Return counter is a "reverse charades" game. The first player leaves the room and the group decides what object that player is returning. This means that the person returning the object does not know what the object is. The second player stands behind a desk or table and acts as the store clerk. The scene is played as though it is obvious what the object is. It begins as the returner walks in and says, "I would like to return this item," and the store clerk says something like, "Oh no, what is the problem?" From this point on the returner provides reasons for returning an item and then reads the reaction from the store clerk to see how close he or she is. The returner keeps on changing the story until he is ready to guess what the object is.
For example, the returner might say "I tried it on and it didn't fit!" If the object is a sweater then the clerk might knowingly shake his head and ask if and how he had washed it, so that the conversation becomes more about the details of the item, while if the object is a lightbulb, the clerk would respond with disbelief and even concern, "How would you ware this?!!" In this situation the returner would have to correct himself quickly by saying something like "Did I say fit? I meant that it didn't work when I plugged it in..."
In the moment:
The role of the clerk is difficult. They should not be saying much information, they should be showing it. This is an acting game. How would a clerk react if a person returning a lightbulb said "it didn't fit when I put it on." That would be different than saying it is the "wrong size..." Every statement is an offer, they need to learn to recognize it and then run with it. What that means is that the returner will give them opportunities to act and react in very interesting ways--their job is to listen for and be aware of those opportunities and then embrace them. This type of listening, 'listening with a willingness to change' is a core improv skill. (It is also a core life skill...)
One way to have them avoid giving too much info is to have them ask questions. "What do you mean, 'it doesn't fit'? Doesn't fit what?" rather than, "You should have checked the lamp before you bought it." Let the returner give the details!
Discussion after the game should focus on the clerk. What reactions were most convincing, what the returner picked up from this reaction or that one.
Theater Classes/Programs: I often pull this game out after Christmas break as a theme game. (I usually play the Gift Game before Christmas.) It is tons of fun and it challenges kids to be in the moment, responding to what is said without planing, and taking offers as they are given. It is fun to watch. Kids will say, without realizing it, that the puppy didn't taste right, and the reaction from the clerk can be priceless! I had a student return an engagement ring and he started with "it just didn't work out." The conversation suddenly became about relationships and feelings, until the boy playing inadvertently suggested the person he was fighting with was his sister...
Social Pragmatics: I play this game in my Social Pragmatics classes because students need to be able to read and respond to the people around them. Kids in this class will often misread what is going on and the skill of reading and adjusting to the cues that the people around them give is important. It is also a safe way to talk and reinforce the notion of "unexpected behavior" and how other people have thoughts and it is your job to read and respond to the thoughts they are having. Kids who have difficulties in this area are often in positions where they do or say things that are seen as strange or inappropriate. This is a game that practices and creates this very scenario without it being about them. (I would suggest looking up Michelle Garcia Winner’s books and her ‘Social Thinking’ programs if you are interested in this topic!)
Family fun!: Many of the teachers in my workshops will comment that they often play this game with their families on game nights. It is also a great camp game or game to pull out when you have kids for ten minutes or so without a plan.