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Working On It

Therapist and podcast star Esther Perel has made a card game to help players get closer

Playing Where Should We Begin -- A Game of Stories, created by Esther Perel.handout

Something I’ve come to accept over the last year of writing this column is that focusing on self help can be a lonely endeavor. (Of course it is, you might be thinking; it’s right there in the name.) Self-help books are marketed as a solitary journey towards a better you. Many of the books I have read for this column encourage working toward a practice of vulnerability, of learning to open up to other people and sharing the things you’ve learned about yourself with others. So perhaps the problem is me, and my natural hesitation to do that. Sometimes, I need a bit of assistance on the opening up part. So this month instead of reading a book, I tried something new that involved other people: Where Should We Begin — A Game of Stories, from Esther Perel. The couple’s therapist turned wildly popular podcaster has entered the self-help space from a new angle— via a card game.

Where Should We Begin — A Game of Stories is described as “a game of connection and reconnection,” that will bring out the storyteller in all of us. Esther created it during the pandemic, specifically to help us remember how to connect with one another “in a time of social atrophy.” The game can be played with friends, family members, colleagues, or dates/partners, with anywhere from 2-6 players. You can also choose to add in or leave out cards about things like dating and sex— they’re marked as NSFW (not safe for work).

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There are perhaps more parts and rules than are strictly needed—the instruction booklet includes a QR code that takes you to two videos where Esther explains ways the game can be played, the simple and advanced versions. My test group (me and my two housemates whom I harangued into helping me) ended up playing the simplest version. There are Tokens, which we never quite figured out what to do with, Prompt Cards, which give the storyteller a mood or direction, and Story Cards, which become the “first lines of your story.”

The action goes like this: The first storyteller pulls a Prompt Card, the other players put a Story Card down, and the storyteller reads each one aloud before deciding which one to answer. The number of rounds is entirely up to the group: We decided on seven. For those who like to win, well, this game has no winners or losers, just the joy of learning more about the folks you are playing with.

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Because I played with the two people I have spent the most time with over the last 18 months, it was surprisingly similar to playing Cards Against Humanity or Apples to Apples, but with an earnest twist. We knew what kind of questions to give each other, ones that would get a reaction, or even just something we’d always wondered about the other. For example, in the round where Shoshana was the storyteller, Chrissy (her partner of four years) and I (best friend of a decade) gave her these Story Cards:

Some of the cards my roommates and I played in Esther Perel's game, Where Should We Beginhandout

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that Shoshana is rather stubborn and hates to admit when she is wrong. She fell to the floor laughing when she saw these cards, much like I did when I got “I need to change..” and “Something I’ve learned to let go of…” I don’t mean to suggest that everyone would (or should) play the game with the same, shall we say gentle manipulation, but we’ve been living together for the last year and a half; we know how much teasing we can take. And even as we were making cracks about each other while playing, it was a fun way to share feelings and stories. I liked that it encouraged me to open up, but the focus wasn’t solely on me the whole time.

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We all liked that the Story Cards include a mix of personal questions that involve deeper storytelling and ones that just ask you to share your thoughts on a topic. Having the prompt cards to help guide the tone of the things we shared forced us to think a little more outside of the box and to dig a little deeper than we usually would. It was a nice reminder that sometimes self help can be as simple as opening up to the person next to you. And if you need a little help doing so Esther’s got you covered.

Where Should We Begin — A Game of Stories costs $40; Estherperel.com/thegame

Christina Tucker lives in Philadelphia and writes for Autostraddle, Elle, Vogue, Teen Vogue, and NBC News’ Think. She podcasts as a fourth chair on NPR’s “Pop Culture Happy Hour.”