People seem to be applying the same ten games from Territorial Games (1997) to control narratives and thus control our perceptions of what is/isn’t true. For the next ten weeks I’ll post about each of these ten games one at a time.
But first let me give a bit of background on the research. It all started with the metaphor, “turf war.” Everyone knew what “turf war” meant, but when I asked for stories every description just contained more metaphors (back stabber, empire builder, brown noser, etc). I wanted to know what actually happened, the behaviors, and the impact at a granular level. SO, I asked people to tell me stories about “a time when I witnessed a turf war.” The metaphors started to translate to specific situations that eventually fell into ten buckets of behaviors.
What is a territorial game? What is territory?
In the late ‘90s we already had very few tangible kinds of territory to fight over except maybe office space (remember private office space?) The games were primarily used to control information, relationships, and status/popularity. Controlling these three intangible factors meant players could monopolize gateways to money, power, and more tangible goodies. Today, it seems these ten territorial games have exponential potential to control global perceptions of truth. Any storyteller determined to control “the” narrative has stopped seeking mutual truths in favor of a single story.
Today, these games are even less visible because technology hides games so they are much harder to name, resist or question. So many messages are shaped and promoted by entities seeking to game the truth, we are all either confused or escape into fundamentalism. Personally I can’t even conceptualize solutions until I can examine which games perpetuate the biggest problems. Over the next few weeks I’ll do my best to translate old descriptions of each of the ten territorial games to current examples so we can decide if we think this is a useful way to describe the most common games people use to distort “dangerous” truths.
- Occupation Game:
The image that best evokes the idea of the occupation game is an dog marking his territory. Just as often the Occupation Game is played like musical chairs. The game is all about getting there first, in as big a way as possible to occupy control of who/how/why people get information, access, or status. In musical chairs the player with the biggest butt who is most willing to knock someone else off a chair usually wins. Sending an biting email with our version of the truth while copying far more recipients than necessary is a form of the occupation game. Occupation game players also withhold information (sit on it) if it they feel it might benefit their percieved “enemy” even in situations where sharing the information is the best way to achieve the organization’s mission.
Thank goodness I did this research when there were more tangible examples. Most of these behaviors are so far behind the scenes, written in code, and so complex we need metaphors to discuss them. SEO software has automated the occupation game. Which is fine. People have been playing these games since cave men protected good hunting grounds. Only… look at the two examples below of physical games of occupation and ask yourself if the problems caused by these games might also translate to current problems discerning what is/isn’t true.
“So there would be cases where people wanted to get something done and regardless of any of the [safety] procedures or who was accountable, they would just get it done – they’d go ahead and do it. They would ignore the procedures and then justify it on the basis of this is what you’ve got to do to keep the plant online…To keep the procedure people out of their hair they were very secretive in many cases. In some cases, they would rewrite procedures on their own.”
Safety Engineer of a Nuclear Plant
In the name of speed and efficiency we prefer to ask forgiveness rather than permission. But if a nuclear plant needs safety procedures surely we also need safety procedures to protect “Truth.” In the tangible world safety doesn’t happen without effort, so it sure as heck isn’t going to happen without effort/procedures in the intangible world to avoid nuclear options and scorched earth solutions.
In my research most people did not connect the long range implications of these games or even realize that they were playing a game. Territorial games are fear based actions that hijack the limbic system with knee-jerk fear responses. The central aspect to understanding and overcoming territorial games is to understand that no matter who you ask, “who started it?” no one will ever answer: “me.”
Therefore solutions that seek to place blame only make things worse.
For the most part these games are not malicious. We play these games because we are humans acting like humans. The example above risked a nuclear disaster. Occupation games that populate (occupy) all of our available attention with half truths risk similar disasters.
“We had three different departments on the same physical site. When a load of scrap came in, you sent a truck and you had to dump it somewhere…The guys were doing whatever they could to sort of define their boundaries and dump piles of stuff that would keep the other guy from using that space …There would be this stuff sort of creeping into the parking lot…the other funny thing is that the people who did the work couldn’t stand to see the pile get too low. It scared the hell out of them. It was like they liked seeing this big pile of work …they always knew they had a job…[it was] contrary to the financial side, because the best thing we could do was to have no inventory with no money tied up in it.”
If storytellers race to produce as much content as possible across as many channels as possible, I don’t see how we can avoid burying the kind of Big T Truths we must face to keep counterproductive individual goals from sabotaging humanity’s collective goals.