A Kissing Game for Valentine’s Day
Happy Valentine’s Day! Unless you’re being a punk about it. I hear a lot of “boo hoo” sour grapes “Hallmark holiday” talk, mostly from your average single type. So often this devolves into the standard vulgar Marxist critique of Valentine’s Day: “I’m not going to participate in a cultural activity because PEOPLE WANT TO MAKE MONEY OFF OF THE WAY I FEEL.”
Yo, I’m not trying to bum y’all out, but if you’re reading this on the internet from a Western country, welcome to every other day in your life too, bitter singletons! Maybe it’s just the societal pressure to pair off with a heteronormative reproductive specimen? Listen, we homo sapiens have doubtlessly been doing that since woolly mammoth steaks were all the rage. Valentine’s Day is crassly commercialized and makes single people feel like they’re doing something wrong. It’s a fallen world we live in, kids; if everyone was as much of a damn prude as I hear them pretend to be on Valentine’s Day we’d be still be nasty little prokaryotic amoebas splitting in half in some mucky ditch.
I might be taking this rather personally. Observe, if you will, my own birthday: November 14th. Do some quick math, cogitate upon the profundity of the 9-month human gestation cycle. As it happens, Valentine’s Day is also my parents’ anniversary. My parents were hoping to have a baby for a decade before I came along, and I would not be typing at you today if it weren’t for the magic of Valentine’s Day. Cupid is my homeboy.
But Cupid is basically just a fat baby with wings. How’s he supposed to cope with all these haters? Roger Caillois, one of the progenitors of game studies and a legendary Gallic lady-killer,1 might point us in the right direction:
It should not be forgotten that worse than the cheat is the one who disdains or refuses to play, ridiculing the rules or exposing their vanity. … Nothing is more destructive of culture than these “wet blankets,” who are skeptics and doubters. They like to smile at everything, naively believing that they thus affirm their superiority. Through vanity, they only cause injury to a precious treasure that was accumulated at the cost of infinite pains. At least they might be iconoclastic and sacreligious enough in establishing in their turn the rules of a new game…
-Man & the Sacred (1960)
Thus I propose casting out into the world a game in service of Cupid, in league with the carnivalesque, in the spirit of profane illumination, that our Valentine’s Day wet blanket singletons might embrace the holiday via a new game and strike a blow against the bloodless chaff of commodified affection. All you need is a dark & hidden place (woods, graveyards, attics), blindfolds, and a bottle or some other spinning implement.2 The game is just a variant of the ubiquitous adolescent rite of passage Spin the Bottle, but a small mechanical change significantly alters the emotional range it provokes.
- All players sit in a circle. No one is allowed to simply observe; non-participants must be cast from the magic circle. Ideally, the players’ palms should be cold and clammy, with a high exuberance, either hormonal or induced by alcohol intake.
- Every player wears a blindfold. Closing your eyes works too, provided you won’t cheat and peek (you will cheat and peek, so wear a blindfold).
- It doesn’t matter who goes first. I recommend the bravest person, but failing any obvious heroism, the player most easily bullied also works.
- The spinner spins the bottle and makes his or her kiss, replaces the blindfold, then sits back down. The kissee removes the blindfold and becomes the new kisser.
That’s it! Seems simple enough, right? Maybe pretty boring? Not very sexy? Pshaw, I say. Let me explain to you the shortcomings of Spin the Bottle, as I found it in the folk game vernacular, and why CVPIDITĀTIS is superior.
Spin the Bottle seems like such a good idea. As a kid, I remember every sit-com had a soft-focus episode of giggling teens with nascent sexuality sneaking away from their parental units. Maybe there was a closet involved, if things were really risqué. I don’t think I got a crack at a legit game of Spin the Bottle until high school at LSMSA—we celebrated a holiday, which the administration made every effort of stamping out, called Free Lovin’ Day. It was a sort of dialectic opposition to the couple-centric Valentine’s Day, where students hugged and kissed in the hallways. Conceivably, they may have also snuck away into alley ways, vacant class rooms, and diverse hidey-holes in order to read the Bible together, but I prefer not to speculate.
Free Lovin’ Day had all the attributes of the carnivalesque—through humor and chaos, the normal order was overturned. The taboo became commonplace. PDA,3 normally a fussable offense on school grounds, was everywhere. Our disciplinarians hated it. People in committed relationships were either swallowed up by license or gripped by a possessive anxiety. But Spin the Bottle? What a let down! We sat in circles in the courtyard in the blazing full sun of the Louisiana spring, with passerby fixing us with the apparently nonchalant gaze of the voyeur nervous of discovery. When the bottle turned finally to you, the aleatory glass phallus decreeing your fate, you got a long moment to stare down your impending kisser as they waddled hands & knees across the circle. Full in the face of your skeptical appraisal, especially if cruel fate has ordained straight dude-on-dude smooching, the kisser has to slowly lean forward and initiate the complex docking procedure only to result in a chaste peck. Meanwhile, a few dozen peers blister every pore of your skin with their piercing gaze. Now it’s your turn to spin the bottle, and the strain of sociability requires a neutral affect, as if you had no clear favorites regarding where the bottle falls while your inner monologue prays through your Rolodex of higher powers.
After a few rounds, I realized we needed to radicalize our practice to match the subversive energy of the holiday, and I set about modifying the game. Consider how the game is changed by the blindfold. While the players are in a safe space, surrounded by their trusted peers, they are also plunged into a communal privacy. The majority of the game is spent in abyssal dark, sitting and listening quietly for some clue of progress or amorous approach. With the loss of sight, the most voluptuous of our senses, salacious anticipation shifts to smell, touch, and sound. There are giggles of surprise and delight, difficult to identify, even to locate. After much waiting, there is a kiss, anonymous, often shocking & lewd, with bonus tongue and maybe the odd lagniappe grope. You open your eyes: you compare your guess to your actual kisser, puzzle over discreprancies, share a silent, private gaze— and then you take over the bottle.
Your eyes dart around the circle, looking into the eyeless gaze of blindfolds. You are unobserved. What are those rules again? “The spinner spins the bottle and makes his or her kiss.” Wait, what does that mean exactly? Does that mean I have to kiss the person the bottle lands on? It’s not like anyone can see.
And that is the true beauty of CVPIDITĀTIS: it is a self-effacing game. While B.U.T.T.O.N. asks players to carry out actions that the game has no way of evaluating, CVPIDITĀTIS creates a player community whose blindness prevents them from enforcing the ostensible rules of the game. When the bottle is in your hands, it’s up to you to make the decision. Should you accept the aleatory decision of the bottle, or re-spin if it lands on someone you don’t want to kiss? Or maybe a secret crush, coy & small, lives within your breast—your cupidity is too great to heed the spinning hand of Fortuna and prefers the direct route of Aphrodite. Wait, what about the person that kissed you? Did the bottle point your way? Did they re-spin? Is there something else going on here? The lascivious mind races with fertile possibility. But there is just the bottle and you—choose either to steer your own destiny or cast the die.
Godspeed, dear singletons. Cast aside your covetous glances at the happy couples who have enshrined this day as theirs. Band together and sit around the magic circle: play a game in service of Cupid, in league with the carnivalesque, in the spirit of profane illumination!