Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships is a bestselling 1964 book by psychiatrist Eric Berne. Since its publication it has sold more than five million copies. The book describes both functional and dysfunctional social interactions.
In the first half of the book, Berne introduces transactional analysis as a way of interpreting social interactions. He describes three roles or ego states, known as the Parent, the Adult, and the Child, and postulates that many negative behaviors can be traced to switching or confusion of these roles. He discusses procedures, rituals, and pastimes in social behavior, in light of this method of analysis. For example, a boss who talks to his staff as a controlling 'parent' will often engender self-abased obedience, tantrums, or other childlike responses from his employees.
The second half of the book catalogues a series of "mind games" in which people interact through a patterned and predictable series of "transactions" which are superficially plausible (that is, they may appear normal to bystanders or even to the people involved), but which actually conceal motivations, include private significance to the parties involved, and lead to a well-defined predictable outcome, usually counterproductive. The book uses casual, often humorous phrases such as "See What You Made Me Do," "Why Don't You — Yes But," and "Ain't It Awful" as a way of briefly describing each game. In reality, the "winner" of a mind game is the person that returns to the Adult ego-state first.
In the game entitled "Now I've Got You, You Son of a Bitch," one who discovers that another has made a minor mistake in a matter involving them both holds the entire matter hostage to the minor mistake. The example explains a situation where a plumber makes a mistake on a quoted $300 job by underestimating the price of a $3 part as $1, so the plumber sends a bill for $302, the correct price. This is despite the customer making it clear at the beginning of the transaction that the $300 quote was to be adhered to. The customer won't pay the entire original $300 unless and until the plumber absorbs the $2 error instead of just paying the (undisputed part of the) bill of $300. In this example of NIGYSOB (Berne often abbreviates his names for games by using their acronyms), the 'white' (the customer) receives a gain in the form of a justification for his rage, and can avoid confronting his own deficiencies. The plumber also receives a gain from his clear refusal to adhere to the terms of the agreement, although in the book's example, he eventually gives in - an example of the game "Why does this always happen to me? (WAHM)?".
Not all interactions or transactions are part of a game. Specifically, if both parties in a one-on-one conversation remain in an Adult-to-Adult ego-state, it is less likely that a game is being played.
In the 1950s, Berne synthesized his theory of "human gaming" and built on work from Paul Federn and Edoardo Weiss and integrated results from Wilder Penfield to develop transactional analysis. Transactional analysis, according to physician James R. Allen, is a "cognitive behavioral approach to treatment and ... a very effective way of dealing with internal models of self and others as well as other psychodynamic issues."
In 1993, American therapist-turned-author James Redfield self-published The Celestine Prophecy influenced by the theory of Berne's human gaming. Specifically, the life games to which Berne refers in his book is a tool used in an individual's quest for energetic independence.
The most common games are listed below:
- Kick me
- Now I've got you, you son of a bitch (NIGYSOB)
- See what you made me do (SWYMD)
- Frigid Woman
- If it weren't for you (IWFY)
- Look how hard I've tried
- Aint it awful
- Why don't you - yes but (YDYB)
- Let's you and him fight (LYAHF)
- The stocking game
- Cops and robbers
- How do you get out of here
- Let's pull a fast one on Joey (FOOJY)
Consulting Room Games
- I'm only trying to help you (ITHY)
- Wooden Leg
- Busman's holiday
- Happy to help
- Homely Sage
- They'll be glad they knew me
- Berne, Eric (1964). Games People Play – The Basic Hand Book of Transactional Analysis. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-41003-3.