Game. A common every-day word used without thought as to how many applications can actually be made by using this simple four letter word. Unassuming. Deceptively simple. Game. Defined by dictionary.com in the following ways (for the entire list of 15 definitions, please click here):
game [geym] noun
1. an amusement or pastime: children’s games.
3. a competitive activity involving skill, chance, or endurance on the part of two or more persons who play according to a set of rules, usually for their own amusement or for that of spectators.
7. a particular manner or style of playing a game: Her game of chess is improving.
8. anything resembling a game, as in requiring skill, endurance, or adherence to rules: the game of diplomacy.
9. a trick or strategy: to see through someone’s game.
10. fun; sport of any kind; joke: That’s about enough of your games.
11. wild animals, including birds and fishes, such as are hunted for food or taken for sport or profit.
13. any object of pursuit, attack, abuse, etc.: The new boy at school seemed to be fair game for practical jokers.
It must be apparent to you as you read your way through this post that I read something using this word that was offensive to me as a survivor of domestic violence. This seemingly harmless word, how could it ever cause offense? The easy, efficient answer is that it became yet one more word to forever become attached to the victim blaming that occurs as we come forward either as victims asking for help or as survivors sharing our story. However, despite the deceptively simple meaning of the word, the implications the statement I read are anything but simple and far from kind. With one four letter word, the damage was done.
Game. When we are children, we love to play games. Hide and seek, Chutes and Ladders, matching games, races, board games, puzzles, guessing games. In fact, in our innocence, almost anything can be made into a game. Even a boring road trip where we count a certain type or color of car, how many cities or states we pass through, or play “I spy,” where we give a vague description of something and everyone else has to guess what it is. At our younger stages in life, we are not necessarily aware that playing games helps our cognitive function to improve: memory, creativity, speed, reasoning, and use of logic. We are occupying ourselves and having fun. Ladies and gentlemen, I have just given you definition one.
Game. Also referred to as a spectator sport. Football, soccer, basketball, tennis, hockey, and a host of others. As we grow from childhood into adolescence and beyond, it becomes readily apparent that some of us are more gifted in physical abilities than others. While I am no slacker, my dear readers, I am not an athlete. More than just raw physical power, these games require the ability to think fast, to see and take scoring opportunities, to devise plays based on the opposing teams’ abilities — both strengths and weaknesses — to give your team the edge, and the ability to troubleshoot and alter a plan of attack when necessary. As I possess everything but the raw physical power, I am doomed to sit on the sidelines and watch others demonstrate this remarkable ability.
Also included in this definition could be competitions based on brain-power alone. Games like chess, spelling bees, math competitions, billiards, technology competitions, and more. More my speed, these types of games require all the skill and talent in sports, but not physical ability. There are rules to follow and adhere to just the same as physical sports, but they are based solely on logic, troubleshooting, and reasoning. Herein lies definition three.
Game. This can also refer to the strategy we use as we play a particular game. More than tailoring our play to a basic set of rules or guidelines, this includes the many tweaks and improvements we have made to our own ability to master them. How well we are able use reading our opponent to our advantage. Can we pick up on when they are bluffing to try to trick us into a misstep? Can we predict the likely group of choices they will make in response to our play? Can we troubleshoot a way out to minimize the damage caused by a move they have made? Can we ourselves keep our opponent from reading our intentions, thereby minimizing their advantage? This was definition seven.
Game. Trickery and deceit, as used for personal enjoyment. The first thing most of us think of is the behavior of men (or women) who play on emotions of others so as to mislead them into believing they are not only interested in them but that they are committed. Use of emotional manipulations, half-truths, blatant lies coated in sugar, and generous machinations of all types can be expected to get the optimal results. Short and sweet break-down for definition nine.
Game. Also used when we find ourselves caught up in an immature mood where we just cannot buckle down and be serious and instead insist on engaging in horseplay, tomfoolery, and practical jokes. Past the point of innocent joking, this is done to the extent that it causes others annoyance and, often times, inconvenience, as it works against their (and our) productivity. Many times, the joking can focus on one or two specific targets, making them uncomfortable and irritated; depending on the extent to which it is taken, it can result in hurt feelings. But such is the way with good-natured ribbing gone bad and definition number ten.
Game. Here is where the term is flipped and turned on the hunted, which I am sure they find to be a matter of their survival and as far from any game they could ever imagine. Those stalking them as prey, however, see them as trophies, whether it be for food, sport, or profit. Hunting for food, out of necessity is one thing. However, when done for entertainment, for the thrill of the hunt, or for profit, it takes on a malevolent tone. Treating animals as such is by many cultures considered to be wasteful and cruel. What we as humans seldom are able to keep in mind is that animals, too, have emotional responses to being the hunted and to seeing one of the herd, flock, gaggle, murder, etc. being taken down. Animals, too, have deeply engrained social structures in their communities that we minimize for our amusement. The thrill of the hunt is definition eleven.
