Berne (1964) defined games as:

“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… with a concealed motivation… or gimmick.”

Games are played beyond Adult consciousness, and it’s only in the final stage; after the switch, the participants wonder what has happened and why they keep happening as they are unaware of their role in the game. There are two levels of communication.

  1. The event level – The social interaction and experience
  2. Obscure/hidden level -Real historical, psychological level.

The game is a sequence of ulterior, psychological transactions and interplay, which structures time with a high level of pseudo intimacy, with a fixed course of development and predictable outcome, reinforcing the participant’s underlying Scripts (Berne, 1972)

Games involve one person saying one thing and doing another in an attempt to achieve intimacy, but they reinforce a negative belief they have about themselves.  Berne wrote a formula for how this happens, and he called it formula G: C + G = R > S > X > P

Con + Gimmick = Response > (then can pull) Switch > (which causes) X Cross up > (then both can claim their Payoff)

It plays out as follows:

  • An opening con (C), an invite from person A to person B into the game, has to hook person B’s gimmick (G).
  • When B responds (R), the game is on.
  • With B hooked, person A can pull the switch (S), which sends person B into complete confusion or cross up (X).
  • Once the cross-up has happened, then both parties can claim their payoff (P).

As long as the switch does not occur, the game’s function is to preserve the familiar frame of reference and relationship. Where life has some form of psychic equilibrium and balance. The payoff leaves one feeling angry and frustrated, maybe in despair or helplessness and the known childhood experience when attempting intimacy or self-expression.

The game is played within the drama triangle and the interplay between the roles, starting position and the switch of roles and outcomes.

  1. Persecutor – knows everything and is better than everyone, belittles others and considers them as inferior for their convenience and easy to manipulate
  2. Rescuer – sees others as inferior and not ok, needing assistance from someone who is superior, which gratifies their sense of self via helping. They discount others’ ability to think for themselves, act independently, and overestimate their abilities and capacities.
  3. Victim – inferior and incompetent and seeks to rescue or persecution, anything to receive attention, failing to recognise one`s compliance and continuous need for others to take responsibility and make decisions, leading to rejection.

Here are five reasons to keep playing games

  1. To receive mutual attention and affection, albeit in a negative way
  2. To avoid responsibility, commitment, confrontation or binding agreements
  3. To keep people close at a distance but still have an intensive exchange
  4. To confirm our basic attitude, beliefs and ideology
  5. To avoid situations that could challenge our view of things, our reference framework

Analysis of games can reveal underlying childhood conditioning and beliefs within the games, justifying the continued behavioural patterns learned from family dynamics. To the outsider /therapist, the game looks illogical and unproductive until one can examine the underlying structures. The analysis is trying to bring Adult awareness and choices to the Child’s ego (unconscious) within the safety of the adult holding and permitting the new decision. With Adult awareness (psychic energy), one can recognise the game invitation and try and create some space for authentic discourse and feelings by not playing the game.

Ways to deal with games

  • Unmasking – The adult ego makes it clear you don’t want to play the game and want to communicate differently.
  • Ignoring -pretend not to hear the bait, walk away or make light of the game.
  • Alternative – address the underlying questions and authentic needs by offering alternatives.
  • Time Structure – switch to a new activity, new social role or attempt at intimacy. Ask questions about how I use my time and how that’s served me.
  • Playing Along – with Adult awareness with the game not impacting you and not allowing the switch.

Examples of a Game

Now I’ve got you, you son of a bitch (Nigysob) -Always looking for injustices, recounting and remembering them with delight and exploiting them with vigour when one falls below the person’s moral values.

  • Aim – Justification
  • Roles- Persecutor claims to be a Victim
  • Dynamics – Jealous rage
  • Social paradigm – Adult- Adult transaction
  • Psychological paradigm – Child to parent or Parent to child transaction. The parent is watching and waiting for a slip, and the child admits to being caught. The parent responds I am going to let you feel my fury.
  • Moves 1. Provocation and accusation 2. Defence– accusation 3. Defence – Punishment

In the relationship mind game of NIGYSOB, the player selects a partner who frequently plays “Kick Me”… The NIGYSOB player is externalising contempt and hostility, while the partner who plays “Kick Me” is internalising it. The game is usually triggered suddenly when — for various possible “reasons” — the NIGYSOB player flips into a fit of rage over a perceived slight made by the “Kick Me” player.

The “Kick Me” player knows from frequent experience what the buttons trigger the NIGYSOB player (usually jealousy and/or rage), yet cannot keep from pushing them… It genuinely seems to be an “accident” to the “Kick Me” player because, like all games, it’s a relationship mind game played by the Child’s ego state at a subconscious level.

Advantages for playing
  1. Internal psychological justification for rage
  2. External psychological avoidance of confrontation of one’s deficiencies and vulnerability
  3. Belligerent exchanges where no one can be trusted, and everyone is out to get me
Berne, E. (1964), Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships, Ballantine Books
Berne, E. (1972) What Do You Say After You Say Hello. New York.  Grove Press.
Clarkson, P. (1991)“Group Imago and the Stages of Group Development” TAJ  Vol. 21 No.1, January
Karpman, K (1968), Fairy Tales and Script Drama AnalysisTransactional Analysis Journal 7: 26