, although I do know my haul included a few orphan desires shared by no one else.  Are you surprised?  I eventually bought the real cabin in the woods, too, and here I am, with plenty of time to think.

Ironically, that brings me to one of the entries in today’s Writer’s Almanac, wherein we learn that the original version of what we know as Monopoly was invented in 1903 by a nice Quaker lady named Lizzie Magie (Phillips). She called her board game The Landlord’s Game and patented it in 1904. Her purpose was to illuminate the evils of the robber barons. Think of how the game is played now. Just goes to show you the hazards of using irony and metaphor.

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