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book review: Games People Play

Games People Play: A Basic Handbook of Transactional Analysis was a quick read, but it will take more readings and plenty of thought to fully digest. Written in 1963, it's a classic of psychoanalytic writing; in it, Eric Berne inaugurated his theory of transactional analysis.

I didn't know any of that going in. I was just interested in this idea that people communicate on different levels at the same time, sometimes with subconscious ulterior motives.

Berne starts out by explaining transactional analysis: the Parent–Adult–Child model, strokes, various types of transactions, and the definitions of “game,” “pastime,” “procedure,” and “activity.” I'm still not entirely clear on those distinctions. Games People Play is considered a layman's book, but I think many parts of it aren't accessible to someone without psychiatric training; it isn't pop psychology in the sense we know today.

The fun part of the book is the “thesaurus of games,” some of which are more recognizable than others. The names themselves sometimes evoke that recognition: Kick Me; Now I've Got You, You Son of a Bitch; If It Weren't for You; Let's You and Him Fight; I'm Only Trying to Help You. Included in the analysis of each game is an especially helpful antithesis—a way to break out of the game. The Freudian “dynamics” given for each game were mostly a mystery to me, though.

I was struck more than once in the course of reading by the difference forty years has made in our social environment. From this distance, 1963 doesn't look much different from 1903. I found the book's treatment of homosexuality… odd. (“One of the most unfortunate and acute forms of Third-Degree ‘Rapo’ occurs relatively frequently between homosexual strangers, who in a matter of an hour or so may bring the game to a point of homicide.” Maybe that's a subculture I've just never heard of?) Berne's games are set in a world where ladies lunch with their “lady friends,” do not talk about sports or cars, and cry, “Oh my, I have a run in my stocking!” I'm sure Berne's analysis is just as valid today as it was then, but it would be easier to recognize examples set in today's world.

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Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
jessekornblum
May. 11th, 2005 04:24 pm (UTC)
An interesting review. Could I borrow that copy from you? It's hard to find the old editions of that book.
radhardened
May. 11th, 2005 08:12 pm (UTC)
Sure!
quufer
May. 12th, 2005 03:07 am (UTC)
I've seen stuff along this line before online, I guess I now know where it comes from (found it again! - http://www.heretical.com/main.html#directory on the left column - note that this page has a *lot* of opinions I don't agree with). I didn't see any of the Parent-Child stuff, just a lot of stuff on couples relationships. I guess in general that I realize that people play these games, but I try to avoid doing so (or even participating in them) myself. Seems a lot better to say what you mean and stuff like that, though that may be a masculine perspective, not sure.

Have I dug deep enough yet?
radhardened
May. 12th, 2005 01:04 pm (UTC)
Seems a lot better to say what you mean and stuff like that
Yes, I don't think you'll find anyone to disagree with you there. The trick, as I see it, is that these games are subconscious, particularly on the part of the agent (i.e., the initiator of the game). Berne purposely declines to call these games 'mind games', because of the connotation of conscious, calculated manipulation. He says people learn them in childhood, even infanthood, from their parents as ways to deal with the outside world or on their own as ways to deal with their parents. Apparently the agent can break out of a game if he can come to understand (in a non-threatening way, which may be nigh impossible for so-called 'hard players') the game and the fact that he's playing it.

I neglected to mention that Berne describes some 'good' games, too: Cavalier, Happy to Help, They'll Be Glad They Knew Me, and a few others. Since games by definition involve an ulterior motive, Berne's saying that ulterior motives aren't necessarily bad.
(Anonymous)
Nov. 1st, 2005 10:31 am (UTC)
More about Transactional analysis
"Berne starts out by explaining transactional analysis: the Parent–Adult–Child model, strokes, various types of transactions, and the definitions of “game,” “pastime,” “procedure,” and “activity.” I'm still not entirely clear on those distinctions. Games People Play is considered a layman's book, but I think many parts of it aren't accessible to someone without psychiatric training; it isn't pop psychology in the sense we know today."
These definitions of pasttime, activity etc are time structuring terms. Berd defined 6 ways how people structure their time.
Ego states are concepts or should i say models on how people work.

You can learn more about these from my links on mu blog (left side)
http://transactionalanalysis.blogspot.com/
TA Tutor explains TA very clearly.
yanggers
Jun. 17th, 2007 07:40 am (UTC)
well-said! I just read this and was writing to a friend about it, when I searched on the web for some pre-typed quotes ('cause I'm lazy). This study must have a follow-up or some more recent writings that might blow me away.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )