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Media Spotlight: Games People Play by Eric Berne


When we think of the term playing games, one automatically thinks of romantic relationships. So when I first saw this book, I thought I would be subjected to continuous blurb about how the opposite sex can tamper with our emotions and play with our minds.

But this wasn’t the case. Games People Play analyses the roles we, and others in our lives, play in relationships and the underlying motivations behind them, whether it is in the workplace, a close circle of friends or with people we have only just met.

The book starts off by discussing social intercourse. This is how we develop our relationships with others depending on how we were treated as a child and the way we have adapted to our surroundings in the early stages of life.

He explains that infants who have been deprived of handling and social interaction over a long period of time will become emotionally unstable and find it difficult to build relationships with others as they get older.

On the contrary, Berne argues that those who have been socially deprived as an adult as a result of their surroundings, a prisoner for example, will rise to what he calls “temporary mental disturbances” which will affect their ability to interact with others once they are subject to ‘normal’ surroundings.

Berne talks of three ways in which we are programmed to interact with others. The first is Material programming. This is exchange by activity and those in which we have built common ground with.

The second is social programming, which is socially interacting with ‘manners’ and acting the way we think is appropriate based on how little we know about particular people.

The third is individual programming, the way we act around people who we have become better acquainted with, such as close friends.

Berne suggests that when we adapt to individual programming, this is when ‘incidents’ begin to occur and games start to be played.

In the section titled “The Thesaurus of Games”, Berne explains a variety of situations we commonly experience throughout the relationships in our lives where ‘games’ are most commonly played. This ranges from marital relationships to relationships we make with people down the pub.

One particularly interesting section is titled Alcoholic, where Berne explains an alcoholic’s relationship with those surrounding them.

He says there are typically five roles played by people within an alcoholic’s life. The central role is the alcoholic himself who Berne says is It. He is surrounded by the persecutor who is usually the partner; the rescuer who is commonly the family doctor; the dummy, the one who plays the act of kindness card towards the alcoholic while neither persecuting or rescuing him, namely the alcoholic’s mother, and finally the agitator, the player who fakes an act of kindness whilst dragging the alcoholic down further, usually a drinking buddy.

Berne explains in detail that the relationships in which the alcoholic has with each of the players listed above shapes them as a person and determines whether they choose to escape alcoholism. This is an interesting insight in to how the acts of others can shape your life depending on how you react to them.

Although this book presents some valid examples, the fact it was written in the 60s can mean it sometimes appears outdated, which tends to impact on the relevance. For example, Berne talks about the relationships between man and wife as if it is assumed every wife is a housewife, whereas in modern day relationships this is clearly not the case and attitudes have changed.

At times the book can use a lot of jargon, so be prepared to read the same page more than once in order to understand it, which explains why the book is only 173 pages long.

Overall it is an interesting read and useful to have as reference in case you find yourself in the midst of relationship troubles.


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