Original First Edition of Games People Play 1964

Original First Edition of Games People Play from Eric Berne’s private library.

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 – and that is still open to some question – then its study belongs in the field of internal medicine.   Game analysis is interested in something quite different – the kinds of social transactions that are related to such excesses. Hence the game “Alcoholic.”

In its full flower this is a five-handed game, although the roles may be condensed so that it starts off and terminates as a two-handed one. The central role is that of the Alcoholic – the one who is “it” – played by White.  The chief supporting role is that of the Persecutor, typically played by a member of the opposite sex, usually the spouse.  The third role is that of Rescuer, usually played by someone of the same sex, often the good family doctor who is interested in the patient and also in drinking problems.  In the classical situation the doctor successfully rescues the alcoholic from his habit. After White has not taken a drink for six months, they congratulate each other. The following day, White is found in the gutter.

The fourth role is that of the Patsy, or Dummy. In literature, this is played by the delicatessen man who extends credit to White, gives him a sandwich on the cuff or perhaps a cup of coffee, without either persecuting him or trying to rescue him. In life this is more frequently played by White’s mother, who gives him money and often sympathizes with him about the wife who does not understand him. In this aspect of the game, White is required to account in some plausible way for his need for money – by some project in which both pretend to believe, although they know what he is really going to spend most of the money for. Sometimes the Patsy slides over into another role, which is a helpful but not essential one: the Agitator, the “good guy” who offers supplies without even being asked for them: “Come have a drink with me (and you will go downhill faster).”

The ancillary professional in all drinking games is the bartender or liquor clerk.  In the game “Alcoholic” he plays the fifth role, the Connection, the direct source of supply who also understands alcoholic talk, and who in a way is the most meaningful person in the life of any addict. The difference between the Connection and the other players is the difference between professionals and amateurs in any game: the professional knows when to stop.  At a certain point a good bartender refused to serve the Alcoholic, who is then left without any supplies unless he can locate a more indulgent Connection.

In the initial stages of “Alcoholic,” the wife may play all three supporting roles: at midnight the Patsy, undressing him, making him coffee and letting him beat up on her; in the morning the Persecutor, berating him for the evil of his ways; and in the evening the Rescuer, pleading with him to change them.

The description of this game on this page is incomplete.  For a complete description of this game, refer to Games People Play.