You might hear an improviser mention "finding the game" of a scene. They're really just talking about discovering a fun moment in the scene where a pattern begins to emerge and then escalating the pattern until it can't be exaggerated any more or "until it breaks," as some improvisers say. According to the Improv Encyclopedia, "Finding the game is establishing a pattern of interesting interactions, and heightening that."
Vulture gives a more in depth explanation of finding the game and explains the difference between iO's Chicago style and UCB's that may be helpful for some readers, but for our purposes, applying the concept to everyday life, we just need to know the basics. They define finding the game as, "Any pattern that emerges within a scene that the improvisers may follow while exploring the relationship between the characters."
I think an example will make things much clearer.
Finding the Game in Improv
I remember seeing Cook County Social Club performing at iO Theater in Chicago. During one scene, two improvisers were seated at a pretend table. Another entered the scene as a waiter. He went to set a glass of water down, but one of the seated players had already established a much smaller pantomimed table. So, one of the dinner guests called the waiter out for being clumsy and dropping the glass on the floor. Thus began the game of the scene: the waiter doing increasingly clumsier things and the dinner guests becoming increasingly more perturbed about it.
Finding the game onstage is funny for the audience and generally fun for the improvisers. Our brains are hungry for patterns and searching for them even when they don't exist. So, it makes sense that the concept of finding the game, or discovering and heightening patterns, would be equally gratifying in our everyday lives.
Let's explore some ways you can start finding the game in your real life, and click here if you'd like a comprehensive look at why adults should play and how they can get started today.
Finding the Game in Everyday Life
There are patterns waiting to be heightened all around us. In order to start finding the game in our everyday lives, we need to start recognizing these emerging patterns and then continuing them.
To make it clear how to find the game in your everyday routine, I want to give you four examples in four different situations.
1. Finding the Game with your Spouse
Let's say it's your birthday. Your husband gives you a card with a dairy cow on it. It's a jokey card that doesn't exactly scream, "I love you and think you're sexy," but it is a kind gesture nonetheless.
Instead of being miffed that you got a stupid cow card for your special day, you could use this as an opportunity to start a game with your partner.
For your husband's birthday, you could heighten the cow game by buying him a cow salt and pepper shaker set. Then it would be his turn to keep the game going by buying you more cow crap. And on and on.
2. Finding the Game with Friends
Okay, now you're out with some friends. You're all talking and just generally carrying on when someone tells an embarrassing story about Sue. You look over and see that Sue is being a good sport about it. Someone else tells an even more embarrassing Sue story. And just like that, we have ourselves a game.
Put on your thinking cap and tell the most embarrassing college Sue story you can think of. Because you and your friends are playing the "Sue was a hot mess in college" game.
3. Finding the Game While Parenting
It's 5pm. You're out of ideas for how to keep your five-year-old occupied. Then, you notice her taking all your books off the shelf. She starts putting them back in all sort of creative ways. Upside down, sideways, dangling of the book shelf cliff.
Instead of being annoyed that your daughter is messing up your precious books, you could join the "put books on the shelf in wacky ways" game.
There will be plenty of time later to play the "now put the books back how they're supposed to go" game.
4. Finding the Game at Work
It's finally Friday. You and your coworkers always get together for Friday lunches. Usually, it's a quiet affair. People conversing politely, while nibbling their salads. But today, Pam plays a funny cat video on youtube. Everyone loosens up and starts laughing together.
You and your coworkers now have a game. You can share funny youtube videos on Fridays to break the ice and share some laughter together.
Final Thoughts on Finding the Game in Real Life
Finding the game in real life is about looking for life's patterns. In improv, we look for something fun, something we want to see more of. Then, we help to create and heighten that pattern.
It's the same in real life. In order to appease the pattern-seeking parts of our brains, we need to look for fun patterns in our everyday lives and heighten them.
Whether it's cow presents, embarrassing stories, book stacking, or cat videos, real life offers us plenty of opportunities to play, to find what's fun and exaggerate and enhance it.
And play is important. It fills our mundane days with joy and helps us connect to one another. So start finding the game in your everyday today.
You can also take a shortcut and check out my book Play Your Way Sane: 120 Improv-Inspired Exercises to Help You Calm Down, Stop Spiraling, and Embrace Uncertainty and get 120 games on me. Either way, finding the game in everyday life is a great way to de-stress and reconnect with others. It's a great way to find some joy, no matter how dumpster fiery things are.