Cooperative Games

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= this entry focus on games that teach cooperative behaviour ; there is another entry on Cooperative Game Theory, i. theorizing non-competitive, cooperative, games.


with examples selected by Paul Fernhout:

A key aspect of P2P is cooperation. How do we know cooperation is important? The value of cooperation may seem obvious to some, but is still counter the mainstream culture in a place like the USA. Then, how can we learn how to cooperate better?

Here is a book by Alfie Kohn that tells us why cooperation is important, with many connections to the scientific literature in the text:

  • "No Contest: The Case Against Competition" [1]

"Contending that competition in all areas -- school, family, sports and business -- is destructive, and that success so achieved is at the expense of another's failure, Kohn, a correspondent for USA Today, advocates a restructuring of our institutions to replace competition with cooperation. He persuasively demonstrates how the ingrained American myth that competition is the only normal and desirable way of life -- from Little Leagues to the presidency -- is counterproductive, personally and for the national economy, and how psychologically it poisons relationships, fosters anxiety and takes the fun out of work and play. He charges that competition is a learned phenomenon and denies that it builds character and self-esteem. Kohn's measures to encourage cooperation in lieu of competition include promoting noncompetitive games, eliminating scholastic grades and substitution of mutual security for national security."

Now that we have a reference to some scientific evidence that cooperation is important and competition is harmful, how can we learn to cooperate better? Well, practicing cooperation is a good place to start. One way to do that is through games that emphasize cooperation.

Playing with blocks or Lego together can a cooperative game (and an open-ended one with just *intrinsic* rewards). So can, say, writing and performing an impromptu theatrical play.

But sometimes people want more structured activities for whatever reasons.

Here is a small company in Canada that makes and sells cooperative board games:

"Play as friends, not as enemies! Our games foster the spirit of co-operation. Players help each other climb a mountain, make a community, bring in the harvest, complete a space exploration... They are never against each other.

After all, the initial impulse to play a game is social; that is, we bring out a game because we want to do something together. How ironic then that in most games, we spend all our efforts trying to bankrupt someone, destroy their armies — in other words, to get rid of one another! We soon learn how to pick on the other person's weaknesses in order to win the game."

They have a book related to cooperative games:

  • "Co-op Games Manual" [3]

"This softcover book includes over 170 co-op games and activities for ages 3 to 12+. Little or no equipment is required. For small and large groups, from pre-schoolers through primary ages and also junior high level. Play these games in open spaces such as a farm, park or street, or the indoor spaces of a home living room, a school classroom, gym, etc. Try a co-op birthday party, co-op recess time, even a co-op play day."

Here is another book on cooperative games by another author, with a free download:

  • "Guide to Cooperative Games for Social Change" [4]

"Everyday in communities around the world, youth activists, youth workers and educators are looking for powerful, purposeful activities that can change the world. At the same time, young people want to connect with adults in powerful relationships where they can actually change the world. The Guide to Cooperative Games for Social Change provides a resource for people who want more from youth activities. The Guide features a powerful introduction to cooperative games, carefully detailing their relevance for activists and educators. It continues to provide clear, concise summaries of more than two dozen activities, including icebreakers, "funners," and closers. Each description details exactly how the activity can be facilitated, as well as the equipment, time, and space needed. Since 2003 this document has been downloaded more than 10,000 times from The Freechild Project website. This revision features a clean, crisp layout and a fast download. Also, for the first time Freechild's parent organization offers print versions of this booklet for practitioners."


Here is another book on cooperative games, from the 1970s, described in an article with information on a few of the games.

  • "Playfair: A sampling of cooperative games" by Matt Weinstein & Joel Goodman [5]

"THE POSSIBILITIES FOR COOPERATIVE PLAY ARE VAST. In our book, we describe over sixty different games and activities we use in our PLAYFAIRS, and those sixty are just a small corner of a very large field. We don't have space for anything like that here, but we would like to share six of these games to give you a flavor for what is possible."

Sometimes, one can take an existing board game or social game, and with a little creativity think about how to change the rules so it is more cooperative. Generally you will know you succeeded if everyone is laughing together instead of frowning at each other in intense concentration about how to win just for themselves. :-) A related issue about games and cooperation is the difference between "finite" and "infinite" games.

"In short, a finite game is played with the purpose of winning (thus ending the game), while an infinite game is played with the purpose of continuing the play."

For example, a game of volleyball involves sending a ball over a net back and forth between two teams. In the standard version, each team is trying to score points by tricking the opposing team into dropping the ball is a finite game. A game of volleyball where you see how long both sides can keep volleying without anyone dropping the ball is closer to an infinite game (and, is likely a much more cooperative one, where you would not knowingly put the ball in a place the opposite team can not easily reach it). It is true however that many standard team sports may have elements of both cooperation (help your team) and competition (win against the other side). Alfie Kohn tends to think even such sports have problems; people can decide for themselves whether they agree.

Directory of Cooperative Games

Compiled by Kelly McCartney [6]:

Object of Game: This oversized board game was inspired by the classic Monopoly, though not without a collaborative spin. The game's designers note, “the goal of Commonopoly is not the exhaustion, through monopolization, of a virtual stock of goods, but rather the expansion and preservation of a self-propelling sustainable system of recycling, production and distribution.” Sharing, exchanging, and gifting are keys to success in this task-oriented game.

Target Age: 12+ Number of Players: 2-4

Object of Game: Players work together to establish — and then run — a democratic business with all of the challenges inherent in such an endeavor. Though the Point Bank looms large, the players can rally under a cooperative umbrella and break free to win for themselves and their community.

Target Age: 13+ Number of Players: 2-4

Object of Game: Here, players unite against four diseases with a goal of eradication. A role — including Researcher, Field Medic, Dispatcher, and Scientist — is assigned to each player along with its corresponding power/talent. If the team works together, they can find the cures and save the world from outbreak. If not...

Target Age: 10+ Number of Players: 2-4 (more can play with expansion pack)

Object of Game: As the crew of a spaceship in trouble, Space Alert players band together to ward off aliens, asteroids, and technical difficulties. Because this one is a real-time game, each play takes up to 10 minutes with a CD controlling the pace and giving directions to players. (Note: The CD is not required.)

Target Age: 12+ Number of Players: 2-5

Object of Game: Young players are tasked with finding a passel of puppies and getting them home safely before dark. To do so, they must work together to locate the puppies and open a path back home.

Target Age: 5+ Number of Players: 2-6

Object of Game: This game brings the whole family together to guess what the Doodler is doodling. Points are tallied for all matching answers.

Target Age: 8-Adult Number of Players: 2-6


More information

Here are two Google searches one can do to learn more:

See also: