Definition of a game
A game is a series of transactions that is complementary (reciprocal), ulterior, and proceeds towards
a predictable outcome.
Games are often characterized by a switch in roles of players towards the end.
Games are usually played by Parent, Adult, and Child ego states, and games usually have a fixed number
of players; however, an individual's role can shift, and people can play multiple roles.
Berne identified dozens of games, noting that, regardless of when, where or by whom they were played,
each game tended towards very similar structures in how many players or roles were involved,
the rules of the game, and the game's goals.
Each game has a payoff for those playing it, such as the aim of earning sympathy, satisfaction,
vindication, or some other emotion that usually reinforces the life script.
The antithesis of a game, that is, the way to break it, lies in discovering how to deprive the actors
of their payoff.
There are a number of payoffs of this game; every game pays off at three different levels:
1. The biological payoff of a game is strokes.
Even though games end badly, all the players get a considerable number of strokes -- both positive
and negative -- out of playing them.
2. The social payoff of a game is time-structuring.
People are able to filled time which otherwise might have been dull and depressing with an exciting activity.
3. The existential payoff of a game is the way in which the game confirms the existential position
of each player.
Students of transactional analysis have discovered that people who are accustomed to a game
are willing to play it ,even as a different "actor" from what they were originally.
Analysis of a game
One important aspect of a game is its number of players.
Games may be two handed (that is, played by two players), three handed (that is, played by
three players), or many handed.
Three other quantitative variables are often useful to consider for games:
Flexibility: The ability of the players to change the currency of the game
(that is, the tools they use to play it).
In a flexible game, players may shift from words, to money, to parts of the body.
Tenacity: The persistence with which people play and stick to their games and their resistance
to breaking it.
Intensity: Easy games are games played in a relaxed way.
Hard games are games played in a tense and aggressive way.
Based on the degree of acceptability and potential harm, games are classified as:
First Degree Games which are socially acceptable in the players' social circle.
Second Degree Games are games that the players would like to conceal, though they may not cause
Third Degree Games are games that could lead to drastic harm to one or more of the parties concerned.
Games are also studied based on their:
Social and Psychological Paradigms
Advantages to players (Payoffs)
Contrast with rational (mathematical) games
Transactional game analysis is fundamentally different from rational or mathematical game analysis
in the following senses:
The players do not always behave rationally in transactional analysis, but behave more like real people.
Their motives are often ulterior.
Some commonly found games
Here are some of the most commonly found themes of games described in
“Games People Play” by Eric Berne:
YDYB: Why Don't You, Yes But. Historically, the first game discovered.
IFWY: If It Weren't For You
WAHM: Why does this Always Happen to Me? (setting up a self-fulfilling prophecy.
SWYMD: See What You Made Me Do
UGMIT: You Got Me Into This
LHIT: Look How Hard I've Tried
ITHY: I'm Only Trying to Help You
LYAHF: Let's You and Him Fight (staging a love triangle)
NIGYY...Now I've Got You, You Son Of a ....!
RAPO: A woman falsely cries 'rape' or threatens to - related to Buzz Off Buster.
Berne argued that games are not played logically; rather, one person's Parent state might interact
with another's Child, rather than as Adult to Adult.
Games can also be analyzed according to the Karpman drama triangle, that is, by the roles
of Persecutor, Victim and Rescuer.
The 'switch' is when one of these having allowed stable roles to become established,
suddenly switches role.
The Victim becomes a Persecutor, and throws the previous Persecutor into the Victim role,
or the Rescuer suddenly switches to become a Persecutor
("You never appreciate me helping you!").
Why Don't You/Yes But
The first such game theorized was Why don't you/Yes, but in which one player (White) would pose
a problem as if seeking help,
and the other player(s) (Black) would offer solutions (the "Why don't you?" suggestion).
This game was noticed as many patients played it in therapy and psychiatry sessions,
and inspired Berne to identify other interpersonal "games".
White would point out a flaw in every Black player's solution (the "Yes, but" response),
until they all gave up in frustration.
For example, if someone's life script was "to be hurt many times, and suffer and make others feel bad
when I die" a game of "Why Don't You, Yes But" might proceed as follows:
White: “I wish I could lose some weight.”
Black: “Why don't you join a gym?”
W: “Yes but, I can't afford the payments for a gym.”
B: “Why don't you speed walk around your block after you get home from work?”
W: “Yes but, I don't dare walk alone in my neighborhood after dark.”
B: “Why don't you take the stairs at work instead of the elevator?”
W: “Yes but, after my knee surgery, it hurts too much to walk that many flights of stairs.”
B: “Why don't you change your diet?”
W: “Yes but, my stomach is sensitive, and I can tolerate only certain foods.”
