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Instaread Review: Games People Play

Hello all, I originally wrote this up for the company Instareads, who hired me to write descriptions for their phone app. The individual working there was impossible to work with and asked me frequently to "review" the material without being critical, only to get mad when my material wasn't critical enough because he wanted a review. Not even kidding about that. Well, I'm a good writer and I have an audience. Here is my review for the classic book Games People Play, just for the Radical Second Things audience.

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Games People Play:
The Basic Handbook of Transactional Analysis

By Eric Berne M.D.

Games People Play was Dr. Eric Berne's brilliant work, which postulated the everyday games that people play with one another in nearly all situations in which they transact goods, power, sex or satisfaction or validation with one another. Far from only opining about the “games” that couples are known to play with another, Berne demonstrates that human game playing goes as deep as competitive games between friends and family.

Games People Play was such a critical hit that its title become a household phrase within the Bay Area especially, where the book's ideas were launched through a series of engaging seminars. There currently is a game shop in Sausalito, an upscale town near San Francisco, called Games People Play.

The psychiatric outlook that powers the various “games” in Games People Play rested on the concept of “transactional analysis,” which started to formulate when Dr. Berne first started clinical writing in 1949. Rejection to membership within the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute resulted in him starting his own ideas, which, by 1958, resulted in publishing his own paper, called “Transactional Analysis,” which eventually led to Games People Play. Seminars were held on the subject throughout the Bay Area, called the San Francisco Transactional Analysis Seminars, with the intent of galvanizing the psychiatric organizations of the area around the ideas in Games People Play.

The idea that people engage in regular transactional “games” in their interactions with one another matched the zeitgeist of other thinkers of the time, such as Ayn Rand, who saw the value of people in their material wealth and what they provide commercially. Games People Play expresses this as an almost mundane practice by everyday people done not out of desire for vengeance or malice but rather relief and satisfaction (although more negative outcomes can arrive out of these games).

Much like Rand, Berne used Games People Play as a launching pad for selling his own ideas. He left behind the International Transactional Analysis Association, much like how Ayn Rand left behind her Objectivist organizations, replete with newsletters that took their ideologies deadly seriously. A similar format has been adopted by the Church of Scientology, which, much like Dr. Berne, markets an independent approach to psychiatry.

The coziness that Games People Play with a lot of pop culture writing of its era provides many of the book's deficits. While the “games” illustrated in the book surely reflect things that most people have seen in daily life, players in the games are portrayed as “black” or “white,” depending on which role they play in the game. The game players aren't seen as real people but almost as live action dolls playing roles out to a T. Every human interaction is little more than a transaction, aimed at getting a little bit more out of the other party.

The reason why people play these games is not fleshed out beyond accusations of cynicism, jealousy, selfishness or perversion. That people could arrive at such place out of difficulty or pain isn't at all considered. An air of misogyny seems detectable in much of the “sexual” games as well, as women are seen as largely leading the other party on whenever there is a misunderstanding. Women are portrayed as playing games due to cynicism about men's motives and to upset other women but the idea that they may be conflicted due to trauma or bad experiences isn't at all considered.

Dr. Berne succeeded some in galvanizing the psychiatric community and eventually reached millions with his ideas. Games People Play was lauded by writers such as Kurt Vonnegut, who heaped praise on it in a review for Life Magazine. “Transactional analysis” continued on to be the basis of several similar books to Games People Play, including Scripts People Live: Transactional Analysis of Life Scripts, published Claude Steiner, one of Berne's contemporaries, in 1994.

Key Insights
Games People Play is replete with several key insights in to human interpersonal behavior, which are demonstrated in what Dr. Berne's alleged “games.:'

