Games People Play


Social interactions happen on a daily basis, Berne breaks down what is really happening during these basic occurrences.

The Rabbit Hole is written by Blas Moros. To support, sign up for the newsletter, become a patron, and/or join The Latticework. Original Design by Thilo Konzok.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Berne labeled networks that develop early in life as Child ego states. When we activate one of these, we act like the child we once were. Networks which represent the internalization of the people who raised us, as we experienced them, Berne named Parent. When in Parent we think, feel, and act like one of our parents or like someone who took their place. Ego states which deal with the here and now in a nonemotional way are called Adult. When in Adult, we appraise reality objectively and make fact-based decisions, while making sure that Child or Parent emotions or ideas do not contaminate the process.
  2. If a series of transactions didn’t fit this formula, he didn’t consider it a game. This game formula is as follows: C (Con) + G (Gimmick) = R (Response) —> X (Switch) —> P (Payoff) The “con” is the first move/invitation made by the initiator, Person A. The “gimmick” is the weakness in Person B which leads him or her to respond to the con. The X represents a switch in ego states by Person A. P is his or her payoff, a surprise feeling.
  3. The essential characteristic of human play is not that the emotions are spurious, but that they are regulated. This is revealed when sanctions are imposed on an illegitimate emotional display. Play may be grimly serious, or even fatally serious, but the social sanctions are serious only if the rules are broken. Pastimes and games are substitutes for the real living of real intimacy.
  4. Each type of ego state has its own vital value for the human organism. In the Child reside intuition,3 creativity and spontaneous drive and enjoyment. The Adult is necessary for survival. It processes data and computes the probabilities which are essential for dealing effectively with the outside world.
  5. The Parent has two main functions. First, it enables the individual to act effectively as the parent of actual children, thus promoting the survival of the human race. Its value in this respect is shown by the fact that in raising children, people orphaned in infancy seem to have a harder time than those from homes unbroken into adolescence. Secondly, it makes many 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 important issues, leaving routine matters to the Parent.
  6. A GAME is an ongoing series of complementary ulterior transactions progressing to a well-defined, predictable outcome. Descriptively it is a recurring set of transactions, often repetitious, superficially plausible, with a concealed motivation; or, more colloquially, a series of moves with a snare, or “gimmick.” Games are clearly differentiated from procedures, rituals, and pastimes by two chief characteristics: (1) their ulterior quality and (2) the payoff. Procedures may be successful, rituals effective, and pastimes profitable, but all of them are by definition candid; they may involve contest, but not conflict, and the ending may be sensational, but it is not dramatic. Every game, on the other hand, is basically dishonest, and the outcome has a dramatic, as distinct from merely exciting, quality.
  7. What we are concerned with here, however, are the unconscious games played by innocent people engaged in duplex transactions of which they are not fully aware, and which form the most important aspect of social life all over the world.
  8. The possible seriousness of games and play, and the possibly serious results, are well known to anthropologists. The most complex game that ever existed, that of “Courtier” as described so well by Stendhal in The Charterhouse of Parma, was deadly serious. The grimmest of all, of course, is “War.”
  9. Hopefulness, enthusiasm or a lively interest in one’s surroundings is the opposite of depression; laughter is the opposite of despair.
  10. The moves of a game correspond roughly to the strokes in a ritual. As in any game, the players become increasingly adept with practice. Wasteful moves are eliminated, and more and more purpose is condensed into each move. “Beautiful friendships” are often based on the fact that the players complement each other with great economy and satisfaction, so that there is a maximum yield with a minimum effort from the games they play with each other.
  11. The games are classified into families according to the situations in which they most commonly occur: Life Games, Marital Games, Party Games, Sexual Games and Underworld Games; then comes a section for professionals on Consulting Room Games, and finally, some examples of Good Games.

What I got out of it:

  1. Interacting with those around us is something we all encounter; understanding how our interactions affect the relationships we build is something I found very beneficial. 

In the Latticework, we've distilled, curated, and interconnected the 750+book summaries from The Rabbit Hole. If you're looking to make the ideas from these books actionable in your day-to-day life and join a global tribe of lifelong learners, you'll love The Latticework. Join us today.