3 Games People Play to Avoid Taking Responsibility

games people play

We often play many games between ourselves and others.

But by “games” I don’t mean sports, or video games, or board games. Instead “games” are a form of dishonest communication – usually with ulterior motives involved.

In Eric Berne’s influential work Games People Play, a “game” is defined as a set of ulterior transactions with some type of payoff in the end. This “payoff” doesn’t have to be material – it can also be psychological or social.

Many times we aren’t even aware of the games we’re playing on a daily basis, because they are so embedded into our society and our way of thinking.

In this article, I go over 3 different games that we play to avoid taking responsibility. These games are based off of Eric Berne’s work, but I’ve modified some of them to better fit the theme of this article.

By becoming more aware of these games, you can hopefully do better at avoiding them in the future. To win these games, we often have to stop playing them.

Yes, But…

The first game we play a lot of is “Yes, But…”

This often happens when we bring up a particular problem in our life to a friend. Trying to help, the friend will start giving suggestions on how to fix our problem.

Each piece of advice that is given is followed with a “Yes, but…”

For example:

    You: I really need to start exercising more.

    Friend: You should join a gym.

    You: Yes, but I don’t like working out in front of people.

    Friend: Hm, you could always work out at home too.

    You: Yes, but I don’t have any equipment.

    Friend: I know a good exercise program that doesn’t even require equipment!

    You: Yes, but I don’t have time to learn something new.

“Yes, but…” is a common form of excuse-making. It doesn’t matter what the friend suggests, you’ll always find some reason to dismiss their suggestion.

Eventually the friend gives up trying to suggest new things – and therefore you feel you’ve “won” the game.

The psychological payoff after winning the game is that you get to say to yourself, “You see? I’ve considered everything, and it’s just not possible.”

The ulterior motive is that you were never actually looking for an answer to your problem, you just wanted the friend to agree with you that it’s “impossible” for you to solve it.

Wooden Leg

Another common game people play is “Wooden Leg.”

The premise of this game is that an individual suffers from a certain disadvantage in life, but they use it as a way to justify their lack of drive and motivation to do better.

The form this game often takes is “What do you expect from a person who ______?”

For example:

    You: I want to build better relationships, but I can’t. I come from a broken home.

    Friend: When’s the last time you dated someone?

    You: A year ago, but I cheated on them. What do you expect from a person who comes from a broken home?

    Friend: Maybe you just need to find the right person?

    You: No, I use everyone and then leave them. What do you expect from a person who comes from a broken home?

The psychological payoff by playing this game is that you get to say “I’m helpless, so it doesn’t matter what I do.”

Another popular form this game takes is, “This is just who I am!”

Of course, if a person has a real disadvantage than they have a good reason to accept their difficulties in a certain domain in life.

But it’s when people use their disadvantage as a reason to completely stop trying to improve – or even self-sabotage – that it becomes more of an excuse rather than a legitimate crutch.

One way to beat this game is by changing the question “What do you expect from a person who ______?” to “What do I expect from myself?”

Do you actually expect more from yourself or do you believe your destined to stay the way you are? You need to be honest.

games people play

Games People Play is a classic psychology book by Eric Berne. It demonstrates how we all play certain “games” throughout our lives with other people – wether at work, at home, with friends, or on a date. You’ll discover how to identify these games and how to avoid playing them in the future. Once you achieve this, you can begin focusing on more honest and direct communication.

I’m Stupid

Have you ever seen someone play “Stupid?”

You know someone isn’t really that dumb, but they seem to purposely make mistakes or errors so that other people can see just how “stupid” and “blameless” they are.

Often the game is played until someone finally caves in and calls the player “stupid,” confirming what they wanted to hear all along.

For example:

    You: Oops, I forgot that my presentation is today.

    Coworker: That’s okay, we probably won’t get to you today. Have it ready for next week.

    You: The presentation is supposed to be about improving our sales right?

    Coworker: No, your presentation is about customer service.

    You: Okay, it’s supposed to be about 10 minutes long right?

    Coworker: No, I told you guys at least a half hour each.

    You: Does that include a 10 minute intermission?

    Coworker: Holy crap, you’re stupid. I’ll do it myself.

The psychological payoff from playing this game is that you often get to avoid responsibilities – because the assumption is you’re too “stupid” to get them done properly.

It’s also common to see this game played by girls at a bar or party. By playing “stupid,” girls come off as easy and ditzy, which can attract certain guys to want to sleep with them.

The ulterior motive behind playing “stupid” is you can make bad decisions and then justify them by telling others, “Silly me! I never know what I’m doing!”


These are 3 common games people play to avoid taking responsibility for themselves. Of course there are many others too.

Games are very integrated into our society, culture, and the way we interact with people. We often learn these types of games at a really young age, and then continue to play them into adulthood without even realizing it.

Games People Play is a great introduction to the many games people play. I highly recommend it if you want to learn more about these types of psychological games.

By becoming more aware of these games you can better avoid playing them in the future. This allows you to be more honest with yourself and others, which can have a much higher payoff than any game could.

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