The aim of the game

A peace-loving mom discovers the value of healthy competition

Elbrich Fennema | December 2006 issue
Because my 15-year-old son is an only child, I’ve always made a special effort to teach him co-operation and sharing—things I thought came naturally when you have brothers and sisters. So I was immediately interested to discover something called “co-operative games,” which are meant to stimulate teamwork and offer children an alternative to the competition they encounter all too often in the real world.
But how do you play games in which no one wins or loses, where there is no battle, no king to conquer, no enemy to slay, no points to score? The more I thought about it, the more I was ashamed to admit that I had no idea at all what a “co-operative game” was. I felt as if I had missed something essential over the past 15 years and had fallen hopelessly short as a parent. I hoped to make up for this oversight by exploring the world of Family Pastimes, pioneer of “co-operative games in a competitive society.” I learned that Jim Deacove, the Canadian founder of the company, has conceived 1,000 such games over the past 35 years—board games as well as variations on musical chairs or hide and seek, whereby children are stimulated to work together instead of outwitting one another. I felt a little better about my parenting when I read in the information brochure that you can also play Scrabble in a co-operative way: by helping each other and working together to get the highest possible score. That’s the way we always played!
I started to browse the Family Pastimes site in search of something my teenage son would enjoy. It wasn’t an easy task because a lot of the games seem a little overly wholesome: more healthy than tasty. I opted for the Zen blocks: a puzzle game on which you work together to construct a cube from 27 blocks. The blocks bear images of Chinese characters and must fit together according to certain rules. The players take turns adding a block and when they succeed in building the cube according to the rules, everybody wins.
Because I know that by definition, children don’t like something when you tell them it’s healthy, I said nothing about co-operation when I invited my son and his friends to “test a game.” What we all liked about the Zen blocks was that we could change the rules of the game ourselves. We could, for example, play against the clock: If the cube wasn’t finished in five minutes, we lost. We could also make the requirements for the pattern easier or more difficult.
My son, however, quickly conceived a new variation on the rules: Anyone who fails to add a block in accordance with the rules on his turn is out Was he someone who could only think of the world in terms of winners and losers? Had co-operative games come too late to save my son? Disappointed, I pushed the blocks aside and went to make dinner for the kids.
When I came back into the room, the blocks were still in the middle of the table. The boys were trying to build the highest tower they could. And then a tower with a pattern. And then a gravity-defying tower that got wider toward the top. A scene that looked suspiciously like co-operative game playing!
And suddenly, a slew—maybe not thousands, but at least a dozen—of examples of co-operative toys came to mind. The old trusty blocks. LEGOs. Dress-up clothes. Puppet shows. The sandbox. Train sets. Puzzles… These weren’t games, exactly, but toys kids use to create a fantasy world in which they determine the rules—by themselves and with one another—a world in which co-operation is more important than winning.
Naturally, I was curious to hear what my son thought of the game with the Zen blocks. “A nice game if you can’t stand losing,” he said without hesitation and in a tone that made it clear that it was something he didn’t need to worry about. Instantly, memories flooded back of Monopoly dice flying through the room and pawns shoved from the chessboard. Clearly, losing didn’t come naturally to my son. Many times we resorted to diplomacy to lure him back to a game after he had stomped off crying or sulking when he felt he had been done wrong. And then I suddenly realized what he learned back then from competitive games: He learned to lose.The risk of losing didn’t keep him from wanting to play again and again.
I began to shed my doubts about having done wrong by my child all those years. The dividing line between “good” and “bad” games was nowhere near as sharp as it seemed. You can be friends and enemies at the same time.
After all, it’s only a game. Children understand that. I’d rather see kids as enemies while playing a game but friends afterward, than vice versa. And I’d rather see competitive games in a co-operative world.
More information: www.familypastimes.com
 

Solution News Source

The aim of the game

A peace-loving mom discovers the value of healthy competition

Elbrich Fennema | December 2006 issue
Because my 15-year-old son is an only child, I’ve always made a special effort to teach him co-operation and sharing—things I thought came naturally when you have brothers and sisters. So I was immediately interested to discover something called “co-operative games,” which are meant to stimulate teamwork and offer children an alternative to the competition they encounter all too often in the real world.
But how do you play games in which no one wins or loses, where there is no battle, no king to conquer, no enemy to slay, no points to score? The more I thought about it, the more I was ashamed to admit that I had no idea at all what a “co-operative game” was. I felt as if I had missed something essential over the past 15 years and had fallen hopelessly short as a parent. I hoped to make up for this oversight by exploring the world of Family Pastimes, pioneer of “co-operative games in a competitive society.” I learned that Jim Deacove, the Canadian founder of the company, has conceived 1,000 such games over the past 35 years—board games as well as variations on musical chairs or hide and seek, whereby children are stimulated to work together instead of outwitting one another. I felt a little better about my parenting when I read in the information brochure that you can also play Scrabble in a co-operative way: by helping each other and working together to get the highest possible score. That’s the way we always played!
I started to browse the Family Pastimes site in search of something my teenage son would enjoy. It wasn’t an easy task because a lot of the games seem a little overly wholesome: more healthy than tasty. I opted for the Zen blocks: a puzzle game on which you work together to construct a cube from 27 blocks. The blocks bear images of Chinese characters and must fit together according to certain rules. The players take turns adding a block and when they succeed in building the cube according to the rules, everybody wins.
Because I know that by definition, children don’t like something when you tell them it’s healthy, I said nothing about co-operation when I invited my son and his friends to “test a game.” What we all liked about the Zen blocks was that we could change the rules of the game ourselves. We could, for example, play against the clock: If the cube wasn’t finished in five minutes, we lost. We could also make the requirements for the pattern easier or more difficult.
My son, however, quickly conceived a new variation on the rules: Anyone who fails to add a block in accordance with the rules on his turn is out Was he someone who could only think of the world in terms of winners and losers? Had co-operative games come too late to save my son? Disappointed, I pushed the blocks aside and went to make dinner for the kids.
When I came back into the room, the blocks were still in the middle of the table. The boys were trying to build the highest tower they could. And then a tower with a pattern. And then a gravity-defying tower that got wider toward the top. A scene that looked suspiciously like co-operative game playing!
And suddenly, a slew—maybe not thousands, but at least a dozen—of examples of co-operative toys came to mind. The old trusty blocks. LEGOs. Dress-up clothes. Puppet shows. The sandbox. Train sets. Puzzles… These weren’t games, exactly, but toys kids use to create a fantasy world in which they determine the rules—by themselves and with one another—a world in which co-operation is more important than winning.
Naturally, I was curious to hear what my son thought of the game with the Zen blocks. “A nice game if you can’t stand losing,” he said without hesitation and in a tone that made it clear that it was something he didn’t need to worry about. Instantly, memories flooded back of Monopoly dice flying through the room and pawns shoved from the chessboard. Clearly, losing didn’t come naturally to my son. Many times we resorted to diplomacy to lure him back to a game after he had stomped off crying or sulking when he felt he had been done wrong. And then I suddenly realized what he learned back then from competitive games: He learned to lose.The risk of losing didn’t keep him from wanting to play again and again.
I began to shed my doubts about having done wrong by my child all those years. The dividing line between “good” and “bad” games was nowhere near as sharp as it seemed. You can be friends and enemies at the same time.
After all, it’s only a game. Children understand that. I’d rather see kids as enemies while playing a game but friends afterward, than vice versa. And I’d rather see competitive games in a co-operative world.
More information: www.familypastimes.com
 

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