Useful Abstractions from Games People Play

I’m still slogging through Games People Play, by Eric Berne. It’s getting easier. The book really does not give you enough context at the outset, so you have to infer a lot, and ignore a lot. I will probably end up reading it again…

Starting from the most general, here are some useful abstractions that I’ve identified, on which I intend to capitalize:

  • Human beings tend to be predictable. Our behavior falls into predictable patterns.
  • We also tend to act out certain roles or archetypes. Games People Play identifies three: Parent, Adult, Child. This is a valid model but I think there are probably better ones.
  • Our actions frequently have ulterior motives. These can even directly contradict out stated goals. (No surprises there.)

The most interesting abstraction to me is what Berne callsĀ antithesis: ways of defeating counterproductive games or patterns. Unfortunately, the books format is so poor that an antithesis for most of the games is difficult to extract from the text.

Berne also describes many of the patterns or games in terms of degrees, starting from the relatively innocent and only mildly annoying, through pathological and into mind games that leave trails of bodies. It’s really quite interesting to realize that it’s the same pattern of interaction, with the same drives and motivations, that produces results on such colossally different scales.

I keep complaining about the format. If I had it to do myself (which I do, and will) I would structure it about the same but implement it much more rigorously. The first part would be an exposition of the idea of games, how they work, and how to use the rest of the material. But this one would actually be accessible to people who didn’t already know about transactional analysis. It would leave the reader empowered instead of bewildered. The second part would be an index of patterns / games, how to recognize them, how they’d typically play out, and how to defeat them. This section would need to be organized in a much more rigorous way, and ordered so that dependencies are met. It was really frustrating to read about games that required understanding things that hadn’t been covered yet; that needs to be done away with. (Maybe if the book were wikified it would be OK, because you could just refer to what you needed, then return to where you were…)

Imagine a paint-by-numbers handbook of how to recognize and quickly defeat any counterproductive interaction or relationship in life, accessible to people who can’t spend 7 years getting a degree in psychiatry. That’s worth doing.

I’m about 2/3 of the way through the book and will start digesting it in earnest once the first pass is finished. Expect a new section on the wiki, and more information here about what gets added and changed.

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