Decoder Ring is a podcast about cracking cultural mysteries. Every episode, host Willa Paskin takes on a cultural question, object, idea, or habit and speaks with experts, historians, and obsessives to try and figure out where it comes from, what it means, and why it matters.
When you think about the game, you lose the game. When you lose the game, you must declare that you have lost the game, causing all others in your vicinity to also lose the game. That’s it, that’s the game.
The game is a mind game that trades on a quirk of human psychology, and is so intensely viral that it went from a college science-fiction club in-joke to an endemic mind virus in only a few decades. If you’re a bit older and already know about the game, you likely learned about it in the aughts, but the game continues to spread through social media, most recently on TikTok, where the game became a meme over lockdown. On this episode, we examine the game to figure out how it works, where it came from, and the curious psychology that powers its viral nature.
Note: A version of this episode was originally released as a secret bonus to our 2018 episode “The Incunabula Papers,” but this is its official public release. The episode has been updated with new sound design and minor story changes to bring it up to date in 2021.
Some of the voices you’ll hear in this episode include Forrest Wickman, Slate’s culture editor; Dan Check, Slate’s CEO; Jonty Haywood, creator of LoseTheGame.net; Nick Lowe and Mark Haslett, Finchley Central enthusiasts; and Nick Hobson, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Toronto.
This episode was produced by Willa Paskin and Benjamin Frisch.