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Games People Play
The Psychology of Human Relationships
byEric Berne, MD
The Psychology of Human Relationships
byEric Berne, MD
CHAPTER 9. SEXUAL GAMES
Some games are played to exploit or fight off sexual impulses. These are all, in effect, perversions of the sexual instincts in which the satisfaction is displaced from the sexual act to the crucial transactions which constitute the payoff of the game. This cannot always be demonstrated convincingly, because such games are usually played in privacy, so that clinical information about them has to be obtained second-hand, and the informants bias cannot always be satisfactorily evaluated. The psychiatric conception of homosexuality, for example, is heavily skewed, because the more aggressive and successful ‘players’ do not often come for psychiatric treatment, and the available material mostly concerns the passive partners.
Heterosexual perversions such as fetishism, sadism and masochism are symptomatic of a confused Child and are treated accordingly. Their transactional aspects, however, as manifested in actual sexual situations, can be dealt with by means of game analysis. This may lead to social control, so that even if the warped sexual impulses remain unchanged, they are neutralised as far as actual indulgence is concerned.
This game is played between a man and a woman which might more politely be called, in the milder forms at least, ‘kiss off’ or ’indignation’. It may be played with varying degrees of intensity.
1. First-Degree ‘Rapo’, or ‘Kiss Off’, is popular at social gatherings and consists essentially of mild flirtation. White signals that she is available and get her pleasure from the mans pursuit. As soon as he has committed himself, the game is over. If she is polite, she may say quite frankly ” I appreciate your compliments and thank you very much”, and move onto the next conquest. If she is less generous, she may simply leave him. A skilful player can make this game last for a long time at a large social gathering by moving around frequently, so that the man has to carry out complicated manoeuvres in order to follow her without being too obvious.
2. In Second-Degree ‘Rapo’, or ‘Indignation’, White gets only secondary satisfaction from Black’s advances. Her primary gratification comes from rejecting him, so that this game is also colloquially known as ‘Buzz Off, Buster’. She leads Black into a much more serious commitment than the mild flirtation of the first degree ‘Rapo’ and enjoys watching his discomfiture when she repulses him. Black, of course is not as helpless as he seems, and may have gone to considerable trouble to get himself involved. Usually he is playing some variation of ‘Kick me’.
3. Third-Degree ‘Rapo’ is a vicious game which ends in murder, suicide or the courtroom. Here, White leads Black into compromising physical contact and then claims that he has made a criminal assault or has done her irreparable damage. In its most cynical form White may actually allow him to complete the sexual act so that she gets enjoyment before confronting him. The confrontation may be immediate, as in the illegitimate cry of rape, or it may be long delayed, as in suicide or homicide following a prolonged love affair. If she chooses to play it as a criminal assault, she may have no difficulty in finding mercenary or morbidly interested allies, such as the press, the police, counsellors and relatives. Sometimes, however, these outsiders may cynically turn on her, so that she loses the initiative and becomes a tool in their games.
In some cases outsiders perform different function. They force the game on an unwilling White because they want to play ‘Let’s You And Him Fight’. They put her in such a position that in order to save her face or her reputation she has to cry rape. This is particularly apt to happen girls under the legal age of consent; they may be quite willing to continue a liaison, but because it is discovered or made an issue of, they feel constrained to turn the romance into a game of Third-Degree ‘Rapo’.
In one well-known situation, the wary Joseph refused to be inveigled into a game of ‘Rapo’, whereupon Potiphar’s wife made the classical switch into ‘Let’s You And Him Fight’, an excellent example of the way a hard player reacts to antithesis, and of the danger that beset people who refuse to play games. These two games are combined in the well-known ‘Badger Game’, in which the woman seduces Black and then cries rape, at which point her husband takes charge and abuses Black for the purpose of blackmail.
One of the most unfortunate and acute forms of Third-Degree ‘Rapo’ occurs relatively frequently between homosexual strangers, who in a matter of an hour or so may bring the game to a point of homicide. The cynical and criminal variations of this game contribute a large volume to sensational newspaper copy.
The childhood prototype of ‘Rapo’ is the same as that of ‘Frigid Woman’, in which the little girl induces the boy to humiliate himself or get dirty and then sneers at him, as classically described by Maugham in Of Human Bondage and by Dickens in Great Expectations. This is Second Degree. A harder form, approaching Third-Degree may be played in tough neighbourhoods.
The man's ability to avoid becoming involved in this game or to keep it under control depends on his capacity to distinguish genuine expressions of feeling from moves in the game. If he is thus able to exert social control, he maintained a great deal of pleasure from the mild flirtations of ‘Kiss Off’. On the other hand it is difficult to conceive of a safe antithesis to the Potiphar's wife manoeuvre, other than checking out before closing time with no forwarding address.
The male versions of ‘Rapo’ are notoriously found in commercial situations: ‘Casting Couch’ (and then she didn't get the part)’ and ‘Cuddle Up’ (and then she got fired).
The following analysis refers to Third-Degree ‘Rapo’ because there the elements of the game are more dramatically illustrated.
Aim: malicious revenge.
Roles: seductress, wolf.
Dynamics (Third-Degree): penis envy, oral violence. ‘Kiss Off’ is phallic, while ‘Indignation’ has strong anal elements.
Examples: (1) I’ll tell on you, you dirty little boy. (2) Wronged woman.
Social Paradigm: Adult-Adult.
Adult (male): “I'm sorry if I went further than you intended to.”
Adult (female): “You have violated me and must pay the full penalty.”
Psychological Paradigm: Child-Child.
Child (male): “See how irresistible I am.”
Child (female): “Now I've got you, you son of bitch.”
(1) female: seduction; male: counter-seduction.
(2) female: surrender; male: victory.
(3) female: confrontation; male: collapse.
(1) internal psychological - expression of hatred and projection of guilt.
(2) external psychological - avoidance of the emotional sexual intimacy.
(3) internal social - ‘Now I’ve Got You, You Son Of A Bitch’.
(4) external social - ‘Ain’t It Awful’, ‘Courtroom’, ‘Let’s You And Him Fight’.
(5) biological - sexual and belligerent exchanges.
(6) existential - I am blameless.