Here’s a great and concise passage from Eric Berne on real social games:
“The solitary individual can structure time in two ways: activity and fantasy. When one is a member of a social aggregation of two or more people, there are several options for structuring time. In order of complexity, these are: (1) Rituals (2) Pastimes (3) Games (4) Intimacy and (5) Activity, which may form a matrix for any of the others. The goal of each member of the aggregation is to obtain as many satisfactions as possible from his transactions with other members. The more accessible he is, the more ‘satisfactions’ he can obtain.” — Games People Play
According to Berne, game are but a structuring of time and experience, to wit time spent in social experiences. Given that social tools and social media are the means by which many of us “spend” social time “with” others, Berne’s perspectives are interesting and provocative. According to Berne, and others in the school of Transactional Analysis, structured social interactions serve an ulterior purpose: to provide emotional “strokes” of recognition to individuals.
Indeed, these psychologists believed that social interactions are there for that purpose primarily — the staving off of an existential exclusion, by means of an emotionally inclusive recognition. Conveniently for sociologists, emotional strokes are provided tacitly and secondarily. They are not an explicit content of interactions but are handled by the very structure or organization of the transaction itself. Transactional failure, or violation of the expectations of participants engaged in some kind of familiar social pastime, would thus damage the transaction of emotional strokes.
Correspondingly, then, the tacit provision of emotional recognition must be diminished by the technical framing of social interaction by means of social tools and media. One either supposes that some emotional strokes are obtained by proxy, possibly also vicariously (through observation and projection of others’ activities), and by fantasy. When social action or communication is completed, modified emotional strokes are created. The act — say an act as simple as a retweet — delivers emotional recognition (as well as acknowledgment of the content of the tweet, in some fashion) but without affect.
I don’t know what this implies for social integration and development in real life, and in the real world. I admit that many people simply use social tools as a supplement to their everyday interactions and surely obtain a “good” and uncomplicated amount of emotional recognition and connection from their social media use. But there is no denying that media provide an affectless, faceless, and static mode of social engagement. The nuanced and lively experience of shared facetime simply isn’t there. Surely people satisfy much of their sense of “OK” by themselves — bolstered or anchored on mediated interactions.
What this means, I don’t know. Whether it is fragile, illusory, or a perfectly fine combination of imagination and social reality — say, best understood as some kind of modern social skill of interpretation — I can’t say. Obviously, social tools are only a very small part of a person’s social interactions. But they may be a lesser or greater factor in a persons’s sense of Self, from self-worth and importance to reputation and social relevance. And insofar as those are emotionally-grounded and mediated Self Images (affective images) they are more tightly and closely coupled to the new forms of proximity, connectedness, “presence” and so on provided by social media. And this is, I believe, something new. Absence, not presence, still governs the emotional and affective dimension of social media.