So argues Eric Berne, in his fascinating book, ‘Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships’. And, as you’ve probably guessed, he’s not talking about Scrabble.
Berne defines a game as a repeated series of social actions with a hidden agenda. Every game, he claims, is fundamentally dishonest. This is because its object is not an honest request but a way of manipulating the other player or players. As an example, he cites the most common game played between spouses, ‘If It Weren’t For You’. The game runs something like this:
Mrs White claims that because her husband won’t let her go out much, she has never learnt to dance. In reality, she is scared of dancing and uses this as a convenient excuse. Because of her complaining, he frequently brings her gifts as he feels guilty for holding her back. But in fact, one of the reasons she married Mr White was because he was domineering – and provides a convenient get-out for all the things she feels are too much for her anyway.
People pick as friends, associates and intimates, other people who play the same games. This is why different social circles behave in completely different ways and why we can feel like we’re excluded or making blunders, but aren’t sure why. Typical games in this context may include ‘Man Talk’ and ‘Lady Talk’ (which don’t mix), ‘Ever Been?’ (a way of working out who shares your values and is worth getting to know better) and of course, ‘Hopeless Husband’ (a favourite with the ladies). There are many other scenarios – such as ‘Life Games’ (e.g; ‘See What You Made Me Do’) or ‘Marital Games’ (e.g; ‘Frigid Woman’). In a Christian or church context, perhaps these would include ‘The Problem With This Church Is…’ and ‘Just For Your Prayers’.
In life, we’re all playing games and taking different roles. We can learn our scripts very early and end up repeating the same stories time and time again – whether our role is that of victim, rescuer or persecutor (perhaps I’ll talk about this unholy trinity later). At different times we’ll most likely take on each of these identities, but there’s probably one that feels most comfortable, just as there’ll be certain games you’re used to playing – within your family, marriage or work environments. Even though there may be aspects of these identities we don’t like, they’re comfortable and we use them to control others or predict the outcomes.
Looks like my sin is slightly more than just skipping the prayer meeting..