Games people play, and their implications

By Gordon Rugg

There are regularities in how people behave. There are numerous ways of categorising these regularities, each with assorted advantages and disadvantages.

The approach to categorisation of these regularities that I’ll discuss in this article is Transactional Analysis (TA), developed by Eric Berne and his colleagues. TA is designed to be easily understood by ordinary people, and it prefers to use everyday terms for the regularities it describes.

I find TA fascinating and tantalising. On the plus side, it contains a lot of powerful insights into human behaviour; it contains a lot of clear, rigorous analysis; it has very practical implications. On the negative side, it doesn’t make use of a lot of well-established methods and concepts from other fields that would give it a lot more power. It’s never really taken off, although it has a strong popular following.

An illustrative example of why it’s fallen short of its potential is the name of Berne’s classic book on the topic, Games People Play. When you read the book, the explanation of the name makes perfect sense, and the deadly seriousness of games becomes very apparent. However, if you don’t read the book, and you only look at the title, then it’s easy to assume that the book and the approach it describes are about trivial passtimes, rather than core features of human behaviour.

In this article, I’ll look at some core concepts of Transactional Analysis, and how they give powerful insights into profoundly serious issues in entertainment, in politics, and in science.

The image below shows games at their most deadly serious; Roman gladiatorial combat, where losing could mean death.

By Unknown author – Livius.org, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3479030

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Why Hollywood gets it wrong, part 3

By Gordon Rugg

The first article in this short series examined how conflicting conventions and requirements can lead to a movie being unrealistic. The second article explored the pressures driving movie scripts towards unrealistically high signal to noise ratios, with few of the extraneous details that occur in real conversations.

Today’s article, the third in the series, addresses another way in which movies are different from reality. Movies depict a world which features the word “very” a lot. Sometimes it’s the characters who are very bad, or very good, or very attractive, or whatever; sometimes it’s the situations they encounter which are very exciting or very frightening or very memorable; sometimes it’s the settings which are very beautiful, or very downbeat, or very strange. Whatever the form that it takes, the “very” will almost always be in there somewhere prominent.

Why does this happen? It’s a phenomenon that’s well recognised in the media, well summed up in a quote attributed to Walt Disney, where he allegedly said that his animations could be better than reality.

When you think of it from that perspective, then it makes sense for movies to show something different from reality, since we can see reality easily enough every day without needing to watch a movie. This raises other questions, though, such as in which directions movies tend to be different from reality, and how big those differences tend to be.

That’s the main topic of this article.

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Things people think

By Gordon Rugg

There’s a wryly humorous summary of models of humanity that floats around in academia. It appears in various forms; the one below has an astute punch line that highlights the amount of implicit assumption in the early models.

Models of humankind:

  • Man the fallen creation (the Bible)
  • Man the thinker (the Enlightenment)
  • Heroic man (Nietzsche)
  • Economic man (Marx)
  • Man the rat (Skinner)
  • Man the woman (feminism)

It’s humorous, but it cuts to the heart of the matter. The models that shape our lives – political models, religious models, economic models – are based on underlying assumptions about how people think and what people want. As is often the case with models, these assumptions are often demonstrably wrong.

In this article, I’ll examine some common assumptions, and I’ll discuss some other ways of thinking about what people are really like.

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Images from Wikipedia and Wikimedia; details at the end of this article

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