Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Games We (all) Play 2



I found and still find Chapter 5 of Dr. Eric Berne's book Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships riveting to say the least.  It is worth reading many times over to absorb its wisdom.  I left off the last post with a rather short definition of what a game is according to Berne. Here is a longer more comprehensive descriptive definition which he offers us right at the beginning of the chapter alluded to above.  In fact, it is the very first paragraph in full.  This is worth pondering:

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 pay-off.  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. (Op.cit. supra, 44)

Recently (for the past three or four years) I have been watching the games people play at work.  I shall disguise any characters here in case any reader I might know should identify any person.  Mr X likes control and power.  In fact, practically all staff members and even students recognise this.  If he perceives that someone has failed in their loyalty either to him or the school he will strive at all costs to get his own back.  Little things I've noticed about X over the years - when he considered me a "friend" he quite liked to bully me.  For instance, he might say something like, "ah, I see you have two pens there, sure you won't mind if I take that one," and disappear.  He would also like to challenge me in front of the pupils during the period of time he called me "friend."  However, some five or so years ago we had a blazing row after a certain bullying incident, for which he begged forgiveness when I threatened to go further with the matter.  During the ensuing conversation he said, "Sure aren't we friends?  Don't friends joke?  I would not have said it if we were not friends?"  I answered, "I don't know if we are friends or not.  My friends don't treat me the way you do."  Obviously there were power games going on here.  Then, at one stage last year I felt definite undercurrents of resentment from both him and his immediate superior.  I just did not know why this undercurrent of resentment was there and it still puzzles me as to why the other guy went along with the resentment (concealed motivation). What game was being played? In hindsight, I had pulled out of an activity, which I shan't name lest it indicate the person involved, for medical reasons which I did not disclose at the time, and I gave another reason instead.  In the meantime I noticed that I lost certain privileges for more than half the academic year (pay-off: he had got his own back) - though another very plausible reason was offered for this. ("snare" or "gimmick" with ulterior motive)  I knew that this was "pay back" time.  The following year, he informed me that a certain privilege was restored.  I did not say "thanks", but rather answered with the question: "Is that so?"  The pay-off usually involves some emotional satisfaction or increase in control.  I do not mention any of this with resentment, but rather with a vague amusement as to the silly games people play when there are so many more important issues in life at stake.  I felt like saying, "So what, who cares anyway?  Get a life.  This, too, will pass!"

Eric Berne highlights the following games in his book: (1) "If it weren't for you...", (2) "Why don't you - yes, but", (3) Wooden Leg, (4) "Now I've got you, you son of a bitch", (5) "See what you made me do", (6) "Frigid Woman", (7) "Look how hard I've tried," (8) "Homely Sage" and (9) "They'll be glad they knew me" at a cursory glance.  Among what he terms Life Games he enumerates Alcoholic, Debtor, Kick Me, Now I've got you, you son of a bitch, and See what you made me do and among Marital Games the following: Corner, Courtroom, Frigid Woman, Harried, If it weren't for you, Look how hard I've tried, and Sweetheart.  Among Party Games he numbers Ain't it awful, Blemish, Schlemiel and Why don't you - yes, but.  

Berne mentions many other types of games and lists examples of each.  I won't go into these, except to say that he mentions Sexual Games and Underworld Games among some others.  In future posts I will deal with some specific games people play - ones that I've noticed either others or myself engaged in.  I shall also talk about the specific dynamics of Transactional Analysis and how fundamentally it is based on a firm foundation in the Freudian structural model of the psyche or personality.

To be continued.


Above I have uploaded a picture of some students playing cards at Delphi - March 2007

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