Berne gives a simple example of Ain't It Awful, one I've encountered IRL and I'll bet you have too. Two women on the bus:
Lady 1: (looks at watch, sighs)
Lady 2: (sighs back, looks at her watch)
Lady 1: Looks like we're going to be late again.
Lady 2: Never fails.
Lady 1: You ever see a bus on time - ever?
Lady 2: Never have.
Lady 1: You never get service any more like you used to.
Lady 2: It's a sign of the times.
And so on, for ten minutes.
In this game, both women have taken on the role of Parent. This is the part of our mind, explains Berne, in which "are recorded all the admonitions and rules and laws that the child heard from his (sic) parents and saw in their living." The Parent is the part of us that admonishes us - and judges others - as unworthy.
The bus wasn't late, of course, but as Berne says: "[They] enjoyed recounting the 'awfuls' more than they would have enjoyed getting the facts. This is because of the good feeling that somes from blaming and finding fault... Finding someone to agree with you, and play the game, produces a feeling well-nigh omnipotent... Someone who is enjoying a game of 'Ain't It Awful' does not welcome the intrusion of facts."
What a relief to remember this! Jon and I spend a lot of time "fact-bombing" fans; there's no need and no point when fans are simply playing the game, reinforcing each other's moral outrage in a mutual orgy of bitterness. (Similarly, the game explains some remarks I saw recently in an anti-racist activist's blog.)
This new understanding only allows me to chill out even more than I have done in the past week or so. w00t.