How I Ruined The Spirit of Thanksgiving with a Metagame

Every year, my friends and I have come together around the time of Thanksgiving in the US and throw a pot-luck style party. Everyone brings something ‘ridiculously American’ to share and we all eat until we feel sick and then slip into food comas. I don’t want to offend any Americans with our bastardised Australian version of Thanksgiving, so please consider this simply our interpretation of the event. From what we see on TV we understand there needs to be some more inter-family arguments, and so I thought I would do something about that.

This year there was a bit of uncertainty around whether Thanksgiving may happen at all, but things went well in Australia so we were able to hold our regular annual event without any hiccups. The event is essentially a dinner party – we provide the Turducken and friends bring all sorts of dishes, not limited to Marshmallow Sweet Potato Pie, Bacon Salad, Deep Fried Oreos and Platters of Burgers, you know, American things. After a ceremonial carving of the Turducken by our ‘Official American’, we all dig in to the feast and then sit around regaling and chatting for several hours while picking at the dessert offerings.

For this year’s event I wanted to add something to gamify the event a bit. I was inspired partly by the meta-game ‘Pretense‘ and also by the desire to give literal thanks to my friends and family and to have them do the same. With most of my friends being at least somewhat into games (and some being particularly competitive) I thought this could be a fun addition to the night and could generate some memorable moments, which it certainly did!

The first step was to create the components for my game. I called them ‘Thanks’ – one ‘Thank Note’ = thanks for one thing. I came up with some very simple rules of the game, and I didn’t play-test them at all. I know, a mortal sin.

A stack of uncirculated Thank Notes

Upon arrival, guests were granted 2-3 Thanks for attending the event. The following rules were explained:

  • To ‘win’ Thanksgiving you need to have the most Thank Notes in your Thank Account (pocket) at the end of the evening.
  • If someone does something nice for you, you are REQUIRED to give them Thanks in the form of one Thank Note.
  • If you do a favour or otherwise perform an action for someone else that would ordinarily bear a thanks, you may demand a Thanks Note from them. If they have no thanks to give, too bad.
  • I was also careful to mention there would be ‘A Prize’, but not what it would be.

It quickly became apparent there were a few flaws in the rules. The main one was that the game was a little bit broken if I was playing, so I had to explain I was immune to Thanks. We also needed to declare a few activities Thankless (such as the act of carving the Turducken) as it gave the performer too much power to requisition Thank Notes. There was a lot of initial discussion regarding potential counterfeiting schemes, but thankfully with no printers nearby this didn’t become a serious issue.

Almost immediately, people who came to the event entirely unaware that this would be happening (I didn’t mention it in advance) were exchanging Thanks for small favours. A Thank-protection racket attempted to form, though had little success. During the night there were lots of compliments being given in exchange for Thanks, and many small favours given that might not have been done otherwise. People were being Thanked for moving out of doorways or handing drinks across tables. After a time, people started beginning to question the authenticity of these acts. Were the compliments genuine? Or just hollow words for Thank-profit? Was this person really wanting to help me out by getting me another drink, or did they just want more Thanks for the Thank-machine.

Some notable examples of well executed Thanks-harvesting:

  • Upon arrival and immediately after learning the rules, a guest asked their partner if they would like some drinks from the nearby shop. They left, after demanding a Thanks. Upon returning they handed their partner the drinks before asking if they would like them put in the fridge, earning another Thanks and a very dirty look.
  • Just as the dinner bell was rung, a very enterprising guest grabbed the entire stack of plates and asked if anyone would like one – holding out their hand for Thanks for each plate. Unfortunately this didn’t pan out too well as people caught on very quickly.
  • A long argument ensued after a shoulder-rub given to a recently arrived guest was back-Thank-charged after they learned of the game and received their initial Thank-income. The nature of back-payment and Thank-consent without prior knowledge was a contentious one.
  • Later on in the evening a guest tested the sincerity of an offer to collect another drink for them by saying yes but claiming they had no Thanks. Despite the being confronted at having to do the task with no reward, the offerer still got that guest a drink and was ultimately rewarded with a Thank, the Thanker just wanted to see if the offer was really based on good-will.

As the night drew to a close we decided to ‘stop the Thanxchange’ and count up the Thanks to determine who was the most Thanked (and therefore most deserving of the Thanksgiving crown). I feel there was a little bit of last minute Thank-pooling fraud here, but we worked our way up through the Thanks-totals until we were down to two finalists who had a lot of Thanks each. I will describe one as a hard working Thankee who went out of their way to exploit every situation for Thanks, truly dedicated to the game. The other finalist seemed to be backed by a large conglomerate of shadowy Thanks-donors, but without a formal inquiry, maybe we will never know if their Thanks were all genuine. A final Thank-count (with some topical calls to stop the count early) determined the dedicated Thankee as the winner. They were awarded the ceremonial Thanksgiving turkey hat, a $10 Bunnings voucher, and a mandatory Thanks speech, which they performed unprompted. I might bring up now that it was fitting the victor was our ‘Official American’. I think this truly speaks to the Thanksgiving Spirit that lives within all Americans.

Some well loved Thanks at the end of the night

We had fun with the game! Why did I say in the title that I ‘ruined’ Thanksgiving with a metagame? Well, as it turned out, and as I secretly hoped, when you introduce a currency of goodwill, people do petty (but fun, of course) things to get ahead. There were certainly arguments, such as about whether a complement was genuine and should be Thanked. But with the great group of friends that I have this was certainly a fun activity that I got a lot of enjoyment from. If you want to make your own Thank Notes and pit your friends against each other at some point, I will attach the PDF for the Thank Notes I made for this here. Happy Thanks-Giving!

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