When you play the game of thrones

Just last week, as the first episode of “Game of Thrones’s” final season aired, I saw a quote from the show as I was scrolling down my Twitter feed: “When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or die.”

Someone told me this my sophomore year, attempting to prepare me for social life at New Trier. Now that I’m six weeks away from graduation, I figured I could use my platform to pass on the knowledge I’ve gained about the social scene here. Specifically, how the social environment is its own sort of “Game of Thrones.”

Considering the way New Trier is fed from six different junior highs that all already have their own social scenes, getting yourself into a stable friend group is a stressful task.

In the show, there are several houses entrenched in a constant struggle for power with other kingdoms and within the ranks of their own house.

Just like the Lannisters or the Starks in Game of Thrones, there is often an internal power struggle within groups for who will be considered the “queen” or “king” and who will have the final say in what moves are to be made on a given weekend night.

Let a friend outside of the group come to a party, or call out the king for not inviting you to something or saying something mean, and you might sacrifice your chances of staying in the kingdom altogether.

Being in a friend group means you have a group for school dances, you have somewhere to be every Saturday night, and you have people to post birthday shoutouts for you among other things.

Being in a friend group at times seems mandatory, just as being in a more “powerful” kingdom seems enticing enough to ditch your friends.

Being in the kingdom that sits atop or near the throne could mean a few things. It could mean that you are able to hang out with the hottest guys or girls. It could mean that you are able to go to the best parties or sit at or near the front row at the football games. Or maybe it could just mean that you got what you wanted or what you thought you wanted. Part of what makes you happy comes from being popular or friends with certain people, which I guess is okay.

But, as much as this process brings joy and pride to a few in the kingdoms who “win,” it leaves many people alienated and disillusioned just as it does in “GOT.” The whole system can be exclusive, isolating, and cruel. Or, it leaves many people, who, despite avoiding death, obey the king in a way that stems from their fear of what life without the kingdom could really look like, making their life not too fun either.

People who do question the social game of thrones and are kicked out of a group, are subject to seeing superficial Instagram posts, watching these people have fun, and again yearning for that life, which can spark anxiety and sadness. The next step is either starting or joining a new friend group, or leaving the game altogether, which means just “settling” for a few friends, or considering yourself a “floater”.

Don’t get me wrong, many groups are great—they are built on supportive friends with real similarities.

But, some groups are different—they are built on attractiveness, athleticism or other things, which dwarf the ability to make real friendships within it, which is a recipe for disaster.

It is ridiculous for our happiness to be dependant on fear or superficial social pyramids, and it is just as ridiculous to [ruin] the high school experience of other people who want to be your friend for this reason too.

The fact is that a great social life is possible without playing the game.

Obviously the concept of popularity in high school is normal, but ghosting your friends is not, posting pictures on Instagram with all 9 of your other friends with the caption “10/10 committed,” so that the people not in your group can see it is not, and kicking people out of group chats is not.

But, as I’m saying this, I know how tempting it can be to flaunt your popularity or ditch old friends for newer, more popular ones. But at the same time, the social game of thrones causes anxiety, suffering, ridicule, judgement, and isolation.

I’ve had friends tell me that “all they want in life is a stable friend group.” I’ve had friends tell me that I needed to “start over” after I called people of a certain group out for ditching me and going to a party. And I’ve had friends tell me that “this is just how it works” after a friend lied to me about where he was on a Friday night.

Through all of this, I’ve realized that to win the game of thrones, you just have to play the game well. You have to be exclusive; you have to do bad things to people you used to be friends with; you have to sacrifice some of your true self in order to survive; you have to tolerate things from others that you wouldn’t normally—all things I, too, have done in the past.

Do these things and you’ll either win or die: it’s a coin flip Or, don’t play the game at all and survive. Your choice.