1.The definition of a “game” in the human sociological setting - “when someone creates a commonplace social disturbance in order to gain some secret relief or satisfaction.”
3.One game is “uproar,” in which a father and daughter argue after coming home from school or work. The possibilities end either with one party returning to their room and slamming the door or both parties returning to their rooms and slamming the doors, thus illustrating that “they can only live in the house together if they are angry at each other and the slamming doors emphasize for each the fact that they have separate bedrooms.”
5.A more explosive analysis is “the Stocking game,” which is an act of exhibitionism (i.e. casually adjusting one's stocking in the company of others with full awareness of the impact it could cause) that an attention seeking woman engages in on a basis of social cynicism, hoping to arouse whatever men are around while also angering nearby women.
7.The game of “Rapo” is very similar - a woman signals at a party or other setting that she is available to a man and takes great pleasure in being pursued by whoever the guy is. A polite woman ends the encounter by saying “I appreciate your compliments very much” while moving on to whoever the next guy is while a more rude woman will just leave him – although some women might actually do both.
9.NIGYSOB is displayed in various setting, from a poker game to financial collection. The person collecting resources is more satisfied with the fact that the other party is “completely at his mercy” than winning a card game or making money.
11.SWYMD or “see what you made me do” is a game with two degrees in which one party rests on another in a given situation. When the situation turns out well, they enjoy it but when it fails, they can proclaim frustration and shout either SWYMD or “You Got Me Into This.”
13.“Frigid Woman” is a game much like”Rapo”- a man tries to sleep with his wife several times, only to be repulsed and told that all he wants her for is sex. He gives up, she starts to walk around naked or, at parties, rub up to other men so he tries again, she responds and then at the right moment says, “See, all you want me for is sex!”
15.“Cops and Robbers” is a game seen in many gambling settings in which mutual parties enjoy and find satisfaction in the chase, in the form of gambling or other bet taking, with the full realization that only one of them can be the winner and the other the loser.

9. While insightful, many of the “games” in Games People Play seem to bely a victim and a perpetrator and the suspicion that Dr. Berne is simply covering episodes that made him upset or disappointed in life is hard to escape.

Important People
Kurt Vonnegut was author of Slaughterhouse Five, Breakfast of Champions and Cat's Cradle, who helped shaped the modern sardonic American novel and provided both commentary on the experience of total war and of American capitalism. Vonnegut's review of Games People Play, which he wrote for Life Magazine in 1965, is published in the 1996 anniversary edition.

Dr. James R. Allen was the president of the International Transactional Analysis Association, wrote the introduction for the 1996 anniversary edition. Dr. Allen was educated at McGill University and for many years prepared the script, a regular publication sent to members of the ITAA.

Claude Steiner, much like Dr. James R. Allen, was a founding associate of Dr. Eric Berne and his “transactional analysis” movement. He wrote “Scripts People Live: Transactional Analysis of Life Scripts.” He built the Radical Psychiatry movement out of his friendship with Dr. Berne.

Author's Style
Games People Play author Dr. Eric Berne writes in a style that was very popular during the middle twentieth century. The book is a slim 186 pages, which packs a bunch of 101 “games” that are demonstrated as ways in which in which average people socially manipulate others in order to gain satisfaction or relief.

Non-fiction in our modern time tends to be much more dense – writers like Eric Schlosser or George Packer, critically acclaimed non-fiction writers of the past dozen years, opt for heavily detailed journalistic epochs. Specific people are not spelled out in this volume – rather we just see illustrations of social behavior that is vague enough to resemble things we regularly encounter.

The slim and concise style was very popular in Dr. Berne's time– F.A. Hayek's well known and popular The Road to Serfdom was only 266 pages (subsequent reprints were beefed up past 300 pages). Kurt Vonnegut's own Slaughterhouse Five, a classic of the same era, was 288 pages.

Author's Perspective
Dr. Eric Berne resided in San Francisco and was a middle aged 55 years old at the time of the publication of Games People Play. He graduated from McGill University Medical with an M.D. and C.M. (Master of Surgery) in 1935. His arrival in the United States came about with a psychiatric residency at the Psychiatric Clinic of Yale University School of Medicine. He lost his father at only 38 years old and entered through several abortive marriages, while he also had his ideas rejected from established psychiatric institutions, leading him to sell his ideas on his own. All of these factors may have contributed to some of the observations made in Games People Play as well as the manner in which they are presented. 


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About Radical Second Things

Michael Orion is a blogger, writer, artist and photographer based in the Bay Area. Besides his maintenance and promotion of Radical Second Things, he contributes to the San Francisco newspaper SF Western Edition, where he writes about local non-profit organizations.

Mark Cappetta is a practicing Catholic and active LGBT activist. He has been instrumental in keeping Radical Second Things and updates the Facebook account almost daily.

Eva Gnostiquette is an artist, programmer, "future scientist," bi-trans girl and graphic designer. She voluntarily helped to create the first print issue Radical Second Things and designed our beautiful banners. Thanks so much, Eva!

Jordan Denato is a professional artist based out of Iowa. He took the initiative to illustrate both Jennifer Reimer's story and Michael Orion's Oscar Romero work. He has his own art studio, Tar and Feather Studios, and is a critical part of Radical Second Things.

Radical Second Things is a liberation theology themed blog that has clear cut goals - we see the structural decline of the United States and much of the west and hope to present alternatives that will offer "a preferential option for the poor" as more become vulnerable.

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