Any university student will be familiar with the game ‘Would You Rather…?’ Initially a drinking-game, it’s now so common that it’s played out across text messages, in offices, and in school playgrounds on every day of the year. The game has become something of a cultural phenomenon; in 2012 it had a film named after it based on a game of Would You Rather gone-wrong, and some websites boast having over 44000 Would You Rather questions for your perusal.
In the game, players take turns to ask the other participants to select between two choices, and the appeal comes from what we learn about them as a result of their selection. The questions may have initially tended towards the sexual; what can we learn about our friends sexuality that may come out via their spontaneous answers. But questions can be anything at all. Some popular Would You Rather questions online include, ‘Would you rather have a part of your ear bitten off, or lose two front teeth?’ and a quite remarkable find: ‘Would you rather be a tree or a rock?’ Completely uninteresting, these questions display an important desire that we have to see ourselves as centralized beings. Every answer I give is a symptom of some central ‘me’; each answer refers back to an essence that I have, a part of which is revealed by my answer. Whether I would rather be a tree or a rock betrays some essential truth about me to my friends; I can only hope I give the right answer. Perhaps even I am unaware of this central me which is revealing itself, and I have to work through my own symptoms to figure out who I really am, just like the other players do. Alternatively, perhaps I enjoy taking part in the representation of this essential self to my friends via my answers.
In Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams he introduces the idea of the ‘navel,’ which is ‘a passage in even the most thoroughly interpreted dream which has to be left obscure.’ It is ‘a tangle of dream-thoughts which cannot be unraveled’. Such a point is the dream’s navel; ‘the spot where it reaches down into the unknown’. That which is at the centre, of the dream just as of us, is always deferred and inaccessible. Thus, whilst psychoanalysis recognizes the impossibility of getting back to the essential centre, instead seeing an infinite chain of displacements and condensations which reach back into the unknown and inaccessible origin, Would You Rather depends upon the belief that this essential centre can be worked out and revealed.
But there is another pressure involved in the game. You must think of an interesting and/or funny question, or risk the judgement of your friends! Not only are your answers symptoms of your identity revealing itself, but so too are your questions. What will you think of? Can you be interesting and funny? In the world of Would You Rather everything you do is a symptom betraying an aspect of your essential identity, and since you have no idea what that is, you must anxiously hope that you ‘come out’ okay in the game, that you give the right answers, and ask the right questions.
Whilst in psychoanalysis the answers you give and the questions you ask take part in the production of the subject who is speaking, Would You Rather is bound to the idea of a centralized ‘you’ which is down there, and which every movement is a symptom of.