Raising children is primarily a matter of teaching them what games to play.

Here are notes from the book "The Games People Play" by Eric Berne who is considering most of the human interactions and relationship to be repeating role-plays and games.

A little bit outdated book, first published in 1964, but there are some deep philosophical thoughts and half-funny/half-serious observations of human interactions from the perspective of psychiatrist who just seen and experienced enough to be able to make fun of the human tragicomedy. For example:

  • p18 The eternal problem of the human being is how to structure his waking hours. In this existential sense, the function of all social living is to lend mutual assistance for this project.
  • p71 After he has paid his debts – the mortgage, the college expenses for his children and his insurance – he is regarded as a problem, a 'senior citizen' for whom society must provide not only material comforts but a new 'purpose'.

Berne claims that the human games and their roles and rules are passed on from parents on to the children as part of parenting for social survival.

  • p148 Raising children is primarily a matter of teaching them what games to play.
  • p159 Parents, deliberately or unaware, teach their children from birth how to behave, think, feel and perceive. Liberation from these influences is no easy matter, since they are deeply ingrained and are necessary during the first two or three decades of life for biological and social survival.
  • p155 The moment the little boy is concerned with which is a jay and which is a sparrow, he can no longer see the birds or hear them sing. He has to see and hear them the way his father wants him to. Father has good reasons on his side, since few people can afford to go through life listening to the birds sing, and the sooner the little boy starts his 'education' the better.
  • p19 Family life and married life, as well as life in organizations of various kinds, may year after year be based on variations of the same game.
  • p44 Positions are taken and become fixed surprisingly early, from the second or even the first year to the seventh year of life – in any case long before the individual is competent or experienced enough to make such a serious commitment. It is not difficult to deduce from an individual's position the kind of childhood he must have had. Unless something or somebody intervenes, he spends the rest of his life stabilizing his position and dealing with situations that threaten it: by avoiding them, warding off certain elements or manipulating them provocatively so that they are transformed from threats into justifications.

So humans as social being are moving around in different circles, starting at home, in their family, going through education and their work having their roles assigned to them. If they don't want or can not play-out their role, they look for other people or places where they are good fit for their chosen role. For example party dynamics:

  • p41 While a pastime is in progress, the Child in each player is watchfully assessing the potentialities of the others involved. At the end of the party, each person will have selected certain players he would like to see more of, while others he will discard, regardless of how skilfully or pleasantly they each engaged in the pastime.
  • p149 People pick as friends, associates and intimates other people who play the same games. Hence ‘everybody who is anybody’ in a given social circle (aristocracy, juvenile gang, social club, college campus, etc.) behaves in a way which may seem quite foreign to members of a different social circle. Conversely, any member of a social circle who changes his games will tend to be extruded, but he will find himself welcome at some other social circle. That is the personal significance of games.

Then the "best friend" is the one who know us well enough and still like to play with us:

  • p51 Beautiful friendships' are often based on the fact that the players complement each other with great economy and satisfaction, so that there is a maximum yield with a minimum effort from the games they play with each other.

So what is the game?

  • p45 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, often repetitious, superficially plausible, with a concealed motivation; or, more colloquially, a series of moves with a snare, or 'gimmick'. Games are clearly differentiated from procedures, rituals, and pastimes by two chief characteristics: (1) their ulterior quality and (2) the payoff. Procedures may be successful, rituals effective, and pastimes profitable, but all of them are by definition candid; they may involve contest, but not conflict, and the ending may be sensational, but it is not dramatic. Every game, on the other hand, is basically dishonest, and the outcome has a dramatic, as distinct from merely exciting, quality.
  • p46 The use of the word 'game' should not be misleading. As explained in the introduction, it does not necessarily imply fun or even enjoyment. … The same applies to the word 'play', as anyone who has 'played' hard poker or 'played' the stock market over a long period can testify.
  • p20 The essential characteristic of human play is not that the emotions are spurious, but that they are regulated. This is revealed when sanctions are imposed on an illegitimate emotional display. Play may be grimly serious, or even fatally serious, but the social sanctions are serious only if the rules are broken.

People play their repetitive stereotype games to socially interact to prevent sensory and emotional starvation even for the costs on being on the looser end. Like "Why Does This Always Happen to Me" or "Why Don’t you – Yes But" or "If It Weren’t For Him" or "My misfortunes are better than yours."

  • p20 Structure-hunger has the same survival value as stimulus-hunger. Stimulus-hunger and recognition-hunger express the need to avoid sensory and emotional starvation, both of which lead to biological deterioration. Structure-hunger expresses the need to avoid boredom, and Kierkegaard has pointed out the evils which result from unstructured time.

So what are these games?

