In Memory of John Nash, Hero of Cooperative Games

John Nash photo
John F. Nash Jr. at his Princeton graduation in 1950, when he received his doctorate.

John Nash, the mathematician who advanced game theory by showing that cooperation can be mathematically advantageous compared to the “every man for himself”, zero-sum approach to winning, died in an auto accident May 29 in New Jersey. Dr. Nash and his wife, Alicia, 82, were in a taxi on the New Jersey Turnpike in Monroe Township around 4:30 p.m. when the driver lost control while veering from the left lane to the right and hit a guardrail and another car. I live in California, but I was attending an educational conference in New York on the day John Nash died. The title of my talk at the Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) conference was “Cooperative Games for a Warm and Loving School Climate”.  I, and others interested in cooperative games, owe a thankful acknowledgment and fond farewell to Nash since he was the first to recognize that, mathematically speaking, maximum benefit for all players can be obtained through cooperation in many situations as opposed to competition.  Nash’s work was the first to question the me-versus-you paradigm of zero sum games.

As we stand here now in 2015, many of us long for a new cultural paradigm such that cooperation is deeply valued, as opposed to an ethos based on so-called “rational self-interest”. Global problems abound. To avoid authoritarianism on the one hand and anarchy on the other, in the face of current problems cooperation is imperative. Putting it simply, we now understand that we are all in this together. John Nash played a major role in establishing the validity of cooperation as a means of maximizing everyone’s self interest in games, including the game of life.

As we bid a fond farewell to John Nash, Nobel prize winner whose story is the subject of the movie “A Beautiful Mind”, we thank him for helping us transition from the relentless, self-aggrandizing “me” to the abundant “we.” Nash’s work in mathematics proved that “rational self interest” is not always rational nor is it automatically in the best interest of oneself after all. In many situations the win-win way is the optimal way for all concerned. John Nash, thank you and May you rest in peace!


Announcing the Cooperative Games Bullying Prevention Program

Ta da! Over two years in the making, it’s here.

The Cooperative Games Bullying Prevention Program
Cooperative Games for a Warm School Climate
PreK-Grade 2

Cooperative Games

Cooperative games are great fun! But there is a serious side to them to—used in the right way, they can prevent aggression. This is a huge discovery for kids, families, schools, and society at large. This finding on cooperative games and aggression in kids is explained and put to practical use in our bullying prevention program.

The Cooperative Bullying Prevention Program consists of the teaching manual, which provides directions for over 50 active cooperative games, teaching tips, a discussion of relevant research, and many suggestions for making your classroom a haven for caring, cooperative play. Also included in the program are four board games your young students will love to play over and over again.

Of course it makes sense that cooperative play builds healthy relationships and nurtures a positive school climate…but is there any research on this? Yes, there is proof that the exact games used in the Cooperative Games Bullying Prevention Program actually reduce aggression and build pro-social skills. This program was tested in a University of Nevada study and shown to work. Here is what the author of the University of Nevada Study says about our program:

The Cooperative Games Bullying Prevention Program is a great piece of work and significant contribution to bullying prevention. Through the use of practical, easy to implement, and class-friendly games, Suzanne Lyons promotes a new mindset regarding the substantial impact of cooperatively structured play activities. This work reaches into and beyond bullying prevention with techniques that transform classrooms into social milieus reinforcing values of sharing, kindness and peace. The methods and activities in this book encourage positive social skills development and they help children build confidence in their own ability to relate to and work with one another. I wholeheartedly support and appreciate Ms. Lyons’ work. It bridges empirical research on cooperative games and aggression reduction with the school system. As such, it is rightly an integral part of bullying prevention.

We will be posting lots more about using cooperative games to prevent bullying. Stay tuned!

Cooperative Games and the Science of Sharing

This blog post is a review of the exhibit The Science of Sharing, Investigating Competition, Cooperation, and Social Interaction which is currently on display at The Exploratorium in San Francisco.

