Social Rituals*

The simplest forms of social activity are procedures and rituals. Some of these are universal and some local, but all of them have to be learned.
Ain't It Awful

As a game, ‘Ain’t It Awful’ finds its most dramatic expression in polysurgery addicts, and their transactions illustrate its characteristics. These are doctor-shoppers, people who actively seek surgery even in the face of sound medical opposition.

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In game analysis there is no such thing as alcoholism or ‘an alcoholic’, but there is a role called the Alcoholic in a certain type of game. If a biochemical or physiological abnormality is the prime mover in excessive drinking then its study belongs in the field of internal medicine.

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This game is the source of a large percentage of petty dissension in everyday life; it is played from the depressive Child position ‘I am no good’, which is protectively transformed into the Parental position ‘They are no good.’ The player’s transactional problem is, then, to prove the latter thesis.

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Busman's Holiday

Strictly speaking, this is a pastime rather than a game, and evidently a constructive one for all concerned. An American mail carrier who goes to Tokyo to help a Japanese postman on his rounds, or an American ear-nose-and-throat specialist who spends his holiday working in a Haitian hospital, will very likely feel just as refreshed and have just as good stories to tell as if he had gone lion hunting in Africa or spent the time driving through transcontinental highway traffic. The Peace Corps has now given official sanction to Busman’s Holiday.

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This is a game played by men who are not under sexual pressure—occasionally by younger men who have a satisfactory marriage or liaison, more often by older men who are gracefully resigned to monogamy or celibacy.

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Cops and Robbers

Because many criminals are cop-haters, they seem to get as much satisfaction from outwitting the police as from their criminal gains, often more. Their crimes, at the Adult level, are games played for the material rewards, the take; but at the Child level it is the thrill of the chase: the getaway and the cool-off.

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Corner illustrates more clearly than most games their manipulative aspect and their function as barriers to intimacy. Paradoxically, it consists of a disingenuous refusal to play the game of another.

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Descriptively this belongs to the class of games which find their most florid expressions in law, and which includes ‘Wooden Leg’ (the plea of insanity) and ‘Debtor’ (the civil suit). Clinically it is most often seen in marital counselling and marital psychotherapy groups.

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‘Debtor’ is more than a game. In America it tends to become a script, a plan for a whole lifetime, just as it does in some of the jungles of Africa and New Guinea. There the relatives of a young man buy him a bride at an enormous price, putting him in their debt for years to come. Here the same custom prevails, at least in the more civilized sections of the country, except that the bride price becomes a house price, and if there is no stake from the relatives, this role is taken on by the bank.

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Frigid Woman

This is almost always a marital game, since it is hardly conceivable that an informal liaison would present the required opportunities and privileges over a sufficient length of time, or that such a liaison would be maintained in the face of it. The husband makes advances to his wife and is repulsed. After repeated attempts, he is told that all men are beasts, he doesn’t really love her, or doesn’t love her for herself, that all he is interested in is sex.

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The Social Rituals are taken from the book 'Games People Play' written by Dr. Eric Berne. They are the foundation for the Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy school of Psychiatry Dr. Berne pioneered.

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