The Game (mind game)

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The Game
I lost the game.jpg
A player announces her loss of The Game at the San Diego Comic-Con in July 2008.
Players The whole world, or all who understand the rules
Playing time Ongoing
Random chance Partially
Skill(s) required Thought suppression, strategy
Material(s) required None

The Game is a mental game where the objective is to avoid thinking about The Game itself. Thinking about The Game constitutes a loss, which must be announced each time it occurs. It is impossible to win most versions of The Game and few scoring systems exist. Depending on the version of The Game, the whole world, or all those aware of the game, are playing it all the time.

Origins of The Game are unknown; a similar game played by Leo Tolstoy dates back to 1840. The Game has received media attention in several different countries and the number of players is estimated to be in the millions.


There are three commonly reported rules to The Game:[1][2][3][4][5]

  1. Everyone in the world is playing The Game. (Sometimes narrowed to: "Everybody in the world who knows about The Game is playing The Game", or alternatively, "You are always playing The Game.") A person cannot choose to not play The Game; it does not require consent to play and one can never stop playing.
  2. Whenever one thinks about The Game, one loses.
  3. Losses must be announced to at least one person.[4] This can be verbally, with a phrase such as "I just lost The Game", or in any other way: for example, via Facebook. Some people may have signals or expressions that remind others of The Game.[6]

What constitutes thinking about The Game is not always clear. If one discusses "The Game" without explicitly realizing that they have lost, this may or may not constitute a loss. If someone says "What is The Game?" before understanding the rules, whether they have lost is up for interpretation. According to some interpretations, one does not lose when someone else announces their loss, although the second rule implies that one loses regardless of what made them think about The Game.[6] After a player has announced a loss, or after one thinks of The Game, some variants allow for a grace period between three seconds to thirty minutes to forget about the game, during which the player cannot lose the game again.[7][8][6]

A yellow post-it note reading "You lose" stuck on the underside of a toilet.
A common strategy is to leave hidden notes to make others lose The Game.

The common rules do not define a point at which The Game ends. However, one reported variation states that The Game ends when the President of the United States, the Pope, or the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom announces on television that "The Game is up."[4][6]

Most variations of The Game do not allow for a person to win. One interpretation is that one is winning the game whenever they are not thinking about it.[6] One xkcd comic reads: "You just won The Game" and tells players, "You're free!"[9]

Some versions propose scores: one point is lost whenever one thinks about the game, and optionally, they gain a point for every person they announce their loss to.[6]


Most strategies focus on making others lose The Game. Common methods include saying "The Game" out loud or writing about The Game on a hidden note, in graffiti in public places, or on banknotes.[2]

Another strategy is priming: to associate the game with common items or phrases; this can also be called "drawing" or "tying".[6] Associations may also be made when the word "game" is used; it has been suggested that songs such as "Play the Game may make people lose.[10]

Other strategies involve merchandise: T-shirts, bags, mugs and stickers have been created to advertise The Game.[11] The Game has been spread via social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, deviantArt and Shelfari.

More unusual strategies involve attempted legislation: several petitions in Britain trying to pass laws involving The Game have been created. Messages have been sent to country leaders, attempting to get them to talk about The Game in public or on television.[10] Kevin Rudd sent a reply to an email, saying "unfortunately, my commitments do not allow me the time to fulfil many of the requests I receive, such as participating in The Game on television".[12]


The origins of The Game are uncertain. One theory is that when two people missed their last train and had to spend the whole night on a platform, they tried not to think about their situation and whoever did first, lost.[3][8] Another is that it was invented in London in 1996 "to annoy people".[7]

The Game may have been created in 1977 by members of the Cambridge University Science Fiction Society when attempting to create a game that did not fit with "game theory".[6] A blog post by Paul Taylor in 2002 described The Game; Taylor claimed to have "found out about [the game] online about 6 months ago".[13] This is the earliest known reference on the internet.[7]


The Game is an example of ironic processing (also known as the "White Bear Principle"), in which attempts to avoid certain thoughts make those thoughts more persistent.[8] There are many early examples of ironic processing: in 1840, Leo Tolstoy played the "white bear game" with his brother, where he would "stand in a corner and not think of the white bear".[14] Fyodor Dostoyevsky mentioned the same game in 1863 in the essay Winter Notes on Summer Impressions.[15]

One psychological study of The Game by Cory Antiel involved 12 participants; they were asked to record when and why they lost over four weeks. The study itself caused 57% of participants' losses; Antiel claimed The Zeigarnik effect contributed to this. The participants recorded vastly different numbers of losses; common reasons included "references to taking notes", "references to time" and "seeing or thinking about other people who also play The Game". Priming and sensitization played a large part in losses; no strong correlation with habituation was found.[16]


A girl holds up a sign reading "You lose The Game".