Game. Now we have expanded the negative connotation of the word to fit our need in any circumstance in which we have targeted someone or something for our benefit, whether it be to target someone weaker as the butt of a joke, bullying, or stalking and harassment, an animal for the hunt, a potential partner in life, or resources available for the taking. Generally speaking, the more physically, socially, and financially well-off one is, the more likely they are to view others and objects as “being fair game,” as though they were put there for their amusement and usage. Objectifying people and things has given us the definition of number thirteen.
Here we reach the point where a very important question is to be posed: What does a game have to do with domestic violence? The answer to this question all depends upon from which viewpoint you offer up a response. Here is the response from mine, as a survivor.
Playing games is not done without purpose. We wouldn’t play games without purpose. There is a payoff involved that increases in value according to age. When we are children, our biggest motivator is to have fun and be able to say that we beat out everyone else. That we were victorious. Our payoff is to be number one. As we get older, we are conditioned to want more than the thrill of winning. We expect rewards: gold stars on the board in kindergarten, certificates, prizes, trophies, and medals. Our names announced at award ceremonies. Upon adulthood, we expect rewards to come in the form of money or financially valuable objects, status, and notoriety. Many automatically expect this also is deserving of respect and stultification by default. Games are undertaken, then, because they provide a tangible payoff, no matter what form it takes.
What reward, then, can a victim caught in the cycle of domestic violence expect? Certainly not the confusion of being drawn back in each time they leave by their abuser, who feeds off the love and emotional attachment still present and promises to never harm them again. Maybe for a while, they stay true to this, until the next explosion happens. And it does happen. Perhaps later attempts to leave are foiled by fear. Walking on eggshells, living in fear of your life. Maybe in fear that the abuser will follow through on threats made toward family, friends, and pets. Fear of being humiliated and shamed by their secret, their pain, being revealed publicly in a manner that makes them appear inferior or seems to demonstrate that they are to blame. Is there payoff in this? In living in fear every day of your life? Being at the (lack of) mercy of someone who has the will and the power to take your life? Is there a reward in this?
Perhaps the reward, then would be in the form of attention the victims gets from family and friends around them? The family from which they have been cut off. The friends who, if they have not been cut off by the abuser, drop out of contact of their volition out of being tired of going through the motions, being annoyed with having extended the offer of help and having been refused before. Where is the attention there? Where is the compassion in saying “That’s why she has no friends.” Where is the reward in being alone in the world? There isn’t even safety there. Is there pay-off, then, in this?
Or perhaps the payoff comes in the forms of an array of injuries left behind each verbal and physical attack. The broken bones the abuser won’t let you go to the ER to have set in a cast. The black eye that no amount of concealer can cover over. The swelling. The red marks. The cuts. The bruises. Are these, then, certificates of honor of some sorts? A medal saying we survived? A trophy demonstrating valor and bravery under fire?
None of these things are a payoff. They are, however, flashing neon signs pointing to an unmistakable fact that something has gone terribly wrong. Being dragged in the cycle of domestic violence is not a game, and neither are any of the attempts (or calls for help) a victim makes once they reach the point where they see how they are living and how they are being treated is wrong. That they are in danger and are on their way to a point that they are ready to leave. Their reaching out for help and then withdrawing is not a game. Not a put on. They are have been under immense amounts of stress for longer than you can imagine, and their objectivity is gone.
To refer to the victim who is caught in this cycle as being one who is playing games is pushing the blame onto the wrong person entirely. The abuser is the only one in the situation getting a payoff, I assure you. Their cardinal motivation in this is the payoff of power and control they get over their victim. This is their reward for the game they have mastered so extensively. As further explanation of how this game applies as used by abusers, we will take another look at the above definitions.
Definition one. It is unfortunately the case that many abusers get a twisted sense of enjoyment from the verbal, emotional, and physical abuse they inflict upon their victim. Their payoff in this in our reactions we display. Whether or not we can hide our fear and pain from them. Whether or not we subject ourselves to them and do their bidding. Whether or not the conditioning takes over. In my own personal experience, the man who abused me got emotional payoff from everything in which he was able to force me into relinquishing control: my appearance, my friends, my choice in music, and more. He was proud of the fear he knew he instilled in me and became infuriated when I went into autopilot mode, because there was no payoff, no amusement with things that could not elicit an apparent response. He adapted his courses of action until he got the response — the payoff for his cruelty — that he so desired. My pain was his “gold star on the white board.”
Definition three. Many abusers appreciate the push and pull that first exists in the relationship. The gradual giving in and taking over and then being pushed back. Little by little, they take more ground. In his case, it was no different. The object wasn’t to get me to give into his demands immediately. He wanted a chase. He wanted the tension, for this, too, was part of his payoff. It involved endurance, and the longer I was able to survive his brutality, the more he enjoyed the control he stripped away from me. His rules were that there were none. And he openly talked to some people about what he did as though he was proud of what he did. This little game of power and control he played so everyone could see not only his cruelly twisted intelligence but his brute physical force.
