Games People Play by Eric Berne [Actionable Summary]


This is a comprehensive book summary of the book Games People Play by Eric Berne. Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski. Supporting Members get full access and a downloadable/printable version of the summary.

The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

Games People Play exposes the secret ploys and unconscious maneuvers (labeled as games by the author) of our psyche and why they are essential for our psychological well-being. The first part of the book introduces the hidden social transactions that are part of our daily interactions along with the 3 different ego states: the Child, the Parent, and the Adult. Once the transactional analysis is explained, Dr. Eric Berne walks us through the technicalities of the social games we engage in – what are the most common games, how we play them, and why.

The Core Idea:

Our behaviors can be viewed as games where the main goal is to receive recognition from the rest of the players. Recognition-hunger, the author argues, is a need that is substantially more important than food-hunger. The bulk of our activities when around others are to collect favorable transactions in the forms of strokes – a hug, a pat, a nice comment, the feeling that we are better than the rest. Plainly, evidence that others acknowledge our existence and the value our physical presence brings to the table.

Reason To Read:

Apparently, there are easily recognizable patterns in the way we behave. Seeing these patterns will open your eyes to the true incentives of your counterparts. And not only. By documenting the hidden social games people play, the author helps us become adept readers of the core human needs and flaws – ours included.


  • Our inner need to get recognition from others is the prime motivator for our manipulative behavior.
  • Allowing the ego-state of the Child to take over when we need the Adult is the most common reason for behaving incompetently.
  • Growing up requires being fully open with both others and yourself about your abilities and inabilities.

5 Key Lessons from Games People Play:

Lesson #1: Why Games Are Needed

What exactly is a game?

Don’t let the word game mislead you. The author stresses the fact that social games don’t imply having fun or being pleasantly entertained.

Commonly, the end of the game is catastrophic for both the player and the people around him.

A game in the book means that people mask their real wants and needs in some sort of play with an insidious plot.

This is needed for various reasons. First, to protect the vulnerable inner Child that is afraid of being socially mocked. And second, in case the plot doesn’t play out the way it was designed, to easily escape the social situation.

For instance, the game Wooden Leg refers to our tendency to cover up our bad behavior as a disease. For example, if we drink too much. The emphasis is shifted from “I am a sinner” to “What do you expect from a sick man?”

Why games are played?

On top of the just mentioned, the other main reason we strategically construct sophisticated games is to receive recognition from others. Also, for these reasons…

After the infant is separated from the mother. He begins his quest for both stimulus-hunger (physical intimacy) and recognition-hunger (the need to be recognized by others). These two are needed as the need for food and water.

We are social animals. We need not only to be around others. But to feel that others recognize us and see us as valuable citizens in the world we live in.

To achieve this manic desire to feel good, we play these social games where we set the stage in such a way, so we can come out victorious.

A victory is presented with a stroke. A recognition of some sort.

Dr. Berne actually labels this as a transaction. Expect your biological needs – food, water, sex – you are in the market for social transactions that are paid to you by stroke – a pat on the back, a nice comment, a hug, a medal, the magical feeling when you are right and others are wrong.

If you are regularly deprived of these transactions, “your spinal cord will shrivel up” as the author states. Plainly, you will feel unappreciated, alone, and your emotional state will quickly deteriorate.

The other interesting thing is that the more recognition we receive. The more we want it in our daily lives.

An example the author share is of a famous actor. His famousness requires hundreds of strokes – sometimes even per day. While in contrast, a professor in a local school might be satisfied with one per week.

“Stroking’ may be used as a general term for intimate physical contact; in practice it may take various forms. Some people literally stroke an infant; others hug or pat it, while some people pinch it playfully or flip it with a fingertip.” Eric Berne

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