5 Relationship Lessons from the Game “Fog of Love”

I’ve only ever purchased two things from a Facebook ad.  The first was a giant, beautiful, forest-themed tapestry that is now hanging in the waiting room of our new office suite.  I’m not sure how Facebook’s algorithms knew that this was exactly what I needed, but somehow they did, and here it now hangs:

office waiting room

 

The other is a board game called Fog of Love.

In college, I was a huge board game geek, but in recent years, balancing the process of building Through the Woods Therapy Center with the generic task of adulting, while also trying to maintain a social life, has left precious little time for that old hobby.  But when I saw this game, I couldn’t resist.  The premise was too perfect.

The game, which bills itself as being “romantic comedy as a board game”, is for two players who play as characters in a romantic relationship.  The premise is that each player has to meet their own individual goal, while also working towards a shared relationship goal.  Amazing.  How has this never existed before now?

My expectations for Fog of Love were high, but I was still blown away.  Not only was the gameplay smooth and the board beautifully designed; the game itself was incredibly poignant.  It transgressed assumptions that a lot of people make about relationships, and even as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I couldn’t find flaws.  Quite to the contrary, I kept shouting, “holy shit, yes, that!  That’s so smart!”

So I decided to take all of these mini-revelations and distill them into five relationship lessons that this game gets absolutely right.

 

1. A healthy relationship is a Venn Diagram.

And here’s what it looks like:

fog of love

 

A monogamous relationship is two intersecting circles.  There’s you, and there’s your partner – and then there’s this overlap in the middle that constitutes the relationship.  All three parts of that Venn diagram are very important.

If one or both of you let the “self” atrophy, it looks roughly like this:

fog of love

That may feel warm and fuzzy, like there’s someone you can always depend on, someone who knows you better than you know yourself, but the clinical term for it is “enmeshment”.  I love that word, because it sounds like “smush” as in “smushed together” – which is exactly what two people in the above relationship have done.  They have smushed themselves together until they can’t tell where one ends and the other begins.

The problem with this is that inevitably, one or both of them will eventually realize that they’ve completely lost track of their identity.  When they try to reestablish it, the relationship, which was dependent on the homeostasis of that enmeshment, crumbles pretty quickly under that pressure.

On the other hand, some relationships involve two people living parallel lives, which looks like this:

fog of love

These people are very independent.  They can do whatever they want, and it doesn’t impact their partner very much.  But the problem with that is that connection is why we’re all here.  The people in these relationships, while partnered, feel very much alone and eventually come to crave more from a relationship.  When they seek it and the partner, accustomed to having a lot of space, pulls away, that also feels unsustainable.

Fog of Love addresses this in its objective: Meet your own individual goal while collaboratively working towards a shared goal.  Never have I encountered anything that illustrates the relationship Venn Diagram so well.  How do you stay true to yourself while increasing your own satisfaction points, and also make decisions that enhance your partnership?  Gamified perfection.

 

2. Sometimes “it’s not you, it’s me” is absolutely true.

Have you ever found yourself in a tiff with your partner, known what the right words were, and found yourself utterly unable to say them?  Or known, “my partner knows I love it when I do ___” but forgotten to do it in the moment?

Sometimes you can know what you need to do in order to make someone feel better or diffuse a situation, but you simply don’t do it.  Maybe it’s because you have bigger things on your mind.  Perhaps more frequently it’s because letting yourself be seen in a relationship is inherently vulnerable.

In Fog of Love, this is addressed through “traits”.  These are three words that you have in hand that could be anything from “manipulative” to “compassionate”, and your goal is to fulfill those traits.  The game is played through a series of “scenes”.  Each scene puts forth a scenario (“Argument at the Restaurant”) and a few multiple choice answers.  Each multiple choice answer is associated with adding points that help you work towards (or against) your goals.

In other words, even if I, Jennie, know that a certain response would get me in deep trouble in a real relationship, my character, who I named Alyssa, could choose that response anyway.  This is because Alyssa is driven not by what’s right, but by the traits she embodies as a direct result of her inherent personality traits and lived experience.

Or, put another way: Your own personality traits can sabotage you.

 

3. Ending a fight is not always the same thing as being happy.

Sometimes there are magic words you can say to end a fight.

