Announce that over the course of a period of time (eg 3 hours to a week) it will be secretly passed from person to person in the group.
Instruct people to pass the washer onto another unsuspecting person as soon as they discover it is in their possession.
Critically, ask people to always hide the washer so that it will be easily discovered.
If the washer is not found within a reasonable length of time, the most recent passer is responsible for retrieving it and hiding it somewhere new.
When the allotted time expires, coordinate your group to discover who has the washer in their possession.
How To Play Narrative
This has got to be one of the simplest, yet most absorbing games I know.
Introduce a small metal washer to your group so that everyone gets a good look at it. Then, explain that someone (perhaps you?) will start with the washer in their possession, but will, as soon as possible, be passed onto another person in the group – without their knowledge.
In effect, the washer will be passed from person to person, secretly over the course of a period of time you declare. Then, at the end of this time, one unsuspecting person will discover that they have the washer.
Encourage people to pass the washer onto another person as soon as they discover it is in their possession. In essence, you don’t want to have the washer in your possession at the declared end of the game.
The key to this exercise is to always hide the washer so that it will be easily found or uncovered. The ‘passer’ should attempt to place it on another person or their possessions so that the latter will eventually uncover it as part of his or her daily routine.
Slipping it into their coat pocket works well, as does placing it inside a lunchbox. I have even seen people slide it into a roll of toilet paper to surprise some random person when they visit the bathroom!
However, if the ‘passer’ notes that the washer has not been detected within a reasonable length of time, they are responsible for retrieving it and passing it to someplace or someone new.
When the time for passing has expired, it may be necessary to unravel the history of passes to determine who is the last person to be in possession of the washer because they are often unaware.
This telling of the journey of secret passes is always a highlight of the game.
Practical Leadership Tips
I have presented this Alien group game into highly interactive programs that lasted only two hours, as well as residential camping programs that ran for a week. It works either way, but the longer the time period, the more mischievous your group members can be.
One of the most attractive benefits of this game is that it can be run in the background of whatever else is happening in your program. That said, beware this game does not become the sole focus of your group, lest it draws their attention away from what you would rather they be doing.
Note, there is no magic in a washer – you could use any item. But, a washer does have weight, it is relatively flat and thin and it’s not the sort of thing you or I generally see lying around – so when it’s seen, it is noticeable.
Owing to the possibility that the washer may be placed within someone’s clothing while it is being worn, the highest level of respect and sensitivity must be observed to protect the privacy of others. If you do not think that your group or certain members of your group will respect these boundaries, then do not introduce this game – or, at a minimum, prohibit the washer being placed anywhere on a person.
You could integrate Alien into a well-designed SEL program to focus on one’s ability to make appropriate decisions and their impact on other people.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits to one’s wellbeing of playing in the true sense of the word.
In a small way, you could focus on the subtle social cues that are exhibited (often unintentionally) when someone tries hard to conceal that they are holding the washer. They try to look like they’re being normal but occur to everyone as anything but normal. To this end, this game could be ideal for highlighting and reflecting on a plethora of silent, non-verbal, and often hidden social cues that people express in the context of exploring emotional intelligence and SEL skills.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which this Alien group game could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Gotcha Moments: To heighten the element of secrecy, announce that if someone is caught in the act of passing the washer, the ‘passer’ must retain the washer, and attempt to pass it again another time.
Multiple Items: Use two or more washers simultaneously. I sometimes do this without notice to ramp up the fun!
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Useful Framing Ideas
Are you the sort of person who notices the little details? Or, are you often surprised to learn about something that is staring you in the face? This next exercise will heighten your awareness of what’s going on around you, but may also present you with an opportunity to perform a secret deed…
Most of us have played the Pass the Parcel game, often at birthday parties. You know, the game in which you don’t know when the music will stop and what’s inside the package when it’s time to unwrap the next layer of wrapping. This next exercise leverages this element of surprise, but you won’t know who or when…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this fun group game:
How many of you received and/or passed the washer?
How did it feel to discover the washer in your possession?
What strategies did you adopt to secretly pass off the washer? What happened?
How did you feel performing this secret task?
Does this exercise remind you of anything in your life?
The inspiration for Alien, and many more fun community-building games, was sourced from the following publication: