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The WMail Newsletter Essays
Volume II - Issue #17: November 2001

"Game Theory In A Nutshell"

        The ideas of Sigmund Freud are now obsolete. Journalist Michael Ventura and psychologist James Hillman said it all succinctly in the title of their 1993 book "We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World's Getting Worse". The pervasive Culture Structure – that big machine that is designed so that nothing works – continues to advocate psychiatry because the availability of such a soporific diverts us all from any effective solution.

        One such very effective solution is Transactional Analysis, created in 1957 by Dr. Eric Berne (see T/A Page link below). The attributes of T/A produce extraordinary results for anyone who chooses to employ its distinctions:

• • 1) The activity is democratic, as opposed to the paternal nature of the classic doctoral figure listening to the ramblings of the recumbent patient. In T/A, the patient is at least an equal participant with the therapist, and indeed, in the group therapy setting, the therapist participates (to varying degrees) as a patient.

• • 2) T/A is an active set of clearly defined theories. While psychiatry hopes to uncover dark secrets of the patient's past, T/A is used to discover present methodologies – chosen in the past, yet practiced in day-to-day interaction – as well as providing skills to use in present and future dealings with everyone that might pass thru one's circumstances.

• • 3) The basics of T/A can be taught to six-year-olds, which is a mission that I am committed to seeing fulfilled. As enlarged upon in my essay "Lost In Bombay" ("Working Minds" Chapter 12), human beings are tossed into the schoolyard and other environments with next to no effective knowledge of the rules, forcing each child to learn such matters under fire, as it were. (If you think not, then take a closer look at how well people work together: Even in the best of environments, there are dangerous undercurrents of intrigue, manipulations over turf, and rampant 'one-upmanship', ranging from the petty to life-threatening.)

        Armed with the concepts of T/A, the Individual of any age is better able to deal with the onslaught of others' actions, the same as anyone having read the users manual for a computer or for a software package can operate with much more ease and facility and speed than the (typical) user who refuses to read any such manual, barging ahead as if the rules are irrelevant.

        The rules of any game are important, and Transactional Analysis supplies a powerful set of conceptual tools for direct use in the Game of Life.

*          *          *          *

        Dr. Berne discovered the Game Theory area of T/A during close study of alcoholics. He defined only three roles or moves in Game-playing: Victim, Rescuer, and Persecutor. You all make these moves in virtually all transactions, automatically, by default, because these three moves were given to you by example, since the day that you first drew breath, since every one of you grew up inside the Culture-Structure.
        The advantage of learning and consciously, intentionally operating inside of an awareness of Games operated by others is the same as with any skill: You can learn to drive from a parent, or you can learn to drive at racing school; you can learn English in school or on the street or from our brain-deadening media – or you can study an encyclopedia and a dictionary and a thesaurus. One is haphazard, the other produces a skill.

        How you know that there is a Game is that there is a switch. Someone bangs their car into yours, you become a Victim – or they do. If there is a policeman nearby, you might prevail upon them to Rescue you. Both sides in such a case will usually attempt the role of Persecutor, either immediately – loud accusations, even fisticuffs – or wait to ask the insurance company to Rescue by acting as Persecutor.
        The Dating Game is fraught with soap opera-style drama: girl flirts with boy (Rescue me from being single); boy takes girl out and is over-aggressive (she is Victim); she tells all her friends (Rescue by sympathy). Meanwhile, he tells all his friends how she conned him for dinner and entertainment (he is also Victim, from the same evening), and likewise receives 'Rescue by sympathy'. If things go just a little wrong, she warns her friends of his boorish or ill-mannered behavior (Persecutor), and-or he lies to his friends that she led him on and did not acquiesce (same evening: he is also Persecutor). If things go really bad, she calls the cops on him for touching her (serious Persecutor), or he does more than touch her (same: serious Persecutor). Switch, switch, switch.
        On and on, for the last several millennia, with no solution expected for the never-ending Battle of the Sexes/Genders – or for the Irish or the Israelis or the native population of whatever country you want to name.

        But the use of T/A skills can intervene in this automatic stimulus-response, which occurs at the level of Individual, at the levels of Group and Community, and indeed, between nations and races. In fact, should an expedition of Martians ever land on the White House lawn, Mankind will perpetuate this same Game behavior on them, which the Martians will not comprehend. I expect any such party of Visitors From Space will either take us under their wing, classifying us as intergalactic savages, or take immediate offense and wipe us out without a qualm.

*          *          *          *

        Creative writers should especially absorb Game Theory, for writerly reasons as well as for personal use. Great dramatists, from Shakespeare to O'Neill to Mamet, have instinctive knowledge of the moves made in human interaction, while the new student of T/A can quickly utilize the moves – a switch from Victim to Rescuer to Persecutor, and back again – to orchestrate dramatic events on the stage or screen or page.

        So too can the Individual orchestrate moves in the Game of Daily Life. However, the danger in that is the eternal perpetuation and escalation of more Games. Whether either of the two sides in a hostage situation comes out ahead by knowing and using Game Theory is no help: the purpose of the Working Mind in learning T/A is a radical one – to Stop The Game.

        The Working Minds philosophy adds a fourth move in Game behavior: that of Empowerment. By refusing – by Act of Will – to react in a Game as expected, by consciously choosing to stand outside such Game moves, one is able to invoke some Empowering Act, by choosing Objective Reason as one's guide.
        In the brief example above of the fender-bender, the Working Mind can act very business-like, neither Rescuer, Victim nor Persecutor. In the example of the 'heavy date', either party can prevent escalation, keep the moves at a non-dramatic level, fall back on millennium-old traditions, and if disappointed, simply remove the other person's name from his/her address list. No switch, no Game.

        This is not easy, since all of the Culture Structure's might is addressed to perpetuating Game behavior: simple 'divide and conquer'. Are you not the Victim of 'Big Government'? Or do you believe that the role of Government is to Rescue you? And then there is all the wasted effort of attempts to Persecute – thru sabotage or resistance or mealy-mouthed complaint – the very terrible Government that you yourself elected (by vote or by default) into office at all levels.
        Game behavior is standard and omnipresent; the antidote is Empowerment.

*          *          *          *

        The best overview of the principles of T/A that I have found is in the book "Scripts People Live" by Claude M. Steiner (see link below). He was a fellow of Dr. Berne and the book clearly explores and explains all facets of T/A, which besides Game Theory includes Script Analysis, Structural Analysis, Time Theory, Okay/Not Okay, and Stroke Economy/Trading Stamps. (Game Theory and Time Theory are such rich concepts that my summarization in the book "Working Minds" runs to over 40 pages.)

        The more that you as an Individual learn of T/A, the more that you increase its conscious application in your Daily Life – along with the concepts of the Working Minds philosophy – the better off you will fare in your ongoing struggle to move beyond mere survival, toward Making A Difference With Your Life.
        "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." Likewise, the Individual who wills his/her actions to take into account the principles and practices of T/A and of the Working Minds philosophy has a major advantage over those who do not have a clue.

        In educating one's loved ones in these distinctions, you empower them by giving them similar advantage. Once you are surrounded by fellows empowered to the same level, that of on-going non-Game behavior, what will open up is the possibility of Mankind's Potential, the fulfillment of which requires the fulfillment of your own freely chosen Personal Purpose In Life.

        If you are doing your best, inside Objective Reason, if you Empower more and more as time continues, then the rest will follow.

[copyright 2001 by Gary Edward Nordell, all rights reserved]

        See also WMail Issue #38 on the 'Time Structure' elements of Transactional Analysis.

        For the full contents of this issue of the free 'WMail' exine, click here.

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