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Game Purposes


Explanations > Behaviours > Games > Game Purposes

Identity games | Control games | Avoidance games | So what?


The purpose of any game is first to benefit all those who have opted-in. Even though the game may seem dysfunctional from the outside, the players all get something from playing in it. There is thus an underlying ulterior purpose.

The benefits of games are divided below into the broad purpose identity, control and avoidance, and then into sub-categories.

Identity games

One of our fundamental needs is for a sense of identity, and hence drives much of what we do. Games allow us to boost our sense of identity through our interaction with others.


Attention is a major and simple way of boosting a person's sense of identity, and if we are not getting any attention, our identity suffers. It happens when other people notice us and interact with us.

Even painful attention is better than no attention, which is why 'solitary confinement' is so often used as an extreme punishment. It is also why children who are not getting the attention they want will misbehave. Adults, too, use ways to get attention that often fall outside the realms of what is considered 'good behavior'.


Another way of getting attention is to evoke empathy or sympathy in other people. This has the greater advantage of people thinking kindly of us. It also may be reminiscent of child states where we were hurt and our parents comforted us.

Control games

Another fundamental need is for a sense of control, without which we may feel threatened and unsafe. Game players invite or coerce others into playing the game in which they are the rule owner and referee.

Social capital

Social capital appears as the balance of favors we owe one another. One way of gaining control over other people is to increase what they owe us. In dysfunctional games, this may be done by asserting or implying that they owe us one, even if this is not really true. In fact in many games, both people end up believing that they have gained social capital, which is a very good basis for further gaming and feuding.


With power we can achieve our goals, and many games are about acquiring power, by whatever means. Power can be squandered, but in games it is often used to create more power. Just as the robber barons used their muscle to gain more power, so too do many people in the games they play.


Vengeance games use aspects of power and social capital, and they are often retaliatory in nature, attempting to rebalance the social capital by punishing a person for their sins against the persecutor.


Making agreements that we do not complete or otherwise persuading through falsehood. Telling lies and appearing to be nice helps me in the short-term, but in the long term breaks down trust.

Avoidance games

Other games are intended simply to help get the player out of a hole. They may include control and identity aspects, but the main purpose is to save the player from having to act or accept responsibility.


Sometimes people just want to get away from things that hurt them.  They may also want to escape from having to face up to themselves.


Excuses allow a person to attribute a cause outside of themselves for things they have done. If it wasn't me, then I am ok. It also allows the person to repeat the behavior without contravening their values.


Displacement occurs where a person takes something that is troubling them and puts it somewhere else. Thus, for example, anger at your spouse may be a displacement of frustration at work.

So what?

Understanding the underlying purpose of games gives you greater flexibility in responding to them, for example by helping the other person achieve their goals by another method.

See also

The Purpose of Games (entertainment games), Status Game, Goals, Games, Attribution Theory, Values, Control, Identity


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