"Shell Games" was the first released single off of the 2011 Bright Eyes album The People's Key, the eighth studio album by American indie/folk band, Bright Eyes. On it, band frontman Conor Oberst sings of love and alienation from a more adult perspective, coupled with the desire to share his burdens and seek help carrying his "heavy load."
Saddle Creek originally gave the song away as a free download in December 2010. Label owner Robb Nansel told Billboard magazine it is, "a good introduction to the record. It starts out sounding like what you expect from Bright Eyes, then ventures off into this other territory." The song's use of synth pop and anthemic major chords recall 1980s pop rock.
The music video for the song, directed by Nik Fackler, is set in a ramshackle yet stylish house draped in fabric, with the band playing as though for a house show for themselves. The group performance then moves outside around a bonfire, before the final shots, presumably the morning after the house show party, reveal that the house has been overtaken by unusual zoo animals.
The People's Key marked a turning point for Bright Eyes. Oberst told Spinner, "The songs [on new album 'The People's Key'] were written all over the course of the last year and a half. When I started writing the first few songs, I didn't know what direction the record was going to take. Once the first three or four songs were written, I started to see the template emerge of what was going to become the record."