This game requires two participants, Black and White, who are both members of a LinkedIn discussion forum. No message is intended by the choice of colours or the allocation of colours to roles in the game: the analogy is with chess. No sexism is intended by the choice of gender of the players. This is a game open to all.
White initiates a new discussion on the forum by posting a link to an article he has written elsewhere. It is important that the article can be at least construed as helpful and/or interesting, eg “Seven Unbelievably Easy Ways To Be A Great Leader”.
White’s overt motive for doing this is “I’m being helpful to you [another member of the forum] by posting something you might find useful”.
Given the very concept of a discussion forum, there is a subsidiary overt motive along the lines of, “And, if you post a reply, we can have a discussion and I can help you some more”.
However, White has a covert motive, which is “Look at me, mummy, aren’t I clever!” (This is a game in its own right.)
There is a subsidiary covert motive here, too: “Please give me some work”.
Black encounters this post and reads the article.
He decides that he has something constructive to say which, unfortunately, doesn’t put White’s article in a particularly good light. Black posts a reply, responding to Overt Motive 2, and implicitly acknowledging Overt Motive 1.
White doesn’t see anything constructive whatsoever about Black’s reply. In fact, he sees it as a direct attack on Covert Motive 1, with an implicit threat to Covert Motive 2.
White thinks: “If Black is showing the world that I am not as clever as I would like it to think I am, there is a real risk that noone will ever give me any work ever again”. It’s important to understand that the covert motive, “Please give me some work”, underpins all the moves of both players. (See also the chapter “101 interesting things to do with your scarcity model”.)
White responds by replying in a way which includes some or all of:
1 the phrase, “You are, of course, entitled to your opinions”—which means “You are, of course, entitled to your opinions and if you want them to appear on LinkedIn, start your own bleedin’ discussion”. The subtle player will say, “Those are really great opinions, Mr Black” thereby adding an aroma of condescension to the “discussion” while making it clear, in the rest of his response, that the last thing White thinks is that these are “really great opinions”.
2 either a detailed defence of a point which Black was not contesting or an attack on a point Black never made. This is a popular diverting tactic because it drags Black into a discussion about the structure of the discussion, not the content of the discussion. (“But I didn’t say that!”, etc, etc.)
3 a rehash of bits of the original article, presumably on the principle that, if someone appears not to understand something you’ve said, say it again only louder.
4 a recourse to an argument from personal experience, on the basis that, if one person has found something to be the case, then it must, axiomatically, be true for everyone else. Tread with care here because some people really do not understand that others’ experience of life is different to their own and will get upset if you inadvertently raise this possibility.
5 conversely, a recourse to an argument from multiple experience: “A million housewives can’t be wrong!” Of course, it doesn’t follow that, just because lots of people do something, that thing is ipso facto the best thing to do.
6 a condescending manner which addresses Black as if he is a stupid little boy who knows nothing about that which he is writing—which may be true, but often isn’t.
Most importantly, it is imperative that White does not acknowledge any truth whatsoever in what Black wrote; shows he is not going to alter his own position one iota as a result of reading Black’s contribution; and indicates that, should Jesus Christ himself descend from the clouds and tactfully whisper in White’s ear that he might at least think about what Black wrote, White would tell him to “naff off if you don’t want to become an expert in hospital catering”.
This goes one of three ways:
1 Black is now perplexed. Although he can play the “But I was only trying to be helpful” card, he would immediately lose. Noone likes self-pity.
So, let’s address Black’s covert motives in round 2.
Whilst overtly he was playing his own Overt Motive card, “I’m being helpful to you by posting something you might find useful”, depending on Black’s temperament, his covert motive at this point could be:
“Out of my great largesse, I will share a speck of my infinite wisdom which, if only you could swallow your pride, you would find genuinely helpful to your business”
or, alternatively, “I am now going to demonstrate that you are a jerk”, might be nearer the mark.
Skilled players will be able to deploy both. The point being that, as they are covert, by definition these motives are never explicitly stated. So, for example, if Black gets into trouble for calling White a jerk, he can always play “but I never said that! I never would!”: a basic ploy, but one that works because he didn’t actually say it.
Even if Black’s motives were of the purest, other people will construe his response as one of the above, because that’s what other people are like.
Black has effectively doubly lost by playing “But I was only trying to be helpful” at round 3. Nobody likes a showoff, either.
2 Black has another covert motive in round 2: “Look at me—I’m cleverer than you!”
So, if Black now feels challenged, he will post another, longer explanation of why White was wrong on a particular point, effectively going back to round 2 and carrying on from there. This can go on for some time until one or both people flounce off in a huff. This should officially be adjudged a draw, whoever is actually the last man standing.
3 If Black is really sneaky, he’ll play, “Why does this always happen to me?”, revealing that White was an innocent dupe in Black’s far longer game, played over many discussion forums. He has won his own game at this stage, not least by subverting White’s intentions and turning them to his own.
Of course, it may be White who was, all along, playing “Why does this always happen to me?” by posting an article in the first place whose content was so clearly contentious, or stupid, that Black’s urge to mention this fact becomes unbearable. In which case, White wins when Black inevitably gives in and does mention it. This is, effectively, the game “Kick me”, in which White’s behaviour is that of a man with a sign “Kick me” on his back. His behaviour is increasingly provocative until Black cannot bear it any more and kicks. Whereupon White triumphantly plays the card, “Why does this always happen to me?”
An interesting variation
After several ding-dong exchanges in round 3b, White suddenly introduces his friend, Gray, who writes a lengthy encomium for White stressing what a thoroughly nice chap he is and everything White has ever said is indisputably true.
This is a high risk strategy for it shows that White can’t fight his own battles and has thereby lost.
However, it takes a hard man in Black’s shoes to persist with the argument because Gray has made it personal and any response from Black will only be seen by everyone else as an ad hominem attack. It requires exceptional talents if Black is to sidestep that accusation.
In reality, of course, a discussion forum can have many contributors. There’s no space to analyse their game here but I would recommend that, if Beige joins and sees Black and White having a “discussion”, the best tactic is to say something completely irrelevant to what has gone before and then, after several contributions to a completely different discussion with other players, play, “Oh, hello Black and White. I didn’t see you over there!”.
With admiration, apologies and grateful acknowledgement to Eric Berne, whose book Games people play (Deutsch, 1966) remains the exemplar in this field. “Why does this always happen to me?” and “Kick me” are games Berne describes in his book.
© Jeremy Marchant 2014