Could you be Playing a Game?

It may be useful for you to read my previous blogsHow are Games Played’ and ‘How can Transactional Analysis help you?before reading this one, to become familiar with some of the terms if you're not already.

Firstly, by a game I do not mean to play – there is a significant difference which I think is good to point out. To play, is to have Free-Child to Free-Child interactions, to have a positive payoff (result/goal) and to have no direct goal or purpose other than to have fun. The nature of a game, in transactional analysis (TA) terms, is psychological; a motivation (often subconscious), still by the Child ego state, to solve a real life problem using archaic/inadequate strategies - this often ends up with someone experiencing a negative payoff. More recently I have started to refer to games, when with clients, as 'patterns of learnt behaviour's - to take away the association that games are fun and consciously decided upon, but for the ease of writing this blog, I am using the more recognised term within TA.

In his book, The Games People Play (1964), Eric Berne allocates lots of time explaining different games on the psychological level and gives clear examples to provide opportunity to see how these games could happen – in most cases; people are unaware that they have accepted an invite of participation.

I’m going to give an example of a game called ‘why don't you……yes but’ (WDYYB) and will start using a series of transactions, to set the scene.

Person A: ‘I really don’t know how on Earth and I am going to meet this deadline’

Person B: ‘Why don’t you not go to the gym for the next week, that should free up lots of time’

Person A: ‘Yes but I’ve got that competition in a couple of months, I can’t afford to slack’

Person B: ‘Have you got any holidays to take from work then?’

Person A: ‘No not really, I don’t think I’d be able to take them at such short notice anyway’

Person B: ‘have you tried………..’ and this continues until all suggestions have been rejected.

On a social level, it appears that person A is asking for help and person B is being a good friend by offering their ideas; however, psychologically person A isn’t asking for help at all. What person A is actually seeking is attention and for person B to justify their inaction i.e. ‘wow, yeah it really is impossible’.

If we look at this closer still, using ego-state analysis, the whole thing appears to be an Adult-Adult set of transactions, both parties trying to solve a here-and-now problem; but is it?

Person A is actually coming from a victim/Child position and person B is complimenting this by coming from a rescuing/Parenting style………OK and here’s the switch………on a psychological level, person A switches to Critical Parent (‘oh yeah, you're a great help’) and person B then takes the helpless Child stance (‘but I tried…..’). Person A and B have switched places - A is no longer feeling inadequate, B is.

You can apply this to the drama triangle too:


Could you be Playing a Game-1.png
Could you be Playing a Game-2.png

So what do you think? Have you ever found yourself in this scenario?

What about if you want NOT to play game? You may need some therapeutic support to help you understand the nature of the games you become involved in (as there are lots of different types with different payoffs), what purpose they serve for you and how to recognise the dynamics so that you can make a conscious choice. Some people play games because they want attention and negative attention in this situation is just as valuable as positive attention; some people play games to reinforce their life position. If someone has grown up thinking and feeling that others are better or more important than themselves, they would be coming from an I’m not OK, You're OK position and their games are likely to affirm this.

Here are some ideas of how you can refuse the psychological invitation to participate:

  • Often games are over before the players are aware it’s taken place. If you feel like there has been a switch, spend some time deconstructing what happened; pay attention to who started it, what happened, the feelings you had, your involvement and how it ended.
  • There is always a discounting part to games, this is when there is a distortion/denying of reality – keep your eye out for these i.e. ‘you're so harsh’ (with no discount this would be ‘I think you can be harsh sometimes’)
  • See if you can recognise the ego states you use and try to think of alternatives. In the example above, person A appealed to person B’s Parent, if they were to try coming from Adult (here-and-now responses) they might have said ‘what do you think you're going to do?’ – notice here that there is also no discount of person A’s ability to solve the problem themselves.
  • You may find that it is near on impossible to step out of someone’s game as the psychological pull is so strong – you may want to evaluate your relationship with this person or enter brief therapy to tackle the problem.

If you recall in the blog ‘How are Games Played?’, which ever positions on the drama triangle you most frequently find yourself in, there are particular ones you will be attracted to most – see what they are and raise your awareness – with awareness comes choice.