For once, the best game in a Jackbox Party Pack doesn't involve making lewd drawings on cell phone, it involves baring my soul and showing everyone how little I actually know myself.
Split the Room, part of The Jackbox Party Pack 5, isn't fun in the way the series' party games usually are. I've laughed and smiled throughout, but not because I managed to sort-of rhyme 'walloping' with 'galloping' in a mad-libs robot rap battle diss (one of the other great new games), or because You Don't Know Jack threw an absurd curveball of a trivia question at me. I laughed because I was uncomfortable—butt clenched, almost sweating, grinding my teeth until the timer nearly ran out.
Would I cook my middle school bully dinner every night if it meant I'd always make the right choices for the rest of my life? I didn't even have a middle school bully, but I've certainly made some stupid choices. I'll get back to you guys in 30 minut—oh, I have 15 seconds? OK. OK.
It gets worse, and for the better (with the right crowd).
Split the Room begins like many Jackbox games do. Everyone sees a prompt they need to finish. My very first was from the image below, and it was so messed up (almost too far, Jackbox) that I spent too much time fixating on why anyone would have secret virtual sex with a computer clone of their LinkedIn associates in the first place. The goal is to complete the prompt to form a question that will 'split the room' and cause the most divisiveness (read: inner turmoil) among the answering players as possible.
I had to come up with the message that a job site connection would automatically receive after the illicit, creepy deed was done. They wouldn't have any knowledge of the computer sex, but they'd definitely get whatever message I wanted them to get. I suppose it didn't matter what I'd do because I wouldn't have to answer the question, but that didn't make it any easier.
In a panic, I decided the message would say "Let's get lunch," instead of "Hey, FYI, just did A Thing with your computer clone hope that's cool, uh, Jed from, uhhh, that IT joint I worked at in college." No one would actually do this, right? Doesn't matter. The 'what if' matters. We're looking at Black Mirror: The Party Game Trivia Question.
When my question entered the rotation, everyone was as perplexed as I was. I got a perfect split, which awards bonus points, and a few more points for how long it took everyone to answer. That was a long minute or so, mostly silence broken up by incredulous laughter, the occasional snort, and a couple hard WHATTTs.
It's a question designed to make players uncomfortable. I'd never do it. It's too weird and invasive. How does consent apply to virtual recreations of people? It's technically not them, but if it might as well be, then no way, right? Especially if the job site associate gets a weird message every time it happens. With questions like this, Split the Room is a bit more brutal than most Jackbox games, inviting players to consider the absurd and troubling as reality, because it very might well be reality someday. There's a reason the aesthetics are a cartoon cat Twilight Zone impression.
While Cards Against Humanity simply shows you grotesque or troubling subject matter for a laugh, Split the Room forces you to sit with and think about it deeply. For that reason, I think it's OK when Split the Room goes there, but it's not the kind of game I'd play with people I'm not comfortable around. You might get answers that scare you.
The prompts aren't all so immediately bruising or close to reality, and you can turn on a family mode that leaves the darker questions packed away. Still, some of the more innocuous questions can prove to be the most perplexing of all, especially if the player that creates it knows how to read the room.
Would I hang out in a rich person's home for extremely good money if it meant I had to babysit an angry giraffe the whole time? I was the only player that said yes, but I'm still tortured by the question.
Each game wraps up with a single question where all players contribute an answer to be rattled off in a final round of deep reflection. I spent too long thinking of an answer, cooking up a terrible choice for the people around me like I was some bridge troll cooking up riddles for gallant adventurers.
Having been tortured by so many difficult decisions, by the game's end I was happy to send more of that pain back at them. The prompt: Which would you rather give up? The ability to sit on stools or (my answer) the ability to drink water without spilling it on your shirt? Imagine drinking water but spilling it every single time. Phew. Damn, James, that's good. What a hell you've imagined.
If I'd finished my answer on time I'm sure I would've done OK, but as if often the case while playing Split the Room or doing literally anything, my greatest opponent was myself.