Reading Time: 4 minutes

I was recently reminded of the concept of games people play – there’s this triad of roles people can take in the game: the victim, the persecutor, and the rescuer. And interestingly enough, this time around, when I came across it (was listening to some short linkedin course thing about handling difficult people), it struck me harder than ever before, as just before I started that course, I had read a bit of Black Swan and came up to the point where the author introduces Fat Tony.

Ok, so basically in this story NNT does a thought experiment to Fat Tony and some common nerd, holding a coin, saying it is a fair coin (meaning it’s chances of hitting head or tails are 50-50) – now, in the scenario he describes and asks, “I flipped the coin 99 times and it was head every time. How probable is it that it will be heads the 100th time, too.” (sort of paraphrased, must have left the book at work, can’t look it up right now).

Now, the nerd responds like the wise guy should, because the next toss obviously isn’t reliant on the previous tosses, it’s still 50%.

The response of Fat Tony, however, “dude, the coin is obviously rigged.”

Demonstrating very well, how following rules too carefully can screw us up (FT is on to something).

Now, for a whole evening I started using this games-triad on everything I saw, and it fits in many places:

You do something mildly unhealthy (for the pleasure part), and someone butts in to tell you that you shouldn’t – there’s a persecutor pretending to be a rescuer. It makes you feel bad and you don’t want to be in this person’s company.

You ask from someone what version of software they are using, and they start talking about what I should and shouldn’t get – masquerading it as advice, the person is a persecutor once again.

You take up more chores at home to score brownie points over your partner – you likely end up as the victim, as your efforts will be recognized as attempts at manipulation and there won’t be any gratitude.

A man comes to your life, suggests you do such and such lifestyle choices, calls you a co-dependent and then fucks off – already a long while ago I had a sense that some people are so violently playing their game, the less suspecting individuals get pulled into it and won’t even understand what the fuck just happened.

All these games have complementary games – if you go on parent mode, you are likely to get a response in child mode – unless the person knows what’s up and is paying attention to what is going on. If you play the wooden leg game, you’re actively inviting rescuers and prosecutors into your company. If you are very eager to play a martyr game, you will develop a nose for wooden legs etc.

Learning about these games and understanding how and why people play them, and that they usually aren’t aware of it – helped me a lot in starting to orient in life and the world. I probably still will get pulled into games, or even sometimes start one myself when in a pinch – but I expect I’ve gotten better at detecting it – in myself as well as in others – and know how to put an end to this (usually calling the other person out on it does the trick).

Knowing about it and refusing to play along, knowing how to not get sucked in gives anyone a huge advantage over the suckers who play and keep creating more and more lose-lose situations.

These games are harmful and stupid – growing out from them, eliminating them from your life – is another step or grade of maturation, I think.

Now, how does this Fat Tony story tie in to the triad games? I bring it up because of the rules. Understanding the rules is good – but even better is when you understand what the rules are for – and how most rules become super irrelevant in real life.

The triad games people play also have rules – and here I offer an idea – those of us who learned very carefully how to play by these rules likely suffer from extreme confusion – we learn to anticipate, check every box, spot every mistake, do everything right – yet, somehow, we still lose. These games are impossible to win – and in the long run, the one initiating, and seemingly winning the game – also loses. It’s not even a zero-sum game, it’s a sub zero game. In other words: the opposite of intelligent – stupid.

And this, my friends, is how IQ as well as rules of social etiquette fail to give any relevant information about the quality of the person you’re attempting to assess. Detecting rules and following them very carefully is intelligent on paper, unintelligent in real life. Knowing how to play a game well – means you know how to play a game well – but sans the constraints of the game – your knowledge of it is pretty useless.

Of course, the triad is yet another filter, another hammer, a tool – and I might be attempting to apply it to inappropriate issues – but hey, I will do my attempts gently and not try to nego my way out of it once I find the one reason it doesn’t hold true.

Leave a Reply