OK, let’s start with Truth, shall we?
Many of us have probably played a game of Truth or Dare at some point in our past, right? Sure, we didn’t have all of today’s high-tech gadgetry to draw upon, but it’s possible that some of you still doled out those boundary-pushing teenage challenges in some antiquated analog ways. You know, via a twirling bottle, a spinning pointer or the venerated cat-with-his-tail-on-fire method. (What, you never did that one? Well, we must have been a bit edgier in my hometown.)
The point is that games of Truth or Dare have been played down through the ages—whether at weekend sleepovers, teen get-togethers in a friend’s basement or any random summer block party when the adults weren’t paying particularly close attention. So when we here at Plugged In recently received a press release for a new smartphone Truth or Dare app, I thought: Why not look into it and see what the next gen has up its sleeves?
What I found, first of all, was that dare-filled games are no new thing in our blossoming universe of apps. In fact, there are tons of these types of apps out there. A quick scan of the “Truth or Dare” list in the Apple app store revealed, oh, about a hundred of them, many with specialty flavorings: kid’s versions, spin-the-bottle versions, beer-pong versions, slumber-party versions, get-naughty-with-the-neighbors versions … the list went on and on.
And just in case you, dear Mom and Dad, have a sanitized memory of the game, I decided to be your guinea pig and let you know what one of today’s versions is like. I sought out the Truth or Dare !¿ named in the press release and gave it a number of spins all on my own. (Sure, that way of playing isn’t very daring at all. But it’s a lot safer, truth be told.)
Without paying to unlock the more difficult levels of play, I discovered that this seemingly teen-focused app had two levels at the ready: Easy and Hot.
The Easy level was packed with fun and innocuous questions and dares for the most part. I’d spin the spinner and dares such as “Take 5 stupid selfies” and “Swap shoes with the person on your right” and “Sniff your neighbor’s armpits” popped up in all their goofy glory. A bit of athlete’s foot would be your worst outcome there. Questions about stupid past choices or your most hated cartoon characters were silly enough, too. I mean, after all, these games have always been primarily about forcing communication and socialization in entertaining ways. And most of the Easy truths and dares seemed suitable for that goal.
However, even the Easy mode had a few “Kiss Sally on the neck” and “Pinch Fred’s bum” dares. And the general background decor of bikini girls and jauntily posed female silhouettes winked at the fact that this app is designed for more sexy and edgy activities. A quick punch of the Hot button certainly fleshed that attitude out.
The Hot level had lots of dares requiring physical kissing and touching—including everything from clothing removal, specifically applied hickies, drinking challenges, clothed body-part evaluations and erotic fruit machinations. (Sorta makes the old stick-your-head-in-the-toilet dares seems flat out tame, doesn’t it?)
On the Truth-side were questions asking about everything from personal fantasies about your school teachers to fessing up about past sexual experiences. Again, all of that in a game with language that seems very much aimed at your average teen. (A notice says you should be 17 to get it, but who’s stoppin’ those younger?) And even if your average teen doesn’t have any exotic erotic experiences to share, what message does he or she take away from a readily accessible game like this?
So, how should parents respond? I suggest playing your own game of Truth or Dare with your kids: Dare to speak a whole lot of truth to your smartphone-packing teens, and help them see that some boundary pushes (and apps) can be more problematic than others. And then it’s just a matter of daring to trust that those teens will use good judgment to choose apps and party games that are fun without being foul and fetid.
It’s daring, but it’s the right choice.