7 Types of Games People Play (According to Eric Berne)

Humans interact in different ways.

Each social interaction underlies a purpose. And each purpose is led by the games we play.

Often, people play games unconsciously.

From power games to competitive ones, we mold everything to suit ourselves. Some of them can turn out to be destructive.

By understanding and recognizing the games we play, we can take control of our responses and develop more fulfilling and secure relationships. 

Eric Berne explains that in his book ‘Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships.’

Published in 1964, Berne’s book is proving itself useful for psychotherapists and counselors in the current times. 

So, let’s give you the nitty-gritty details about the seven games mentioned in the book. 


3 Ego States of Humans

According to Berne, humans have three key ego states.

These ego states are systems of emotions and related behavioral patterns:

Number 1 is Parent – we pick up some of the beliefs, gestures, vocab, and emotional responses of the parent or parental figure we grow up with.

In adulthood, we continue carrying these parental ego states.

The effects can be direct, like when you respond the way your parents do, or indirect, when we respond the way our parents would want us to. 

Number 2 is Adult you can autonomously and objectively process data and assess reality.

It’s something that children and mentally challenged individuals have, too. 

Number 3 is Child – even though we grow old, we remain the boy or girl we once were from the inside.

But the child’s ego state doesn’t mean being childish or immature.

It’s simply a part of you.

It can surface as an Adapted Child when you change your natural behavior to do or resist what your parents would’ve wanted.

Or it could surface as the Natural Child.

That’s when you break free from Parental influences in bursts of spontaneous creativity or rebellion reflecting your true inclinations. 

The real question is, 

Why Do We Play Games?

Humans don’t play games for fun or enjoyment. 

They play games to achieve certain material, psychological or emotional outcomes. 

Playing games bring several advantages, like:

  • Biological – satisfy the need for strokes and time structure. 
  • Social – provide a framework for more complex interactions within our inner circle or as a theme to gossip in a wider circle. 
  • Psychological – maintain our internal beliefs and avoid external situations that’d challenge those beliefs. 

What’s more, humans tend to play games at varying degrees.

There are three playing levels:

  • First-degree games are socially-acceptable and often discussed with others. They take up the bulk of our time at social gatherings or parties. 
  • Second-degree games are usually hidden. This is because they have more severe outcomes but leave no irreversible damage. 
  • Third-degree games are harmful, typically resulting in bodily harm, lawsuits, or even death. 

7 Types of Games People Play

In his book, Eric Berne discusses the 7 types of games people play. Berne categorized the games like this:

  • Life Games
  • Marital Games
  • Party Games
  • Sexual Games
  • Underworld Games
  • Consulting Room Games
  • Good Games

1.   Life Games

Life games have a lifelong impact and may involve other innocent bystanders.

The innocent bystanders include:

Alcoholicsthese players want to provoke negative responses from others to fuel their self-hatred and self-pity.

This gives them an excuse to keep drinking. In reality, they create a situation where a parental figure reprimands them. 

The best way to break the game is to refuse to reprimand the Alcoholic. You can also refer the person to a rescuer, like a friendly family doctor who helps them without persecution. 

Debtor – it’s the most common way of life in many societies. You receive help from a person or institution only to be indebted for life. 

For example, a bank lends a young man a huge amount of money to buy a car. The man will initially feel a sense of purpose and pride, but they’ll get stuck with a debt that needs years before it’s paid off.

Prompt payments and honesty are the only way to break the game. That means you should only buy what you can afford with your cash.

Read Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships to learn about other bystanders.

2.   Marital Games

Couples play games all the time. 

Some of them include:

Corner – this is when you corner your partner, refusing to play their game. 

For example, you suggest going to a movie, and your spouse agrees. But then you bring up the home renovation your partner said they couldn’t afford.

And when they respond negatively, you tell them to go to the movie alone, hoping they’ll coax you into going along. Your partner may refuse to play and leave on their own. 

Here, either of you could have ended the game. 

The book also contains insights into different marital games, like Courtroom, Harried, and Sweetheart.

3.   Party Games 

Humans play simple pastime games and rituals with acquaintances. But as the relationship deepens, we move into playing more complex games.

Berne coins them as ‘party games.’ 

Some party games include:

Ain’t It Awful – here, the player expresses despair over something, like a terrible accident. In reality, they enjoy a sense of righteousness, attention, and drama.

Each player tries for a one-up to show they have suffered the most. And yet, even though it makes one feel good at the moment, it doesn’t improve life in the long term.

