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Betrayal games and how to ruin friendships

August 8, 2020

I was initially going to write this up as a post as normal, but in working my thoughts out on Twitter, I pretty much said everything I wanted to say, so I’m just going to copy and paste the text here. Sorry that it’s going to be short and disjointed sentences due to that format.

There’s a dividing line between the games that involve bluffing and betrayal that are generally bad for friendships and ones that aren’t.

It depends on 3 things:

1) Opposition vs. false alliance

Poker everyone knows they’re against each other. So there’s no feeling of betrayal because there was no illusion of being allied to begin with.

2) Personal appeals as the means of bluffing

In Poker, the cards and chips serve as tools you can bluff with or deduce information from. Games like Mafia or Werewolf, the primary means of bluffing is how well you can manipulate your friends.

There’s a certain psychological trick in these games that amplify that feeling of betrayal.

As humans, we are generally understanding that lies scale to a situation and we accept how/why someone would lie depending on context.

“How are you doing?” / “I’m fine.” is a way to simply acknowledge each other & avoid deep/uncomfortable conversations for the situation. An appropriate scaled lie. If you’ve got serious lies that it turns out involve trauma in your life, people are more understanding. Same thing.

So let’s say we’re playing a game of Werewolf or Mafia and there’s no money on the table. There is effectively “no stakes” that are meaningful here. In order to lie successfully, “You gotta trust me” “Please don’t do this, we’re friends” puts the friendship as stakes in play.

So, our brain goes, “You wouldn’t put this high of stakes on the table for an empty game” and that’s how the feeling of betrayal creeps in on one side.

The other side is the person who IS telling the truth and not believed. “If you won’t believe me when there’s no stakes at hand, what will you do if it’s something important that affects my life? I thought we were friends.” is the feeling.

Then there’s a third strategy – sowing distrust away from oneself. That depends on playing up negative emotions between other people in the group. So… gossip to tear people down.

3) Time

Finally, here’s the one that I think amplifies the previous in a really bad way; time. A 20 minute game of lying to each other is a short, quick thing. A 2, 3, 8 hour game is not. That’s the timescale we start talking about interrogation & brainwashing sessions lasting.

Games where there’s an agreed time limit or mechanical limit (including “when you run out of money” in Poker), don’t have this as much, while open-ended games do. People are tired, irritable, but again, “you wouldn’t put this much in for a low stakes game, right?”

People break down over time, and thinking also chews up emotional resistance. It’s why interrogations and brainwashing work this way. But you’re doing it for a game. So the brain assumes this must be, for the only thing that matters; friendship & status of self.

You trigger physical survival mode responses, then play emotional manipulation for long periods of time. So yeah, if a friend betrays me in a 20 minute game, haha, that’s good fun. If a friend betrays me in a 7 hour game and I’m exhausted, that’s just inflicting bad brain stuff.

So basically…

So why are these games so popular? Well, strong emotional stimulus STICKS with people. I think, for some people, there’s a “gotta win” drive that might be normal competitiveness, or, the desire to win from losing previously, as a “redemption” model in their head.

That said, I’m all for betrayal games where there’s mechanical tools besides “know how to plead your friends into believing you” and “know how to read when your friends are turning on you” that don’t last more than 2-3 hours at most.

Just be aware when people say a game “ends friendships” it might not just be people being sore losers and immature, you might be playing a game that’s well engineered to create negative spaces in friendships and add a dose of torturous stress on top of it.

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