Definition seven. Abusers and their manner of abuse. With a few exceptions, it is fairly similar from abuser to abuser, although they all like to bend the rules to their advantage. So they can see the optimal results in the particular person they are assaulting and destroying without care or concern for the damage that will be left behind. So their superiority will be manifest to the weak, valueless shell they have shattered at their feet and trampled over.
Definition eight. All this occurs under the guise of subjecting the victim and training them. Supposedly to be better, which really means for the victim to be obliged to do their every whim. All played out by their own warped set of rules. Subjection by fear. Control and power is the game, and all is fair when beating us into submission.
Definition nine. The false appearance abusers put on so that those on the outside of the pressure cooker would not ever suspect their true nature. In the beginning. this comes in the form of acting normal, loving, and caring toward their unsuspecting partner, and it happens as long as necessary so as to affect the potential victim and her loved ones that she (or he) is safe and protected. That they are a good person that would never hurt her. No one would ever suspect then, that he was blackening my eyes behind closed doors, ripping out clumps of hair as he dragged me around on the floor, and beating me with a metal bar. So when we try to tell someone that something is wrong, their reaction to us is that we are crazy. That we did something to deserve it. “He would never do that to you!” “No, not her, she’s never acted like that!” By the time those on the outside begin to witness things going awry, we have long been in grave danger and at high risk of losing our lives.
Definition ten. Gaslighting. Threats that are immediately recanted as jokes. An abuser’s best friend in this game of control and manipulation is the ability to get us to think that we are the ones who are crazy, broken, mistaken about what is happening. Somehow, they are able to be the catalyst for us to ignore our instinct that stabs us when we first begin to feel something is not quite right. Little by little, they soothe our objections, blunting the pinpoint we so desperately need to keep our bearings about what is happening to us. When others on the outside are alerted that something is wrong, a common response is that we are imagining it, that he / she is not being that cruel. That we are just misinterpreting them having a bad day. That we are crazy.
Definition eleven. Prey. From the time they spot us, we become prey to them. An animal to be hunted and subdued, penned up and caged, and tortured for their amusement. They shower us with attention in the beginning, make us feel loved just to lure us into their trap, and then they begin to inflict non life-threatening wounds on us in the form of words. Hurt feelings. Unnecessary arguments over trivial things. They stalk our minds and root out all ability to protest. They chain us, and then they slowly kill what’s in our heart and erase what’s in our mind so we are easy targets for however far they want the hunt to go before they become tired of us and dispose of us. The thrill of the hunt for control and power.
Definition thirteen. Especially in regard to verbal abuse. Words sharpened like razors to pierce us when they are angry at someone else. When things beyond out control happen. We become jokes to those on the outside, because the abuser will be talking negatively about us to others so they know something is wrong with us. So they will be justified. So they will be entertained.
Again, I ask, how is the victim the one playing the game in this crime that is cruel beyond measure? We are not the ones employing these malicious tactics against another for the sake of forcing compliance, for stripping them of their power and value. We spend our life trying to survive. Trying to walk on eggshells so as to hinder their anger from exploding. To change constantly into what they say they want us to be so we can finally please them and make them stop. Make them see us as human again. Make them treat us with love. We are not the ones destroying another human life for the sake of amusement. Payoff. Reward. Being abused and scared and confused is not a game. Not knowing up from down, in from out, is not child’s play. It’s torture. It’s not a game that we play. We are forced, dragged kicking and screaming to follow someone else’s rules that are not in place for our benefit, comfort, peace, safety, security, or advantage. It’s not a game that we play.
None of us woke up one morning and told ourselves it would be a good day to meet someone who would ruin our lives in the more insidious ways possible. None of us decided that we would reach out for help then recoil in fear and confusion over and again. We were sucked back in. Trapped. Misled. Lied to. Manipulated. Hated. Heartbroken. Decimated. This is not a game we play. This is not child’s play. This is our lives, and unfortunately, some of us lost our lives before we were able to take that last step and get out. A small piece of us as survivors shatters every time one of us loses our life. We are them and they are us. We are one in heart. We feel each other’s pain and loss. And when we leave, we relish in each other’s safety, joy, achievements, peace, and love. We reach back for each other when we fall and lift each other higher when we stumble. This is not a game we play, but it is our lives.
Also, as it is not the first time I have seen this, just a side note in reference to a therapist whose comment made its way in via third-party. If you work as a counselor or therapist and you refer to a life or death situation that a patient relates to you as a game or trivia, your level of immaturity has betrayed you. In fact, so has your level – or lack, thereof – of compassion as a human being. Out of all the obvious factors staring you in the face, you could perhaps benefit from getting some (or additional) sensitivity training. Perhaps, above and beyond that, I would suggest taking a sabbatical. Going on hiatus somewhere that affords you the ability to spend some quiet time in isolation reflecting on the points of why you chose a position in psychology and social services to begin with. You have strayed from your intentions of helping others. Fueling fire within a patient so as to credit what they are saying at the expense of someone whom you have never met and the seriousness of the danger they are facing with such lack of concern or basic consideration is wrong. It is a betrayal of your field, and it is something I suggest would be worth looking into. For therapy is not a game either, but you have reduced it to child’s play.