Blemish – in this type of party game, players seek faults or weaknesses with others to make themselves look better or with themselves. Doing this is an attempt to justify why they can’t do or achieve certain things. 

Other party games include Why Don’t You… Yes, But and Schlemiel. 


4.    Sexual Games

Sexual games are almost always played in private to avoid or exploit sexual impulses. 

For example, in ‘Let You and Him Fight,’ a female player maneuvers two men into fighting for her. The woman may align herself with the winner or end up with a third person to mock honest competition. 

In Perversion, the player gets satisfaction from humiliation or pain. And in Rapo, the player leads a victim on for the thrill of being pursued.

The player loses interest once the victim is committed. They even enjoy the victim’s discomfort at being rejected. 

To avoid getting hurt by such players, it’s best to differentiate between genuine feelings and game maneuvers.

5.   Underworld Games 

People in and out of prison play games like:

Cops and Robbers – such players engage in wrongdoings as a battle of wit and for the thrill of the chase. For them, it’s like hide-and-seek. And the game is only fun if there’s a real chance of being found. 

How Do You Get Out of Here?

People genuinely wanting to escape prison or hospital will be on their best behavior.  But sometimes, inmates or patients don’t want to leave because their inner child fears the outside world’s uncertainty. 

And so, they play the ‘Want Out’ game by simulating good behavior and then sabotaging their efforts at a critical juncture. 

Let’s Pull a Fast One on Joey – in this game, a group tells the victim that Joey is easy prey. They provoke the victim into playing a prank on Joey.

But they’re actually ganging up with Joey against the victim. The victim realizes too late that he’s the real target. 

6.   Consulting Room Games 

Consulting room games are a norm in professional or therapeutic situations. 

I’m Only Trying to Help You – Unlike people offering genuine professional help, a hidden motive drives the ITHY player. This is to prove that people are disappointing and ungrateful.

The player repeatedly offers ineffective advice to a patient or client until finally blaming the failed rescue attempt on the other party’s failure to reciprocate.

Wooden Leg – in this game, the player uses a real, exaggerated, or even imagined disability as an excuse for every action or inaction. 

For instance, ‘What do you expect of someone from a broken home?’ 

A related game is ‘indigence,’ where the player claims he can’t do the work of his choice because of a perceived disability.

An example for this type of game player is a man who stutters but chooses to apply only for sales jobs, then feels sad that he can’t find a job because he stutters. 

Peasant – the player uses his respect or admiration to appeal to someone’s vanity intentionally or unintentionally.

For example, a patient keeps seeing a doctor and telling them they’re great but don’t get better. That’s because the player doesn’t even fill their prescriptions. 

Psychiatry – Some patients play this game by seeking less competent therapists to prove there’s no cure for their condition.

Over time, they learn how psychiatry works and get progressively better at jeopardizing the efforts of even more qualified therapists. 

Stupid this game involves seeking negative feedback to reinforce a negative self-image.

To stop the game, avoid putting the player down. Instead, shift your focus to the areas he’s good at. 

7.   Good Games 

When played to bring out positive outcomes, all games can be good.

And this outweighs the costs of the maneuvers, especially if the player is aware of and accepts his underlying motives. 

Some good games include:

Cavalier – the player flirts, but not under sexual pressure. It can stimulate energy and creativity when done with good taste and within acceptable boundaries. 

Happy to Help – a player helps others for personal motives, like making new friends or improving his self-image.

The results are always positive.

A related game is the ‘Busman’s Holiday,’ where the player takes a break from regular work to do something constructive, such as volunteer for humanitarian work, again for a personal agenda. 

They’ll Be Glad They Knew Me – the player works hard not to seek achievement or success but to influence others’ perceptions of them.

This can be to get others’ envy or respect. 

A related game is the ‘Homely Sage,’ where a successful person retires to a small town where they can be worshipped for helping others in need. 

In essence, most games are destructive, yet we continue to play them because of the following reasons:

  • We’re unaware of our games.
  • We’re trying to enforce certain beliefs or avoid specific issues.
  • We use games to avoid getting too intimate or hurt.

These games pass on to our children, who continue to play them… and this goes on from generation to generation. 

The need is to develop game-free relationships that are joyful and secure.

And this requires three key elements:

  • Awareness – the ability to see things as they are. 
  • Spontaneity – the ability to freely express your feelings and choices. 
  • Intimacy – the combination of game-free spontaneity and candidness with awareness resulting in enjoying intimacy. 

This is where your natural Child can fully experience the present moment without undue Parental influences. 

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