Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (GK).
GK: “A really common saying was ‘Play stupid games and you’ll win stupid prizes’”
CB: “And who would say that to you?”
GK: “the person getting you in trouble [laughs]”
CB: “So, like you’re superior?”
CB: “Okay. And what did it mean to you?”
GK: “What does it mean to me? It means someone else fucked up and I’m getting punished for it [laughs]. No but, like thats actually what it means to me, but I guess you could say that it means that people try to act stupid all the time. They’ll be like ‘oh I didn’t know I had to do this’ or ‘you didn’t say I had to do that so I just blah blah blah blah’ when really common sense dictates, like in the real world you might be able to get away with that stuff because it wasn’t explicitly stated, but in the army they don’t care about that shit, you’re gonna get fucked up”
CB: “Why do you think they say it?”
GK: “Its definetly like an esay way to remind people whenever they’re thinking of doing something dumb. Like ‘play stupid games I’m gonna win stupid prizes’ like you know, so you have to weigh the decision the next time you think about doing something stupid”
My informant just graduated from basic training, and is now at a military base waiting to start further training and specialization. He grew up with an older brother in the army and has learned a lot about army culture from him, and then from his superiors at basic training. As a newer member of the military, he has no rank and is often scolded and bossed around by all of those around him.
I called my informant to interview him over the phone, and recorded the interview on my laptop. I had often asked him about his experiences since enlisting, and so my questions were fairly normal for him. It was a casual comfortable conversation with the occasional input from his roommate.
Once deployed, a mistake by a soldier can be fatal for himself or others. The military places a huge emphasis on the importance of following orders and trusting your superiors. This proverb serves as a warning against questioning or disobeying those orders. By using it when someone has made a mistake, it forces the listeners to associate that phrase with the punishment. When repeated, the proverb then acts as a perfect reminder of the punishment they might get should they make a mistake.