Cops and Robbers

Original First Edition of Games People Play 1964 Eric Berne

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

Thesis: Because many criminals are cop-haters, they seem to get as much satisfaction from outwitting the police as from their criminal gains, often more. Their crimes, at the Adult Level, are games played for the material rewards, the take; but at the Child level, it is the thrill of the chase: the getaway and the cool-off.

Curiously enough, the childhood prototype of “Cops and Robbers” is not cops and robbers but hide-and-seek, in which the essential element is the chagrin at being found. Younger children readily betray this. If father finds them too easily, the chagrin is there without much fun. But father, if he is a good player, knows what to do: he holds off, whereupon the little boy gives him a clue by calling out, dropping something or banging. Thus, he forces father to find him, but still shows chagrin; this time he has had more fun because of the increased suspense. If father gives up, the boy usually feels disappointed rather than victorious. Since the fun of being hidden was there, evidently that is not where the trouble lies. What he is disappointed about is not being caught. When his turn comes to hide, father knows he is not supposed to outwit the child for very long, just long enough to make it fun; and he is wise enough to look chagrined when he is caught. It soon becomes clear that being found is the necessary payoff.

Hence, hide-and-seek is not a mere pastime but a true game. At the social level it is a battle of wits, and is most satisfying when the Adult of each player does his best; at the psychological level, however, it is set up like compulsive gambling, in which White’s Adult has to lose in order for his child to win. Not being caught is actually the antithesis. Among older children, one who finds an insoluble hiding place is regarded as not being a good sport, since he has spoiled the game. He has eliminated the Child element and turned the whole thing into and Adult procedure. He is no longer playing for fun. He is in the same class as the owner of a casino, or some professional criminals, who are really out for money rather than sport.

The situation is similar with gamblers. At the social or sociological level, a “professional” gambler is one whose chief interest in life is gambling. But at the psychological level there are two different kinds of people who are professional gamblers. There are those who spend their time gaming, i.e., playing with Fate, in whom the strength of the Adult’s desire to win is exceeded only by the strength of the Child’s need to lose. Then there are those who run gambling houses and actually do earn a living, usually a very good one, by providing opportunities for gamesters to play.

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