• Renee Koh

Games We Play With Our Loved Ones

When we interact with the people in our houses, in bars, in our workplace, and in our bedrooms, we often play games. Not games as we know them, but games as specified in transactional analysis.

What is transactional analysis?

We can analyse the different manners in which humans interact to create and upkeep our different relationships. Transactional analysis is a sort of quantitative manner of looking at social interaction. Each transaction consists of a number of moves by all parties involved, after which each party will decide whether or not the transaction is successful or entertaining enough to continue the partnership. If the transaction is inadequate (eg. the ribbing doesn't illicit a laugh but a blank face instead) either party may choose to break the partnership and end all transactions.

Although many transactions can be positive and benign, many other transactions between people can be ridden with motives, unconscious desires, or even more dangerous: ignorance.

These are just some of the transactional games that we play with our loved ones: those whom most of us have specifically decided NOT to play games with.

See What You Made Me Do

Player 1 is finding a way to transfer responsibility and blame onto Player 2

The aim of this game is vindication, ensuring that one's behaviour and reactions are justified. This is often to repel impending intimacy if Player 1 is somehow wary of intimacy.

Player 1: You haven't done the dishes, it's your turn this week
Player 2: Well I haven't had time
Player 1: You were watching tv all morning
Player 2: Fine. Oh, fork! I broke your mug. See what you made me do. I wouldn't have broken your mug if you just did the dishes yourself!

The answer to stopping this game is a logical, Adult reaction.

Game reaction: What do you mean, it was originally your turn. How dare you blame me when you purposely broke my favourite mug? 

Adult reaction: please clean up the mess and finish doing the dishes. If you don't want to step on the pieces, I'll sweep it up, but you have to continue doing the dishes after I do that.


"Corner" is a game played to get justification for anger and to prohibit intimacy. The "wronged" player is the cornered individual and can either choose to continue playing or forget the game and place the choice on the remaining player.

Player 1 and Player 2 were going to go to Nandos to have a meal after school clubs were over.

Player 1: We haven't gone on a date in quite a while.
Player 2: Let's make this a great one then
Player 1: Oh, do you remember the last time we went on a date? You forgot your wallet and I paid for the whole thing!
Player 2: Look, if you didn't want to pay for today's date, you could have just told me.
Player 1: I never said that. Why are you angry at me for bringing it up? Look, if you're upset about that, let's just not go on a date today.

This situation progresses fast, but more intricate rounds of "Corner" can be played with many more moves, and still arrive at the same outcome. Player 1 is upset that Player 2 is upset, which leads to Player 1 suggesting to remove intimacy from the relationship, at least temporarily.

Deciding to stop playing this game would look as such:

a) Player 1: Oh I didn't mean to say that. Come on. I can pay for today, or if it's better, we can split it as usual. Let's go!

b) Player 2: Oh, sorry I misunderstood. We'll go to Nandos, and let's split the bill this time. To make up for last time, I'll get you some dessert after, how about that?

In both cases, whoever feels "wronged" looks at the situation from the other's perspective and finds a middle ground.

Look How Hard I've Tried

This is a game based on putting blame on the other player, on the basis that the initial player has done all they can, or so they believe.

Player 1: I have alcohol problems, but I've already gone through rehabilitation once, and if that hasn't worked, then a failed marriage is your problem
Player 2: I am forced to file for divorce to get sole custody of the kids.
Player 1's friends and family, although aware of the alcohol problem, take Player 1's side in alienating the husband for giving up on his wife.

A more serious variation of this game is played on the battlefields of life and death

Player 1 is found dead in the bathroom with their stomach full of pills, with a note that says "I was battling with alcohol and depression and I was trying so hard. Nobody helped me"
Player 2 is horrified upon discovering the body, feeling guilty for everything, no matter what they have previously done or not done to help

Granted, Player 1's claim may have been justified, but it is still part of this game of Look How Hard I've Tried, albeit much more sinister than most other games on this list.

The ultimate statement of Player 1, and oftentimes Player 2 as well, is "I am helpless", which absolves them of all guilt.


Player 1, a Child, is looking for absolution after doing something destructive, whether physical or social ("you have to forgive me")

Player 2 either acts as a Parent (forgives, acts "properly" and as a victim) or as an Adult (takes responsibility for allowing the risk to unfold, but withholds absolution)

This is a back and forth of provocation and gentle stroking.

When you say sorry with no belief that you will change and with the expectation that they will forgive you if you ever do it again, that's Schlemiel.

Why Don't You - Yes But / I'm Only Trying to Help You

This takes two to play.

Player 1 complains
Player 2 supplies a solution
Player 1 says: "Yes, but [insert excuse]"

This can be played between any pairing, siblings, spouses, friends, and acquaintances, and can be easily spotted.

What Player 1 is saying is that someone has to come up with a solution that satisfies them, knowing full well that they won't accept any of the suggestions. They want reassurance that what they complained about cannot be done or achieved.

The way to stop this game from frustrating both sides if it continues on for too long is for Player 2 to say "Well that sounds hard. What are you going to do about it?" This stops the Parent-Child relationship and forces Player 1 to confront their own shortcomings.

They'll Be Glad They Knew Me

When one works hard to succeed in work or life, to gain prestige and respect, so that they may show the people around them that their friends were of sound judgement by deciding to be their friend.

This game only turns sinister if they decide to play this game to either turn people against each other or show superiority over their friends, in which case they will lose all respect if the game is ever discovered.

Of course, there is a way not to play this game, and it's to value our own successes more than the effects our successes have on our friends.

Now that you have gotten the basic guidelines for these games, see if you can spot them in your lives. They may sometimes be played out harmlessly, with both or multiple parties not realising what the games entail or what the risks were.

However, if these games are being displayed in their full, horrific glory, you may recognise them as some of the most powerful relationship wreckers.

Who knows? With the slightly increased self-awareness you now possess, you may even decide to stop playing some of these games yourself.


Berne, E. M.D. (1964). Games People Play. Penguin Books.


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