"Why Don't You, Yes But" can proceed indefinitely, with any number of players in the Black role,
until Black's imagination is exhausted, and she can think of no other solutions.
At this point, White "wins" by having stumped Black.
After a silent pause following Black's final suggestion, the game is often brought to a formal end
by a third role, Green, who makes a comment such as, "It just goes to show how difficult it is
to lose weight."
The secondary gain for White was that he could claim to have justified his problem as insoluble
and thus avoid the hard work of internal change;
and for Black, to either feel the frustrated martyr ("I was only trying to help")
or a superior being, disrespected ("the patient was uncooperative").
Superficially, this game can resemble Adult to Adult interaction
(people seeking information or advice), but more often, according to Berne,
the game is played by White's helpless Child, and Black's lecturing Parent ego states.
"Drunk" or "Alcoholic"
Another example of Berne's approach was his identification of the game of "Drunk" or "Alcoholic."
As he explained it, the transactional object of the drunk, aside from the personal pleasure obtained
by drinking, could be seen as being to set up a situation where the Child can be severely scolded
not only by the internal parent but by any parental figures in the immediate environment
who are interested enough to oblige.
The pattern is shown to be similar to that in the nonalcoholic game "Schlemiel,"
in which mess-making attracts attention and is a pleasure-giving way for White
to lead up to the crux, which is obtaining forgiveness by Black.
There are a variety of organizations involved in playing “Alcoholic”,
some of them national or even international in scope, and others are local.
Many of them publish rules for the game.
Nearly all of them explain how to play the role of Alcoholic:
take a drink before breakfast, spend money allotted for other purposes, etc.
They also explain the function of the Rescuer role in the game.
Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, continues playing the actual game, but concentrates on inducing
the Alcoholic to take the role of Rescuer.
Former Alcoholics are preferred because they know how the game goes, and hence are better qualified
to play the supporting role of Rescuer than people who have never played before.
According to this type of analysis, with the rise of rescue organizations which publicize that alcoholism
is a disease rather than a transactional game, alcoholics have been taught to play "Wooden Leg",
a different game in which an organic ailment absolves White of blame.
The script for "Drunk"
Roles: Victim (addict), Persecutor (usually spouse), Rescuer (often family member
of same sex), Patsy (enabler), Connection (supplier)
Pastimes: Martini (how much I used) and morning after (look what you made me do).
Many addicts find unlimited access to these pastimes in organizations such as AA.
The game is played from the Victim role as "see how bad I've been; see if you can stop me."
The purpose is self-punishment and the garnering of negative (persecution) strokes and positive ones
of forgiveness, and the vindication of an "I'm not OK" existential position.
The game often becomes elaborated into a self-destructive life script, especially if the parents were
also chemically dependent.
Effective antithesis and cure can be achieved through psychotherapeutic script analysis,
A racket is the dual strategy of getting "permitted feelings," while covering up feelings
which we truly feel, but which we regard as being "not allowed".
More technically, a racket feeling is "a familiar set of emotions, learned and enhanced
during childhood, experienced in many different stress situations, and maladaptive as an adult means
of problem solving".
A racket is then a set of behaviors which originates from the childhood script
rather than in here-and-now full Adult thinking, which
(1) are employed as a way to manipulate the environment to match the script rather
than to actually solve the problem,
and (2) whose covert goal is not so much to solve the problem, as to experience these racket feelings a
nd feel internally justified in experiencing them.
Examples of racket and racket feelings:
"Why do I meet good guys who turn out to be so hurtful",
or "He always takes advantage of my goodwill".
The racket is then a set of behaviors and chosen strategies learned and practiced in childhood
which in fact help to cause these feelings to be experienced.
Typically, this happens despite their own surface protestations and hurt feelings, out of awareness
and in a way that is perceived as someone else's fault.
One covert payoff for this racket and its feelings, might be to gain in a guilt free way,
continued evidence and reinforcement for a childhood script belief that
"People will always let you down".
In other words, rackets and games are devices used by a person to create a circumstance
where they can legitimately feel the racket feelings, thus abiding by and reinforcing
their Childhood script.
They always substitute for a more genuine and full adult emotion and response which would be
a more appropriate response to the here-and-now situation.
More on Games People Play
People play psychological games with one another that are similar to games, like monopoly or checkers.
The players must know the game in order to play.
All games have a beginning, a given set of rules, and a concluding payoff.
Psychological games, however, have an ulterior purpose.
They're not played for fun.
Berne defines a psychological game as "a recurring set of transactions,
often repetitive, superficially rational, with a concealed motivation;
or, more colloquially, as a series of transactions with a gimmick."