  • Why don't you - yes but
    • Thesis: See if you can present a solution I can’t find fault with.
    • Aim: Reassurance.
    • Roles: Helpless person, Advisers.
    • Can be played by any number. The agent presents a problem. The others start to present solutions, each beginning with ‘Why don’t you …?’ To each of these White objects with a ‘Yes, but …’ A good player can stand off the others indefinitely until they all give up, whereupon White wins.
  • "If it weren't for you"
    • Briefly, a woman marries a domineering man so that he will restrict her activities and thus keep her from getting into situations which frighten her. If this were a simple operation, she might express her gratitude when he performed this service for her. In the game of IWFY, however, her reaction is quite the opposite: she takes advantage of the situation to complain about the restrictions, which makes her spouse feel uneasy and gives her all sorts of advantages. This game is the internal social advantage. The external social advantage is the derivative pastime ‘If It Weren’t For Him’, which she plays with her congenial lady friends.
  • "Look how hard I've tried"
    • In its common clinical form this is a three-handed game played by a married couple with a psychiatrist. The husband (usually) is bucking for a divorce, despite loud protestations to the contrary, while the spouse is more sincere in wanting to continue the marriage. He comes to the therapist under protest and talks just enough to demonstrate to the wife that he is cooperating; usually he plays a mild game of ‘Psychiatry’ or ‘Courtroom’. As time passes he exhibits either increasingly resentful pseudo-compliance or belligerent argumentativeness towards the therapist. At home he initially shows more ‘understanding’ and restraint, and finally behaves worse than ever. After one, five or ten visits, depending on the skill of the therapist, he refuses to come any longer and goes hunting or fishing instead. The wife is then forced into filing for divorce. The husband is now blameless, since his wife has taken the initiative and he has demonstrated his good faith by going to the therapist. He is in a good position to say to any attorney, judge, friend or relative, ‘Look how hard I’ve tried!’
  • Schlemiel
    • Thesis: I can be destructive and still get forgiveness.
    • Roles: Aggressor, Victim
    • White, who makes the first move, wins either way. If Black shows his anger, White can feel justified in returning the resentment. If Black restrains himself, White can go on enjoying his opportunities. The real payoff in this game, however, is not the pleasure of destructiveness, which is merely an added bonus for White, but the fact that he obtains forgiveness.
  • Now I’ve got you, you son of a bitch.
    • Aim: Justification.
    • Roles: Victim, Aggressor.
    • Dynamics: Jealous rage.
    • White needed some plumbing fixtures installed, and he reviewed the costs very carefully with the plumber before giving him a go-ahead. The price was set, and it was agreed that there would be no extras. When the plumber submitted his bill, he included a few dollars extra for an unexpected valve that had to be installed – about four dollars on a four-hundred-dollar job. White became infuriated, called the plumber on the phone and demanded an explanation. The plumber would not back down. White wrote him a long letter criticizing his integrity and ethics and refused to pay the bill until the extra charge was withdrawn. The plumber finally gave in.
  • Courtroom
    • Thesis: They’ve got to say I’m right.
    • Aim: Reassurance.
    • Roles: Plaintiff, Defendant, Judge (and/or Jury).
    • Can be played by any number, but is essentially three-handed, with a plaintiff, a defendant and a judge, represented by a husband, a wife and the therapist. … The husband begins plaintively, ‘Let me tell you what (wife’s name) did yesterday. She took the …’ etc., etc. The wife then responds defensively, ‘Here is the way it really was … and besides just before that he was … and anyway at the time we were both …’ etc. The husband adds gallantly, ‘Well, I’m glad you people have a chance to hear both sides of the story, I only want to be fair.’ At this point the counsellor says judiciously, ‘It seems to me that if we consider …’ etc.
  • Cops and Robbers
    • Thesis: See if you can catch me.
    • Aim: Reassurance.
    • Roles: Robber, Cop (Judge).
    • Because many criminals are cop-haters, they seem to get as much satisfaction from outwitting the police as from their criminal gains, often more. Their crimes, at the Adult level, are games played for the material rewards, the take; but at the Child level it is the thrill of the chase: the getaway and the cool-off. Curiously enough, the childhood prototype of ‘Cops and Robbers’ is not cops and robbers but hide-and-seek, in which the essential element is the chagrin at being found.
  • Psychiatry
    • The position ‘I am a healer because it says here that I am a healer’ is likely to be an impairment, and may be replaced to advantage with something like: ‘I will apply what therapeutic procedures I have learned in the hope that they will be of some benefit.’ This avoids the possibility of games based on: ‘Since I am a healer, if you don’t get better it’s your fault’ (e.g., ‘I’m Only Trying To Help You’), or ‘Since you’re a healer, I’ll get better for you’ (e.g., ‘Peasant’).
  • Happy to help
    • People who claim to be neutral soon show which side they are neutral on.
  • etc.

To reach beyond repetitive social games one risks rejections or loosing social contacts, which for many equals to a dead thread. Ability to endure such a state is reserved to small group of people whom society usually assigns roles like mystic, enlightened one or simply a weirdo-madman.

  • p155 Awareness: Awareness means the capacity to see a coffeepot and hear the birds sing in one’s own way, and not the way one was taught. … For certain fortunate people there is something which transcends all classifications of behaviour, and that is awareness; something which rises above the programming of the past, and that is spontaneity; and something that is more rewarding than games, and that is intimacy.
  • p157 The aware person is alive because he knows how he feels, where he is and when it is. He knows that after he dies the trees will still be there, but he will not be there to look at them again, so he wants to see them now with as much poignancy as possible.
  • p158 Spontaneity: Spontaneity means option, the freedom to choose and express one’s feelings from the assortment available (Parent feelings, Adult feelings and Child feelings). It means liberation, liberation from the compulsion to play games and have only the feelings one was taught to have.
  • p158 Intimacy: Intimacy means the spontaneous, game-free candidness of an aware person, the liberation of the eidetically perceptive, uncorrupted Child in all its naïveté living in the here and now