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Games we play
All my games were political games; I was, like Joan of Arc, perpetually being burned at the stake. Indira Gandhi
As we’re nearing one of the major annual festivals and the part of the year where generally people participate more in this activity than any other... Have you ever thought about why we invest so much time and energy in playing games and why they are important?
Throughout their lives all animals learn through play and as such our knowledge and understanding has been tested through interaction, play and understanding. Games have been designed to develop desirable skills such as turn taking, patience, concentration, memory, knowledge, problem solving and various other skills and early learning opportunities that we have learned through play. Games have been played throughout history and have indeed been found in the tombs of the Pharohs.
So what is a game and what makes us play them? Broken down to a basic level a game is a set of social rituals that is repeatedly played out. I suppose games are functional rituals if you win and dysfunctional if you lose – why dysfunctional? Have you ever seen a bad loser?
As children grow and progress socially; they learn to control, or hide their disappointment, if they don’t get their own way, so as a learning process games are important, we also learn a lot through them. We have all learned important life skills through play, and if parents are clever with their selections they can help children overcome their weaknesses, by making development fun. Adults can teach an armoury of mental and physical tactics to outwit others, sharp wit, strong intellect, careful choice of words and eloquent use of language.
So what makes us continue to play games as adults? One reason may be to gain a sense of identity. One of the basic human needs is to be wanted, to belong – to be part of something. Then there’s attention, if a human does not get enough attention they suffer emotionally and confidence takes a nose dive – did you know that solitary confinement is used as an extreme form of punishment, because any attention is better than no attention?
There are many basic skills to be learned including control, and this can be done using a variety of tactics to control your opponent(s). Games such as draughts and dominoes are early childhood examples because they teach children from a very young age that they can control other people easily, by limiting the number of places the opponent can move and later on classic games such as Monopoly where you’re either financially controlling your opponents, or being financially controlled by building hotels on both sides of the ‘go’ square.
Then there is power. Through the use of power we can achieve our goals and if we’re cunning we can prevent others from doing so. Many games are about gaining power through whatever means is necessary and although power can be misused within the confines of playing games it can be simply used to create more power – I wonder what childhood games the great dictators enjoyed playing? The classic war games of Chess, or perhaps Backgammon, or Go or what about Diplomacy? A more modern game that finely hones your negotiation skills, but depends upon deceit, cunning and betrayal with each player acting out a European super power around World War 1.
A further element is added later as children develop – the use of revenge; another form of control but using more subtle Machiavellian tactics such as the use of power, conscience and debt. I wonder what childhood games the politicians and bankers trained with? Games such as Cheat or Balderdash where you learn to mislead, lie, swindle and cheat – not that business, or economic leaders would use such terms I’d better rephrase that last sentence I’m sure using rhetoric and misdirection to over-power, outwit and overcome your competitors is a better phrase. I’m sure Cheat and Balderdash were popular with many high flyers!. I wonder how many politicians realised that using falsehoods and being ‘nice’ may help in the short term, but damage their integrity and social standing in the long term?
Avoidance games teach the skill of escaping from tricky situations. These games may include aspects of control and misleading the fellow players – but the main purpose is to help the winner avoid accepting responsibility. Could games such as Articulate, where you have to describe a number of words to your opponents in a short time, or Balderdash have been used and how many potential Bankers trained playing poker to maintain their cool and keep a straight unemotional face when they are about to lose everything?
Do you enjoy playing escape games? Classic examples include games such as ‘Cluedo’ or ‘Outrage’ where, a couple of characters try to escape from the Tower of London, with the Crown Jewels, brilliant fun but what skills are you teaching your children? Escaping from harm’s way or simply avoiding facing up to their responsibilities and the consequences of their actions … or maybe you’re whetting the appetite of a future detective?
Excuse games allow a person to find a cause outside of themselves… if it wasn’t’ me, then its OK and I can repeat the behaviour without contravening my values. Are these games favoured by our future criminals? For examples of these type of games how about ‘Liars Dice’, where the object of the game is to outbid, out bluff and out last their opponents, or how about ‘Snatch’ where you have a bunch of letters in the middle of the table and turn them over to make words and claim them, but your opponents can change them with a letter from the middle of the table and snatch them for their own.
Displacement occurs when something that is troubling them and put it somewhere else so watch out for poor childhood losers, the ones who have been unable to learn how to deal with frustration, through play could well be the future adults who deal with disappointment through violent temper, mental health issues or turn their anger inwards resulting in depression and failed relationships. One of the major causes of relationship problems is attributing problems to something else, so an argument at work, could result in illness, or being angry with, or blaming your partner for something minor…
Is this all Psychobabble, or is there a grain of truth in any of the above? You decide!
© Copyright 2013 by Christine Hargan, therapist in Huercal-Overa, Spain. All rights reserved.