Games People Play

Learn why people do the things they do, and how to deal with them

Neil Kakkar
20 min readDec 17, 2020

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Have you ever had your boss pass their mistakes on to you?

Well, Bob the Boss does. At a critical meeting, Bob asks his team for suggestions on how to fix things. Alice shares an interesting idea, and Bob takes it to upper management. However, it ends up making things worse. Tough luck. Bob then redirects all the blowback to Alice. “Look what you made me do, Alice! Fix it, it’s on you now”.

Bob is playing a game of “Look What You Made Me Do”. He’s setting things up so the blame never lands on him. He’s vindicating himself.

If you can relate to this game, you’re not alone. There’s hundreds of games people play, and psychologists have spent years studying these games.

However, all is not lost. If you figure out the game and play the right moves, you can stop these games.

  • You can stop your manager from shirking off responsibility.
  • You can stop your spouse from playing status games.
  • You can stop your friend from messing up their life and seeking sympathy again and again.
  • You can stop strangers from playing games with you, too.

But that’s only if you know the game they’re playing.

Games People Play¹ is a repository of such games and how to stop them. Eric Berne spent 40 years studying these games and published an academic book. I spent a month plowing through the literature, took the best parts and stitched together a narrative of the most important games, with examples relevant to today’s age.

We’ll start with some background theory — just enough to make sense of things. Then, we’ll explore interesting games people play, like the one above, and figure out ways to stop them. If you don’t want the background, you can skip directly to the games.

Background

To understand games, we need to understand how people behave, and how this behaviour changes in front of others.

People have a set of behaviour patterns that correspond to one state of mind, and others that correspond to another state of mind, which are often inconsistent with the…

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Neil Kakkar

I write about Code and Life philosophies. Sometimes both. | https://neilkakkar.com | Engineer @PostHog | Write (Code). Create. Recurse.