Bravo to the Exploratorium for creating this exhibit! The Exploratorium has always been the place to go in The City for super fun and interactive exhibits relating to science and perception. The Tactile Dome, for instance, is a pitch-black geodesic dome filled with weird things to touch as you grope through it in the dark. game board with heart_edited-1The Science of Sharing invites the visitor explore social space rather than physical space. The question at the heart of the exhibit as well as  at the heart of—is whether ‘tis nobler to Cooperate or Compete. Exploration in The Science of Sharing is through hands-on activities, thoughtful displays, clever conundrums, and yes-games! It’s rare in our hyper competitive society for any public institution to facilitate reflection on the assumed merits of competition. Competition is a sacred cow (or maybe gaudy wallpaper?) that is pervasive yet almost never critically examined. Kudos to the Exploratorium for breaking the ice.

I enjoyed the installation Collaborative Shapes. It consists of a rope posted to a backdrop. Visitors are asked to pair up and try to make a shape with the rope—a square, crescent, etc.) with their eyes closed. sos-collabPartners can talk and communicate any way they wish EXCEPT that eyes need to stay shut. I tried this and watched others do it too. The shapes turned out pathetic! The moral of the story: Cooperative tasks are difficult when partners don’t share complete information. For cooperation to work, everyone needs to have access to essential information relevant to the situation at hand.

 Team Snake is also really cool. It’s a cooperative digital game and seemed to be one of the most popular exhibits. The game goal is to work together to keep a fast-moving snake alive and growing. Coordination is required to feed him apples he needs to live and grow and avoid hitting the walls of his container. team_snakeThis is an active game that requires group strategy and fosters camaraderie. For lots of visitors kids to adults, the game was big fun!

 In a different vein, Red/Blue is a competitive game in the exhibit. Like Team Snake, the game is a very inviting digital game that prompted a lot of visitor participation the day I was there. red blue game sceince of sharingThough Red/Blue was popular and fun according to the visitors I asked about it, its vibe was completely different than Team Snake. Instead of relaxed smiles and collegial attitudes, players displayed a fiendish twinkle in their eyes. In Red/Blue, it’s time to go all out to beat your opponent and prove yourself. When the game was over, I noticed a certain awkwardness and lingering aggressiveness as friends were—even if briefly—turned into rivals. It takes a little while to get over competitive encounters like this where one player is encouraged to thoroughly trounce another. One wonders about the long term psychological and social effects of a steady diet of competitive games such as this. A sign posted near Red/Blue explains the social risks of competition…

The Science of Sharing exhibit featured several riddles for contemplation. Consider the Public Goods Dilemma, shown below.public goods dilemma

On my way out of The Science Of Sharing exhibit, I walked by the Give and Take Table. It consists of a great big silver bowl reflecting the people staring into it—revealing their thoughts as well as their faces. Instructions ask visitors to add or remove whatever they wish to the bowl. I sat and watched what happened there for a while.

I wish I could report the bowl was made overflowing with an abundance of meaningful and treasured items that visitors contributed to the commons…maybe drawings, poems, trinkets, money? Or for real trust—how about something edible? I guess we are a ways from that ideal though, at least at the time that I was observing. People, I hate to tell you, but what I saw in the Sharing Bowl consisted of a few pennies, two dry beans (they looked like pinto beans), a few pieces of wrinkled paper, a couple small beads, an eraser, and one plastic Radio Shack gift card (the big question: Was it depleted or did it have significant value ?)give and take table

I saw four young men, probably in their 20’s, come up to the bowl. Two of the fellows debated giving/taking but they were hesitant–cautious. Deciding whether to make any kind of donation or trade launched them into extensive analysis of the pro’s and con’s but all comments seemed to be coming strictly from the head with no heart factored in. Worse, one of the fellows said jokingly but seriously that he felt the “smartest” thing to do would be to take everything out of the bowl for himself and not put anything in. He’s no fool; why not take everything you can whenever you can in your own “rational” self interest? The fourth fellow didn’t say much but squirmed uncomfortably. If he objected to this demonstration of The Tragedy of the Commons, perhaps he did not have the words to articulate his concerns. Apparently, I caught the Give and Take Table at an off moment! Personally, I don’t think we are strictly rational beings in the sense that we always act in our material self-interest. Instead, we have prosocial drives and feelings that are inherent and can be cultivated or discouraged.  (Note there COULD have been an altruist to the table. Maybe the Radio Shack gift card was actually loaded! An unresolved mystery…)

Anyway, I have an experiment idea for the folks at the Exploratorium: Let’s put the Give and Take Table next to Team Snake and see what ends up in the Sharing Bowl. Then let’s move it next to Red/Blue and see what happens. If results are similar to the other research comparing cooperative with competitive games, we’d expect Team Snake to inspire a great increase of bounty in the bowl. On the other hand, a bowl placed next to Red/Blue would likely not even elicit two pinto beans.