The Game has been described as challenging and fun to play, or as pointless, childish and infuriating.[7][8] In some internet forums, such as Something Awful and GameSpy, The Game has even been banned.[6] The Game has been described as a game, a meme and a "mind virus".[6][9] Several newspapers have contained articles about the game.[3][7] Webcomics Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, xkcd and Real Life have featured sketches relating to The Game.[9][17][18] YouTube videos about The Game have attracted hundreds of thousands of views.[19][20] Actor Simon Pegg has tweeted about The Game.[21]

Lose The Game Day

October 10 has been declared "Lose The Game Day". On October 10, 2010, Alex Baker announced his loss of the game on Kerrang Radio and Facebook[22] and Justine Wettschreck wrote a Daily Globe article on The Game.[23]

"Lose The Game Day" in 2012 took place on December 12. A trailer raising awareness about the day was created by and uploaded to YouTube.[24]


The 2009 Time 100 poll was hacked by Anonymous. The first 21 people's names formed an acrostic for "marblecakes also the game".[25]

Number of players has claimed to have "infected" almost three million people who have viewed their website; most visitors are from the United States. They also claim two million people have lost The Game from mentions in a Metro article and on Kerrang Radio and that another 500,000 lost from an xkcd comic.[6]

In 2008, the largest Facebook group relating to The Game had over 200,000 members.[2]

See also


  1. ^ Boyle, Andy (19 March 2007). "Mind game enlivens students across U.S.". The Daily Nebraskan. Archived from the original on May 18, 2008. 
  2. ^ a b c Rooseboom, Sanne (15 December 2008). "Nederland gaat nu ook verliezen". De Pers. Archived from the original on December 15, 2008. 
  3. ^ a b c "If you read this you've lost the game". Metro. 5 December 2008. Retrieved July 6, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c "The three rules of the game". Metro. 5 December 2008. 
  5. ^ "Don't think about the game" (Subscription required). Rutland Herald. 3 October 2007. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Lose The Game - FAQ". Retrieved July 6, 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Montgomery, Shannon (17 January 2008). "Teens around the world are playing 'the game'". The Canadian Press. 
  8. ^ a b c d Kaniewski, Katie (1 March 2009). "You just lost the Game". Los Angeles Loyolan. Retrieved 2009-03-27. 
  9. ^ a b c "Anti-Mindvirus". Retrieved July 6, 2014. 
  10. ^ a b "Lose The Game Strategies". Retrieved July 15, 2014. 
  11. ^ "Lose The Game Shop". Retrieved July 15, 2014. 
  12. ^ Kevin Rudd email
  13. ^ "The Game (I lost!).". August 10, 2002. Archived from the original on June 14, 2008. 
  14. ^ Tolstoy, Leo (2008). Leo Tolstoy, His Life and Work. p. 52. ISBN 1408676974. Archived from the original on July 6, 2014. 
  15. ^ Dostoyevsky, Fyodor (1863). "Winter Notes on Summer Impressions". Vremya. p. 49. 
  16. ^ "Cory Antiel The Game Study". December 19, 2007. Retrieved July 15, 2014. 
  17. ^ "SMBC 2227". April 26, 2011. Retrieved July 6, 2014. 
  18. ^ "RealLife Comics". September 24, 2007. Archived from the original on March 8, 2013. 
  19. ^ "You just lost THE GAME!". YouTube. June 18, 2010. Retrieved July 6, 2014. 
  20. ^ "Demyx Time: Episode 4". YouTube. January 30, 2008. Retrieved July 6, 2014. 
  21. ^ "Simon Pegg". Twitter. February 15, 2011. Retrieved July 15, 2014. "Stop talking about the game you fucking douchebags! I just lost again. Thanks a bunch! ;-)" 
  22. ^ "Facebook - deadmau5". October 10, 2010. Retrieved July 6, 2014. "also, the game." 
  23. ^ Wettschreck, Justine (October 10, 2010). "You just lost". Retrieved July 6, 2014. 
  24. ^ "Lose The Game Day 2012 - 12/12/12 - The World Will Lose". YouTube. April 5, 2010. Retrieved July 15, 2014. 
  25. ^ Inside the Precision Hack. "Music Machinery". April 15, 2009.

External links