Three specific elements must be present to define transactions as games:
1. An ongoing series of complementary transactions which are possible on the social level.
2. An ulterior transaction which is the underlying message of the game.
3. And a predictable payoff which concludes the game, and is the real purpose for playing.
Games prevent honest, intimate, and open relationships between the players.
Yet, people play them because they take up time, provoke attention, reinforce early opinions
about the self and others, and fulfill a sense of destiny.
Psychological games are played to win, but a person who plays games as a way of life is not a winner.
Sometimes, a person acts like a loser in order to win the game.
For example, in a game of Kick Me a player provoke someone else to a put-down response.
Every game has a first move.
Some first moves are nonverbal, such as: turning a cold shoulder, batting a flirty eye,
shaking and accuse with the accusative finger, slamming a door, tracking mud in the house,
reading someone's mail, looking woeful, not speaking.
Other first moves are verbal statements, such as:
" You look so lonesome over here by yourself…"
" How could you go to school wearing that get-up!"
" He criticized you. Are you going to take that?"
" I have this terrible problem…""Isn't it awful that…"
One couple's favorite game was Uproar.
They both knew the first move in the game, so either could start it.
Once it was started, a predictable set of transactions occurred which climaxed with a loud fight.
The outcome was always the same -- hostile withdrawal to avoid closeness.
This was their payoff for playing the game.
It was played to avoid intimacy.
To set up the game either the wife or the husband provoke the other with nonverbal behavior
such as sulking, chain-smoking, withdrawing, or acting irritated.
When the partner was "hooked" into playing, the game was under way.
As the game continued he/she got a put-off or pay put-down.
After exchanging many angry words, they finally withdrew from each other.
Games tend to be repetitions.
People find themselves saying the same words in the same way, only the time and place may change.
Perhaps the replay contributes to what it is often described as "I feel as if I've done this before."
People play games with different degrees of intensity, from the socially accepted, relaxed level
to the criminal homicide/suicide level.
Eric Berne wrote:
A First-Degree Game is one which is socially acceptable in the person's circle.
A Second-Degree Game is one from which no permanent, immediate damage arises,
but which the players would rather conceal from the public.
A Third-Degree Game is one of which is played for keeps, and which ends in surgery,
in the courtroom or in the morgue.
Games are individually programmed.
They are played from the Parent ego state if the parent's games are imitated.
They are played from the Adult ego state if they are consciously calculated.
They are played from the Child ego state if they are based on early life experiences, decisions,
and the "positions" that a child takes about self and others.
Childhood Psychological Games and Role Identity
Not all play is innocent.
Ulterior motives are involved when a child rehearses psychological games to be played later in life.
A future Rescuer may bandaged his unwilling and complaining three year-old patient.
When the young patient finally bursts into tears, the would-be Rescuer throws up
his hands in despair saying, " I'm just trying to make your hurts better, you cry baby."
(Game: I'm Only Trying to Help You!
Another future Rescuer is the young girl who while baby-sitting her little brother lets him wander away.
When he screams in terror after climbing up a fence and falling off, she picks him up,
brushes him off, and says, " You always hurt yourself if I'm not there to take care of you."
( Game: What Would You Do Without Me?)
A future Persecutor may "accidentally" leave a bicycle on the school grounds, and later catches
a friend stealing it red-handed, and at this point threatens, " I saw you. You're gonna get in trouble!"
(Game: Now I've Got You, You so and so.)
Another type of future Persecutor is the little girl who baits the neighbor boy by calling sweetly to him,
"Why don't you come over and play with me?"
When he arrives, she looks down her nose at him and sneers,
" Oh, you're too dirty, my mama wouldn't want me to play with you."
When little Johnny, also practicing a Persecutor role, taunts Jane with,
" My daddy is bigger than your daddy," he is delivering the first line of a fight.
If Jane responds with, " Oh no he isn't, my Dad is bigger," the game is on.
Their attack/defense continues until Johnny out-bullies her, and she runs away crying.
A future Victim, invited to a party that he's afraid to attend, may turn down an invitation with,
"I could go if it weren't for mom. She never lets me have any fun."
(Game: If It Weren't For Her)
Another future-rehearsing Victim whines to his would-be competitors,
" I came run in the race. If I run too fast, I might get a stomachache like my little brother."
With this move, he successfully uses an imaginary illness to avoid performing.
(Game: Wooden leg -- after all, what can you expect of a person with a wooden leg!)
And still another young Victim, seeing that the cookies are nearly gone, passes them all
to his friends and then moans, " There are never any good things left for me."
(Game: Poor Me)
Later in life, games are likely to be played harder, with the Adult ego state used to cover up
the the ulterior motives of the Child.
Most of the above is from the book, Born To Win, by James Muriel and Dorothy Jongeward.
For more complete information, read the original book by the creator of Transactional Analysis,
Games People Play, by Eric Berne.