When you hear the word “game,” you probably think of something brief, like a soccer match, or a round of Call of Duty. But games can last much longer – and be deadly serious, too.
Consider the game of Alcoholic. If you look closely, alcoholic behavior is in fact a complex game, with hidden motives and specific goals. When an alcoholic asks for help, it seems like she is acting as a rational Adult. But, more often than not, she is in fact challenging the other players of the game – like her children or partner – to try and stop her drinking. This is the action of a rebellious Child. And while the other players appear to be Adults reasoning with the alcoholic, they are actually playing the role of the Parent scolding the Child.
The alcoholic then gets what she wanted all along: the anger of other people, which allows her to fuel her self-pity and self-hatred – which leads to more drinking.
Some party games, such as charades or Catch Phrase, are perfectly harmless. Others, however, are more subtle and devious. Take Schlemiel, for instance – a game about forcing someone to forgive you. The main character in this game “accidently” breaks things when invited to someone’s house for a party. It might be spilling wine on the carpet or clogging the toilet.
On the surface, it looks like the Schlemiel apologizes for their mess as an Adult, and the host gracefully accepts the apology. But, in fact, the Schlemiel is trying to control the host, forcing them to be a model of self-control and forgiveness as a Parent. The Schlemiel can then continue being an irresponsible Child, knowing that the host will have to extend forgiveness, no matter what.
Another typical party game is Why Don’t You – Yes But.
The player starts by sharing a problem with a group. For instance, this person is having trouble figuring out which car to buy. The group then offers suggestions: this model is good for long distances, a new car is worth the higher price, and so on. But the suggestions are actually irrelevant, because the player always comes up with some reason to dismiss each solution.
At first glance, it looks like the main character and the group are speaking as Adults, trying to find a rational solution to a real problem. But, actually, those making suggestions are assuming the role of a Parent, trying to help a Child who repeatedly answers: “no matter what you do, you can’t help me.” This allows the player to maintain her sense of being a Child burdened with an unsolvable problem.
Our journey through the intricacies of human psychology has made one thing clear: games can make life miserable. So, why do we continue to play them?
First of all, we never consciously decide to start playing them. Games develop over long periods of time; most of them were invented long before our birth and, as we grow up, we’re taught to play them without even realizing it. Each culture and even each family has its own games, which accounts for the mind-boggling range of bizarre moves players can make.
Secondly, games have an important function: they allow people to interact without getting intimate. Most people are uncomfortable revealing their true selves to other people. By playing games, the players can slip into comfortable routines and hide behind different roles, instead of really getting close to each other. This allows them to be social without being vulnerable.
But vulnerability and intimacy are necessary for true human connection. And even though it’s difficult, if we want to truly connect, we have to give up our games.
How? First we must learn about the many different games people play. This is a matter of becoming aware of our ego states and of paying close attention to our interactions with other people. We then need to disrupt the games by dropping our masks and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, and to do our best to see through the masks of others.
People play games with each other every day: complex, often unconscious interactions that hide the true motives and goals of the players. Fuelled by their fear of intimacy, players can remain stuck in games all their lives. But by learning about the many games and their hidden dynamics, we can break free of their bonds and create honest, meaningful human connections.
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