Games people play

„Games people play“ by Eric Berne gives us an insight into the psychology of relationships and the patterns of behaviour that reveal our deepest feelings and emotions.

          Spontaneous social activity observation reveals that people show noticeable changes in posture, voice, vocabulary and other aspects of behaviour.

          These behavioural changes are accompanied by a shift of feelings.

          At any given time, an individual displays a set of behaviours which trigger a set of feelings accompanying them. That same individual can shift the set of behaviours to correspond to a different state of mind. A different set of feelings accompanies that new state of mind.


A helpful definition of games

Evy Pompouras, former Secret Service Agent, in her book, “Becoming bullet proof”, explains the way we can notice when a person is shifting behaviour and moods during an interview. She starts out by asking the person a set of neutral questions to get the person to relax.

This way she can notice that person’s baseline. What she refers to as baseline is in fact the neutral state a person is in. After she establishes the baseline, she starts asking a different set of questions, depending on the type of information she is after.

She then watches carefully the changes in a person’s behaviour. The moment that person strays from his/her baseline, it’s the moment she has to figure out the reasons behind the change.

Changes in posture, tone of voice, body language trigger a shift in feelings.

In fact, the question triggers the feeling. As a result, feelings trigger a shift in behaviour.

Eric Berne underlines the same thing. He points out that, in a given individual, a certain set of behaviour patterns corresponds to one state of mind. Another set corresponds to a different state of mind, often inconsistent with the first.

Ego states in people


The changes and differences of feelings and behaviours are defined as ego states.

An ego state can be described as a coherent system of feelings, and operationally as a set of coherent behaviour patterns.

It is the system of feelings accompanied by a related set of behaviour patterns.

Each individual seems to have a limited repertoire of ego states. These are not roles people play but psychological realities.

Ego states can be divided into three, as being those, which:

  • resemble those of a parental figure
  • are autonomously directed towards objective appraisal of reality
  • represent archaic relics, still active ego states, which were fixed in early childhood

Technically, these are called Exteropsychic, Neopsychic and Archaeopsychic ego states.

Colloquially, their exhibitions are called Parent, Adult and Child.

This means that, at any given moment, each individual in a social aggregation will exhibit a Parental, Adult or Child ego state. It also means that individuals can shift with varying degrees of readiness from one ego state to another.



Ego states in games


Each type of ego state has its own vital value for the human organism.

In the Child resides intuition, creativity and spontaneous drive and enjoyment.

          The Adult is necessary for survival. It processes data and calculates probabilities which are essential for dealing with the outside world.

          The Parent has two main functions. One is to enable the individual to act effectively as the parent of actual children, promoting the survival of the human race. Second, it makes most responses automatic, which conserves a great deal of time and energy. Many things are done because ‘that’s the way it’s done”. This frees the Adult from the necessity of making innumerable trivial decisions so that it can devote itself to more serious issues, leaving routine matters to the Parent.

          All three aspects of personality have high survival and living value. It is only when one or another disturbs the healthy balance that analysis and reorganization are indicated. Otherwise, each of them, Parent, Adult and Child, is entitled to equal respect and has its legitimate place in a full and productive life.

Games as transactions

A transaction is the defining unit of social intercourse.

When two or more people meet, one of them will speak or give some other indication of acknowledging the presence of others. This bears the name of transactional stimulus.

Another person will, then, say or do something, which is in response to the transactional stimulus. This is called a transactional response.

Simple transactional analysis is concerned with diagnosing which ego state implemented the transactional stimulus, and which one executed the transactional response.


Complementary and crossed transactions

Complementary transactions

The simplest transactions are those where both stimulus and response arise from the Adult ego state of the parties concerned.

This is called a complementary transaction. Parent-Child transaction is also a complementary transaction. For example the child asks the parent for a glass of water and the nurturing mother brings it.

In a complementary transaction, the response is appropriate and expected. It follows the natural order of human relationships.

Since it’s a transaction, the response is in turn a stimulus.

          The first rule of communication is that communication proceeds smoothly as long as transactions are complementary. As long as transactions are complementary, communication can proceed indefinitely.

This happens irrespective of the nature and content of the transaction. They are based entirely on the vectors involved. As long as transactions are complementary, it is irrelevant to the rule whether two people are engaging in

  • critical gossip (Parent-Parent)
  • solving a problem (Adult-Adult)
  • playing together (Parent-Child)



Crossed transactions


Communication is broken off when crossed transactions occur.


The stimulus is Adult-Adult. “Maybe we should find out why you’ve been drinking lately?”

The appropriate Adult-Adult response would be: “Maybe we should. I’d certainly like to know!”

If the respondent becomes annoyed and answers something like: “You’re always criticising me, just like my father did!”

This is a Child-Parent response. In this case, the Adult problem of drinking must be suspended until the vectors realign. This can take anywhere from several months to a few seconds, depending on the example and the transaction type.

Adults must be reactivated as a complement to the agent Adult.  



Games, games and more games


Games are passed on from one generation to another. Raising children becomes a matter of teaching children what games to play.

Their significance in our lives, whether intended or not, is more significant than we can imagine. People pick friends, associates and intimates other people who play the same game.

For example: two women get together to trash talk their husband. Then, a third one comes along. She seems delighted with her husband. The third one does not engage in the game the first two are playing. Therefore, the first two will not accept the third in the circle. 

 As “One sentence persuasion” course by Blair Warren tells us: people will do anything for other people who:

  • Encourage their dreams
  • Justify their failures
  • Alley their fears
  • Confirm their suspicions
  • Help them throw rocks at their enemies

When people play the same games, they form attachments and bonds that cannot be broken. The moment the game changes, it’s the moment when people become distant from one another and search for other “playmates” of the same game.

A game free life

Parents deliberately or unaware teach their children how to behave, think, feel and perceive. The same goes for the social environment we grow up in and our cultural background. Everything that has prepared us for life, has also programmed our behaviours, actions, thoughts and feelings.

It’s not an easy matter to liberate ourselves from all these influences. Liberation is possible only when the individual starts off in an autonomous state, meaning he is capable of awareness, spontaneity and intimacy. The individual can, then, decide, which parts of his/her parent’s teachings he/she will accept.

We can never fully be ourselves unless we decide which parts of our inheritance resonate with us and which aren’t.

The goal is a state of awareness, which requires to live here and now, and not in the past or the future. Awareness means rising above the programming from the past. That is the way to achieve spontaneity and intimacy.

Paradoxically, what gave us a direction in our early lives is what we have to separate ourselves from in order to become our true selves. There is nothing wrong with our game inheritance. It’s what helped us through our early stages of life. However, the more we grow, the more we should ask ourselves whether we have inherited our feelings and behaviours or not. 

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