Two Truths and a Lie is a unilateral social game in which players attempt to outwit each other by revealing surprising truths and telling convincing lies about themselves. The mechanics are simple: players sit in a circle (or are placed in a breakout room when playing remotely) and take turns giving three facts about themselves, which are required to consist of two truths and one lie. The theme of the game could be said to be “how well do you know me?” as the other players are tasked with voting on which statement is a lie. The primary social dynamic comes from the tension the speaker feels about what level of sharing of private information they are willing to give in order to try to “win” the round. A secondary social dynamic occurs between the other players as each has an opportunity to display his or her knowledge about the speaker — displaying such knowledge is an indicator of social connection and may indicate social standing. Scoring is not required for the game to be fun, but points or penalties (taking a drink in the alcohol version) may be awarded when the speaker reveals whether the other players were fooled or not fooled. The fun comes primarily in the moment where the lie is revealed, in the moment where either the speaker or another player delights in revealing something the others don’t know. The game has no explicit mechanism to avoid abuse, instead relies on the speaker’s discretion about what facts are appropriate to disclose to the group, and the unstated social mores of the group as to what level of teasing is permitted. There is social danger in the possibility that a fact told during the game could be spread as gossip outside of the group.
One context in which Two Truths and a Lie is often played is as an icebreaker. When participants do not know each other well, the game solves the problem of how to build social cohesion in a group by giving players a structured way to discover facts about each other that can later be used as conversation starters. The game is also frequently played as a drinking game in a group of friends who have varying levels of knowledge about each other. In this context, the game solves the problem of how to further deepen social bonds, in this case by expanding the amount of private knowledge the participants have about each other..
I played Two Truths and a Lie with my 70 year old mother, 15 year old son, and 11 year old daughter to see what difficulties it would pose between parents and teens. We found we needed a great deal of time to come up with our facts, and needed paper to write them down. My mother enjoyed using her turns as a chance to retell family stories that were well known to me but not to her grandchildren. I found myself torn between wanting to reveal things from my teenage years that I had never told my mother, and not wanting to set a bad example for my children. The 11 year old was frustrated because she hadn’t had enough experiences that would lend themselves to both being revealing and hard to guess the truth of. The 15 year old initially started to disclose something that could potentially have been very damaging, then withdrew that fact and changed his list. He was eager to leave the game after only two rounds, thus confirming the observation from our advisors that games between parents and teens are particularly difficult to create.