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Games People Play by Eric Berne – A summary

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Games People Play was released in 1964, and has been a bestseller since then. It was written by Eric Berne. Dr Eric, was a Canadian Surgeon, who later migrated to USA, and studied Psychiatry. He served as a Psychiatrist in various hospitals after his psychiatric residency, including the US army, during WWII.


He invented the theory of Transactional Analysis, a method to analyse human interaction. According to this analogy, human personality consists of three EGO STATES – Parent, Adult and Child.

He says, human beings are deeply dependent on physical, mental and sensory stimuli, without which their body and brain shrivels. Parallels can be drawn with the lack of nutrition on human body.

“’Stroking’ may be used as a general term for intimate physical contact; in practise it may take several forms. (..) These may have analogues in conversation”, So, people need any form of ‘stroking’ (a social interaction) to live a healthy, fulfilling life.
It is during these social interactions, Transactional Analysis can be identified, when we enter into one of the three ego states.

Why are ego states important?

Because understanding them is the essential first step toward understanding our relationships, and the roadblocks we face attain a healthy, fulfilling inter personal bond.

Ego States:

Parent: We are in the same state of mind as our parents/ parental substitute. We would respond with the same attitude and physical gesture

Adult: We are in the state of mind, with sense of independent, rational, non prejudicial analysis and judgement. This is possible even with small children and mentally ill individuals

Child: We are in the same state of mind, as we were during our childhood-with the same innocence, vulnerability, creativity, charm, inquisitiveness and energy. However, if the child was conditioned in a confusing, unhealthy way, then an consequences may be unfortunate.

However, at times, you seem to be acting from one ego state, when in reality you are interacting with another. When this happens, what appears to be the goal of the interaction, is not the real goal at all. That is when we are playing games.
Pastimes, procedures, rituals, by definitions have candid ulterior transactions, and may result in contest, but never conflict.

However, games, quite different from above-Every game, on the other hand, is basically dishonest, and outcome has a negative conclusion. The name ‘game’ should not be confused with. “It does not necessarily mean fun or enjoyment.” Grimmest of them, is War.

Types of Games:

Life Games

These are the games which have a lifelong impact, and may usually have innocent bystanders
• Kick Me
• Alcoholic
• Debtor
• Now I’ve Got You, You Son of a Bitch (NIGYSOB)
• See What You Made Me Do (SWYMD)

Marital Games

These games are generally played by couples, where the ulterior transaction, being nice, actual motive is to insult, or cause disadvantage to the partner

• Sweet Heart
• Corner
• Frigid Wife/Woman
• Courtroom
• If It Weren’t For You (IWFY)
• Harried
• Look How Hard I’ve Tried (LHWIT)

Party Games

More complex games than pastimes, rituals:

• Ain’t it Awful
• Blemish
• Schlemiel
• Why Don’t you…Yes, But (YDYB)

Bedroom Games

These are the complex psychological games that couples play and aren’t connected to fun at all
• Rapo
• Uproar

Underworld Games: 

Games played in and out of prison-
• Cops and Robbers
• How Do You Get Out of Here?
• Let’s Pull a Fast One on Joey.

Consulting Room Games
These are games played in professional situations. Example is “I’m Only Trying to Help You (ITHY). Unlike people offering genuine professional help, the ITHY player is driven by a hypocritical motive—to prove that people are disappointing and ungrateful.

Other consulting room games include:
• Wooden Leg
• Peasant.
• Psychiatry
• Stupid

Good Games

Its but natural that games are a fakery, and selfish motive oriented, yet there are circumstances, when they may incur positive results. For eg., “Chavalier”, a person goes on and flirts with a women, but not on sexual motivation, but to appreciate her and grant his innocent adoration.

This kind of game, though originally violating the consent of the lady, and is imposed on her, may lead to a higher dimension environment of positivity and creativity

Other examples of good games include:
• Happy to Help
• Busman’s Holiday
• They’ll Be Glad They Knew Me
• Homely Sage

Why Do We Keep Playing Games
If we can see so clearly that all that games do is make our lives miserable, why do we continue to play them?
Most of the time, games are generally played subconsciously, spontaneously. Every demography, family and culture have their games, and many them. we have picked up during growing up without even realizing it.
Additionally, games enable people to interact with each other without getting intimate, and thus without getting hurt. Most people feel uncomfortable with revealing their true selves to others.
However, vulnerability and courage, along with being a little alert, are essential for forming genuine bonds between people. If we want to have a healthy relationship, we have to give up playing games.

Again, if games are a part of everyone’s life, how can we get rid of them?

The first step is accepting and realizing all different games people play. We need to become aware of the ego states that exist in each human mind and pay attention when we interact with other people.
If we understand all the games that exist, we will be able to snap the tie whenever we observe them happening in our life
Drop that facade and do not fear to show up your true self.
It may not be easy, in no other way can we have a fulfilling, evolving life. Let the other person decide, if they are able to accept us as we are! Hence begins a beautiful relationship!

Created by Soumali Chatterjee

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