Games People Play (1964) is a psychoanalytical look at everyday social interactions in which Eric Berne, the author, looks beneath the superficial layers of lies and manipulation and to lay bare the real motives of why we do what we do.
- We keep playing destructive games to:
- avoid facing our unresolved psychological issues and
- make interactions easier
- We are mostly not aware of the games we play
- We can overcome our games when we understand what we’re doing
Games People Play – Summary
About The Author: Eric Berne was a Canadian psychiatrist and founder of transactional analysis, a theory of social interactions to explain human behavior.
Albeit unique and distinct, Berne’s theory has been influenced by the work of Sigmund Freud.
Eric Berne says that we are rarely conscious of the games we play.
But we keep playing them, even the destructive ones, because we inherit them from childhood.
In a way, they are comfortable because they absolve us from confronting unresolved psychological issues and can make some tense interactions easier to resolve.
When people get stuck in a pattern of games, they develop “dysfunctional relationship dances“.
This is the transactional analysis list of games people play:
1. Now I Got You Son of a Bitch
This might be the most famous game from the book.
The example of that of a wife who explodes when the husband forgets to throw the trash away.
Eric Berne says that she was actually waiting for an excuse to let go of her own anger.
And she was looking for a scapegoat, a reason to blow off.
2. If It Weren’t For You
“If it weren’t for you” is a game people play in relationships.
It consists in blaming our partner for not getting and doing what we really want and deserve in life.
The author says that most people unconsciously pick partners who will place limitations on them.
But the real reason we do it is because we are actually afraid ourselves do go out and do it, so we can always use the excuse of our partners.
sometimes that might be true. And sometimes people will use their partner as an excuse. But in my opinion saying that people choose their partner just so they can use it as an excuse for not doing what they’re afraid of is pushing the envelope too much.
3. Why Don’t You – “Yes, But… “
You are probably familiar with the interaction in which we ask for an opinion but then proceed to refute all the suggestions we get for changing and improving.
Berne says that happens because we are not really looking for solution, but we are looking for sympathy. We are playing the child, and the other gets to play the adult.
4. Wooden leg
We pick a limitation that we have and use it as an excuse for our bad behavior, poor results, or lack of motivation.
It’s a game we use not to take full responsibility for our lives.
5. Forgiving Manipulation
The player here wants to manipulate someone into forgiving them.
He may for example break something on purpose but make it seem as if it were an accident.
The player here wants to move the host into a parent position so he can play the child.
He might have kept breaking things on purpose, and at a certain point, they both might know what’s going on.
6. Frigid Wife
The woman makes the man horny, only to refuse him when it comes down to it.
She wants to take the role of the parent and force the husband into the child role. And she gets to reinforce her own prejudices about men who only want sex.
Fighting Against Sexual Tension
To avoid sexual tension, the player might want to start a fight to release the pressure.
Therapist & Couple Relationships
On the surface a couple in therapy might seem to engage in adult behavior, says Berne.
But in reality, deep down one individual is playing the child and using the therapist as the adult to complain about the other partner.
This is a generalization and while it’s probably true for a good number of people and couples, I doubt it can be generalized to the whole population.
Real Life Applications
Watch Out for Patterns of Behavior
If you notice a pattern of behavior that gets repeated over and over, watch out: it might be a destructive game you are playing to avoid solving your own issues.
Freudian doesn’t necessarily have to be a con. Freud was a genius. But when Freudian means “everything must be explained through childhood & parent relations”, then to me it becomes a con.
I felt that Games People Play was way too Freudian in its explanations.
Technical & Confusing
Technical doesn’t have to be a con, but when the technicalities fail to easily translate to something simple and easy to understand, then it can be a con.
I felt Games People Play failed to make the complex into the understandable.
Life is more complex than everyone happily getting along and speaking their mind. For sure. But life is also more complex than a web of games and traps.
Not everyone “inherits childhood destructive games” and not all relationships are fraught with the games Eric Berne describes.
I wish Eric had stated that a bit more clearly in Games People Play.
First Analytical Look at Everyday Interactions
Games People Play was one of the first popular book to bring professional analysis tools to everyday interactions.
Good Sexual Games
I like the sexual games. There was quite some wisdom there.
Great Games Description
Many games are well described and will make a lot of sense to you as you realize you have seen them happening in your life. It’s the Freudian explanations I have issues with.
Games People Play – Review
I had high expectations for Games People Play and was really looking forward to this book.
But reaching the end was a struggle and finally I had to admit this book wasn’t going to deliver.
I usually would have quit much earlier based on my rule that anything I do should be worthwhile.
But since this book is so relevant to what I do and what I am interested in, I soldiered on.
But in the end, I had to just admit it: Games People Play just hadn’t delivered nearly as much as I was hoping for.
To be precise, I really enjoyed the game descriptions. Many of them are awesome. It’s the explanations that often left me scratching my head.
I still reserve myself the possibility of going back to Games People Play and hopefully get more wisdom out of it.
But as of now, I found the book way too Freudian.
But Transaction Analysis Is Golden
Albeit “Games People Play” disappointed me, transactional analysis has been a huge game-changer in my understanding of power dynamics.
I can highly recommend Harry’s book, also based on transaction analysis and Berne’s work.
It’s called “I’m OK, You’re OK“.