  • “Okay, if it upsets you, I won’t be friends with her anymore.”
  • “Sure, let’s move across the country for your job.”
  • “What am I thinking? I’m thinking how lucky I am to have you for a partner, and how your eyes are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” (when actually, you are thinking how much it drives you up the wall when your partner chews with their mouth open)

And maybe those words will work.  Maybe your partner will say, “good, thank you, that’s all I wanted.”  And maybe you’ll think to yourself, “but that’s not really true” or “but that’s not really want I wanted…”

Often, people in relationships will say things to placate each other without giving their own needs enough consideration or heft.  Then, agreeing to things they didn’t actually want to agree to, they grow resentful and angry.  And they become deeply unsatisfied with the relationship.  (Have I mentioned lately that assertiveness is an act of kindness?)

When you play Fog of Love, your own happiness level in the relationship is designated by “satisfaction points”.  But sometimes, when you’re considering a particular scene card, acquiescing in an argument decreases your satisfaction points rather than increasing them.  True to life, right?

 

4. You can be a different person in different relationships.

In my undergraduate social psychology class, during our unit about persuasion techniques, I learned that when you tell someone they have a positive characteristic, they are more likely to strive to embody that.  So if you tell your best friend, “you’re so reliable – I appreciate that you always call when you’re going to be late,” she’ll remember that and strive to emulate it.

The opposite can also be true.  A somewhat insidious example is that if your partner tells you that you’re a jealous person, that may well be because your partner has given you reason for jealousy.

This phenomenon, paired with the notion that we are responsive to our surroundings and circumstances, means that we often show up differently in different relationships.  This can be true between current and previous romantic relationships, but it can also be true between different types of present relationships.  For example, I might be a little bit sassier with a sarcastic friend than I am with one who is more sensitive.

Fog of Love achieves this through its setup interface.  You select the “traits,” referenced in #2 above, for yourself… but your opponent/collaborator/partner selects your “features” – three things that they tell you they were drawn to when they first met you.  At the beginning of the game, they will tell you:

  • “I was really drawn to your bedroom eyes – they lulled me into a sense of security, and I knew I wanted you right then and there.”
  • “Your tattoos were such a turn-on, I thought they were so hot.”
  • “I thought your nerdy glasses were so cute, and they made me want to get to know you better.”
  • “I could tell you were stoned, and that let me know you were my kind of person!”

This, in addition to your own selections and creative backstory, let you know what kind of character you are playing.  In other words, who your partner is impacts who you will be through the course of the game.

 

5. Staying in the relationship means winning the game – but it won’t always make you happy.

Several years ago, I had just ended a long-term relationship and was talking to a friend on the phone.  I said, “I’ve had a really rough week.”

“How have you had a really rough week?” asked my friend.

“Seriously?  I just ended my 8 year relationship!”

“Oh, that doesn’t sound like a really rough week,” he said, earnestly.  “That sounds like a really good week.  People usually don’t leave relationships that make them happy.”

Truly.

But people don’t always leave relationships that are making them unhappy.  It’s hard to walk away when you’ve built a life with someone, when you’ve emotionally invested yourself an image of a shared future, when you have children or pets or a home together.  And sometimes, it’s just scary to think about being alone.

So people stay… and not just for 8 years.  People stay for entire lifetimes because leaving is vulnerable, or because something feels more important than a happy relationship.  This isn’t bad, and it isn’t wrong… it’s just true.

I mentioned earlier in this article that when you play Fog of Love, you are working towards your own individual goal, as well as a relationship goal.  But the thing is, not all of the relationship goals look like what one might think of as “happily ever after”.

Take, for example, “unconditional love”.  If that’s your relationship goal, then you actually don’t care about your own satisfaction points.  You care only that your partner is happy and does not break up with you.

And if you select “dominance”, you don’t care about your partner’s happiness – quite the opposite, in fact.  You win by having at least 15 more satisfaction points than they do.

It’s not all bad – “love team” and “equal partners” give you goals that are collaborative and mutually beneficial… but just like in real life relationships, it’s possible to decide that maintaining a relationship is what matters – not your own personal happiness.

 

If this blog article made you want to play the game, you can purchase it here.  (This is not an affiliate link, and we receive no commission if you buy it.)




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