What Is a Cooperative Game?
Have you heard about cooperative games? Cooperative games are based on cooperation rather than competition. There are cooperative games of all kinds for all ages and settings. They range from board games to circle games to PE games to electronic games and more. They are all based on the same principle: It’s as much fun—well maybe more fun—to play with each other than against each other!
In a cooperative game, players work together to win. The fun comes from the camaraderie and challenge of the game—not from being the “best” player left standing when everyone else is eliminated. In a cooperative game, no player is ever eliminated. What is eliminated is fear of failure and the incentive to beat others.
While competitive games emphasize individual achievement (being “better” than others), cooperative games emphasize the fun, enjoyment, and productivity that can be achieved by working together. A well-designed cooperative game assures that players will experience the heart-felt happiness that comes from being part of an inclusive community.
Pro-Social Skills and Cooperative Games
Cooperative games are structured so that players must use pro-social skills such as sharing, encouraging, listening, and participating in order to win.
The major pro-social skill that is practiced in a cooperative game is, of course, cooperation. Because you need to work together to win in a cooperative game, players discover through their own sensory experience that cooperating makes us more productive. That is, cooperative play demonstrates in a very concrete way that “we’re better together”, that “many hands make like work” and that “many heads are better than one.”
Cooperative Games in Education
Do cooperative games have a role in education? It is easy to see that they do. As described above, cooperative games motivate players to want to cooperate and they also teach the cooperative skills needed to do it. The ability to cooperate has manifold applications in education.
Prep for Cooperative Learning Cooperative games prepare kids to take part in cooperative learning strategies and collaborative project-based learning because they give kids practice working and playing together.
Academic Subjects and Cooperative Games Cooperative games are of course playful and fun. Thus they tap the power of play in learning. The benefits of play in learning are well-documented. Play is especially crucial for learning in young children. Even Plato said over two thousand years ago: “Do not keep children to their studies by compulsion but by play.” More and more educational cooperative games are being developed for classroom learning, and the good ones combine the teaching power of both play and collaboration. So with educational cooperative games, students can learn language, math, science or other academic content at the same time that they practice cooperating. (See CooperativeGames.com for many free cooperative games, including cooperative games that teach academic subjects. Free classroom-ready games as well as games for purchase. Also you will find more cooperative games that teach academic subjects in The Cooperative Games Bullying Prevention Program by Suzanne Lyons.)
Social-and-Emotional Learning According to Maurice Elias, director of Rutgers University’s Social and Emotional Learning Lab, SEL is the process through which we learn to recognize and manage emotions, care about others, make good decisions, behave ethically an responsibly, and avoid negative behaviors. Teachers are looking for tools that teach social-and-emotional competence. Clearly, games that teach children how and why to get along together impart the social-and-emotional competencies Elias has identified.
Besides preparing students for cooperative learning, teaching academic subjects, and building social-and-emotional skills, cooperative games relate to other areas of education, from sustainability to special education. Indeed the applications are too many to enumerate in a single blog post! Check CooperativeGames.com for more discussion and resources related to all of the benefits and purposes of cooperative games in education https://cooperativegames.com/. However, we cannot end this introduction to cooperative games in education without giving at least a brief description of how they can prevent bullying. Bullying prevention is indeed the “killer app” for cooperative games.
Cooperative Games, School Climate, and Bullying
Bullying is a cruel torment and is all too common. It produces acute misery in the short term as well as aching wounds that can last a lifetime. Kids who are victims of bullying are five times more likely to be depressed compared to their peers. Kids who bully are also at high risk for serious negative consequences including social isolation, poor academic performance and later criminal behavior.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has responded to the bullying crisis through its website StopBullying.gov, which is an extensive information portal for teachers and the public at large. The section Prevent Bullying offers a handful of guidelines to stop bullying before it starts. The guidelines for bullying prevention—as opposed to responding to bullying once it has occurred–relate to building a positive school climate.
What is a positive school climate? According to StopBullying.gov:
A positive school climate is a general atmosphere where students feel safe and a sense of belonging.
Cooperative games are inclusive by their very nature. Everyone belongs. No one is ever eliminated. If you need help when it is your turn, other players are there to support you. This feels psychologically safe. As well as safety, there is a sense of belonging too because players win or lose as a group. Working toward a common goal puts everyone on the same team.
And there’s more! What can really make you feel unsafe and like you don’t belong? When others are mean and aggressive to you! Can cooperative games address even this problem—the problem of aggression? There is research that shows that playing cooperative games indeed reduces aggression. The consequences of this are profound and far-reaching and indeed pertain to all ages. The most specific research that shows cooperative games reduce aggression relates to young children however. A study by April Bay et. al. at the University of Nevada, Reno tested the effects of specific cooperative games on aggression in young children in 1994. Both during the games and afterward, children who played particular well-designed cooperative games exhibited more pro-social behavior (including sharing, showing affection, and helping one another) and less aggressive behavior (including hitting, kicking, and name-calling).
Thus, good cooperative games are a powerful means with which a teacher, parent or other adult who works with children can nurture a positive school climate and thus prevent bullying!
This is a novel approach. For all its common sense appeal and the research backing it up, cooperative games have not been applied to the bullying problem as yet. It’s a simple method, inexpensive, and with many side benefits. If this approach appeals to you, know that when you give it a try you are one of the early adopters. You’re bringing light into the dark world of bullying with the positive power of cooperation, kindness, and joy.
Contact Suzanne Lyons M.A. M.A. for webinars and workshops on cooperative games in education. Buy The Cooperative Games Bullying Prevention Program at CooperativeGames.com, on Amazon, and ibooks.