For more information about The Science of Sharing including where, when, and how to see it visit the Exploratorium website at To learn more about cooperative games, to purchase them, or get free cooperative games, visit at


Cooperative Games with Blocks

Do you remember playing with blocks as a wee one?

blocks for cooperative play
Blocks for Cooperative Play

I remember many peaceful hours spent playing with them. I loved blocks because they facilitate imaginary play and physical play too. It’s fun to practice eye hand coordination, explore spatial relations, and use small motor skills at the same time you build crazy castles, tall towers and all manner of imaginary things. I’m sure blocks must help kids develop mechanical skills too. Blocks are fun for mixed-age play since older children and adults love them just as much as very young children do. Blocks are a noncompetitive toy. Children can play individually with blocks or cooperatively by building structures together. The simplest cooperative game  with blocks I know of is a construction game. It goes like this…it’s a classic and always SO FUN! Just build the highest vertical tower you can, taking turns. Eventually the tower will crash! But it’s fun building it together, encouraging one another and offering helpful suggestions as in all cooperative games. Now here is the serious part. Gwen Dewar PhD at reports a study on using cooperative play with blocks to help autistic kids. Playing together cooperatively with blocks helped the autistic kids make more social language improvements than being directly coached in the social use of language. See . Are you psyched about blocks and looking for a good set? I sell blocks at since they are such a great and versatile noncompetitive toy. Click here to shop I chose the Green Toys brand since Green Toys products are all made from recycled milk jugs in the USA. They are safe for kids and good for the environment, sturdy, and easy for little hands to manipulate. In honor of this blog on #cooperative games with blocks, and in honor of the holidays, Green Toys blocks are now the Deal of the Day at at a whopping 40% off the regular price! Please share with parents and teachers, especially those who work with autistic kids. Thanks and Enjoy! From Suzanne Lyons at

Cooperative Games Teach Cooperation. But What’s So Great About Cooperation?

Hi Conscious Cooperators! Suzanne Lyons here, doing my bit to help usher in a new era of peace and sustainable common sense in these troubled times. is my contribution, however humble, to the CHANGE that is coming and needs to come. I am a science educator by training, and a science textbook author. Pearson publishes my textbook, Conceptual Integrated Science, which is sold around the world. Yay but not enough. Education, I now see, is more urgent than cognitive expansion. We are the problem and we are the solution as far as the Earth and our own destiny on it goes. 2 dwight copy_edited-1What the world needs now is love sweet love. But if we can’t quite get there, what we need AT LEAST is the ability to work together toward the common good. That’s called enlightened self-interest and it’s essentially cooperation. As President Eisenhower once said: “Though force can protect in an emergency, only justice, fairness, consideration, and cooperation can finally lead men to the dawn of eternal peace.” Let’s break it down. Why is cooperation so vital in life? What are its specific benefits? And why should we be learning how to cooperate through play with cooperative games?

Cooperation is essential because it helps solve problems. As we say, “two heads are better than one”. Cooperation brings the skills and talents of multiple stake holders to bear on any given situation. Cooperation makes it more efficient to get work done too. Many jobs are so big that they can only be accomplished through group effort. As we say, “many hands make light work”.

Cooperation is essential because it promotes healthy relationships. When we cooperate, we share, and as we know “sharing is caring”.”  Cooperating and sharing elicit emotions of appreciation, gratitude, and trust as we help one another. These positive emotions underlie social bonding and healthy relationships.

Cooperation is also important because it’s the foundation of equity. Cooperation, in the sense we are talking about here, involves decision-making based on mutual respect and participation. It’s different than obedience. It’s motivated by the desire to listen to one another, to be fair and get along. Cooperation is the means by which equitable social arrangements can be forged and maintained.

If cooperation is of great value, and if cooperative games can teach cooperation through the powerful medium of play, then surely cooperative games are a beneficial teaching tool for our times. Hmmm…competition reinforces the us-versus-them mindset yet cooperation brings about peace. Maybe it’s time to rethink the commonplace idea that competition is natural and necessary. Maybe it’s time to give cooperation-and cooperative play-a chance.