“We played icebreakers—yes, hell had frozen over.”
What my sister once brilliantly said in eight words, I am about to say much more clumsily in five hundred. I’ve been around the PC block a few times, three to be exact, and I consider myself an icebreaker survivor. I’ve been on countless “speed dates,” all of which were chaperoned by student leaders sweating buckets over the shoulders of people who didn’t seem to be hitting it off, and none of which were followed by second dates (so sad). I’ve identified myself as every kind of kitchen utensil known to Gordon Ramsay. I’ve invented so many handshakes that as the sign of peace approaches during Mass, I am simply beside myself, terrified that the touch of a hand innocently outstretched in Christian charity will set me off, that while I squeeze with my right, I might slap with my left.
I’ve also had more than enough opportunities to observe that every time an icebreaker shows its ugly face, an almost identical pattern of behavior immediately unfolds. “Icebreakers are the worst!”—the cry goes up from the very agents of angst. “But they’re necessary!”—those same voices argue back, and then cheerfully begin to poke and prod the unfortunate participants into their pairs and lines and circles. It’s cool to hate icebreakers. So cool, in fact, that those who mandate and implement them also hate them, or at least pretend to. It’s cool to hate icebreakers, and yet, especially in college, or at least at Providence College, you’re lucky to go a week without getting tied into a human knot. But the fact that there even exists, outside of horror movies, something called “the human knot” should send a horde of little chills scurrying up, down, and all around the spine of anyone who has two grains of common sense to knock together. I’m not sure exactly what it means for our social clime that our best attempt to connect with other people looks like interlocking the clammy crooks of our elbows into other clammy crooks and making one writhing, giggling bundle of joints, like a living Hieronymous Bosch painting. I do know it means nothing good.
There is, as always, a possibility that I’m violently overreacting. “It’s just a game!” the cry goes up. “Relax! Have fun! Don’t take it so seriously!” But I am more than willing to die a bloody death on this hill. This fall I led a pre-orientation program for the Class of 2026 and witnessed a new generation of young adults getting the ice hacked off of them with the same rusty hatchets that were used on me at the beginning of my freshman year. Han Solo frozen in carbonite is about as cold and miserable as I am during icebreakers, but it’s almost worse to watch other people in the same situation. There has to be a way to get people talking and enjoying each other’s company without making them stand in a circle and yell ZIP ZOOP ZEEP at each other—and it’s not that I enjoy knowing no one to talk to, having nothing to do, nowhere to stand, nowhere to run to, baby, nowhere to hide. But my problem remains: it’s a mystery to me why, as eighteen-, nineteen-, twenty-, twenty-one-, and twenty-two-year-olds we are still engaging in activities with names like “Move Your Butt.” And, worse and worse, it doesn’t seem like it gets better after college. To jog my own memory (read: fish out whatever ghastly icebreaker experiences I have banished to the murky depths of my mind), I did a quick google search of the word “icebreakers” and found that the second result is “50 Icebreaker Games for the Workplace in 2022.” God help us, everyone.