action do words take power." - Freechild Project
Why Play Games When There's Work to Do? Fun,
Games and Social Change
By Adam Fletcher
"There are at least two kinds of games.
One would be called finite, the other infinite. A finite game is
played for the purpose of winning, and an infinite game is played for
the purpose of continuing to play. The rules of a finite game
may not change; the rules of an infinite game must... The finite game
player aims to win eternal life; the infinite player aims for eternal
birth." - James P. Carse, as quoted by Dale
"We must abandon completely the naive
faith that education automatically liberates the mind and serves the
cause of human progress; in fact we know it may serve any cause. It
may serve tyranny as well as freedom, ignorance as well as
enlightenment, falsehood as well as truth. It may lead men and women
to think they are free even as it rivets them in chains of bondage...
In the course of history, education has served every purpose and
doctrine contrived by man; if it is to serve the cause of human
freedom, it must be explicitly designed for that purpose." - George Counts*
There's so much to do! Our
communities are falling apart, young people, old people, brown people,
black people, poor people, and lots of other people aren't getting the
respect or power they deserve. Why play games when there's so
much work to do? There's a lot of reasons to look at, but first
let's define what we're talking about.
What Are Cooperative
Cooperative games emphasize
participation, challenge and fun rather then defeating someone.
Cooperative games focus on fun and interaction rather than competition
and alienation. Cooperative games are not new. Some of the classic
games we participated in as children are classic because of the play
emphasis. There may be competition involved, but the outcome of the
competition is not sitting out or losing. Instead, it may involve
switching teams so that everyone ends up on the winning team.
What Are Initiative
Initiative games are fun, cooperative,
challenging games in which the group is confronted with a specific
problem to solve. Initiative games can be used for several reasons.
The games can be used to demonstrate and teach leadership skills to
people, which helps to promote the growth of trust and problem-solving
skills in groups. Games demonstrate a process of thinking about
experiences that helps people learn and practice responsibility.
Some people avoid calling them "games,"
choosing "activity," "challenge," or "problem" instead. Whatever
a group chooses to call them, these games can boost our efforts to
create powerful, lasting community change.
Why Play Games?
When a group of people are preparing to
participate in social change, there needs to be some breaking down of
inhibitions before they become group participants. "There is no
'I' in T-E-A-M" and all that. Before a group can build effective
solutions to the problems facing their communities, they need to trust
each other and communicate.
Cooperative games also help set the
tone of an action. Social change work is often hard-driven and
energy-consuming. Many groups find that cooperative games offer
a brisk, friendly way to couple passionate task-oriented goals with
driven, group-minded teambuilding. In other words, fun and games
help propel social change.
Another purpose of games is to get
people to think together, as a team, so that everyone in the group has
input and shares ideas. When we have input we have ownership,
and when more people have ownership there is more success.
When used right, games can actually
accentuate the purpose of your day's work or your group's purpose.
Through a technique called "framing," games become relevant and
powerful tools to break down barriers, build up focus, and make your
group's process more effective and inclusive of all involved.
In all settings games should be used to
build a sense of purpose, passion, and opportunity. Without
those pieces as goals, games become pacifiers for the grown, as their
potential to stave off the appetite of a group that hungers for power
is immense. In classrooms where teachers use games as "fillers"
the students mope lazily back to their desks, as they know the
grueling pain of continuity is about to continue. In classrooms
where teachers use the games in context of the lessons, students aim
to learn with eagerness and a sense of purpose.
The purpose of the games is often set
during the introduction, or framing, of the activity.
Participants may be forewarned of the deeper meanings, or the activity
may be introduced as a metaphor. Another way to inject purpose
into activities is in the reflection or debriefing of the activity.
An easy way to see the relevance of reflection is to picture games as
a circle: you start with an explanation of the activity, framing its
purpose and goals to the group. The activity progresses, with
the facilitator taking a more hands-on or less guiding approach as
needed. Finally, the group reflection helps participants see how
they met the goal, and to envision the broader social change
implications. Then the group has come full-circle.
What Games Should We
Games can be chosen to meet almost any
purpose. Does your group need to develop its teambuilding
skills? Try the Caterpillar (see below). Do you need to
work closely and get used to each other's physical space? Try
Sardines (below). You've been inside all day, sitting on your
butts and thinking, and you just want to play? Check out Blob
Tag or Human Scissors-Paper-Rock (below). Your group needs to
trust each mentally, emotionally, and physically? Use the Trust
Circle (below). Learning, trusting, feeling and thinking
together are the goals of these games. Its helpful for every
group to remember that.
Many people use games as an
introduction or a closing to their activities. However, its a
good idea to add them throughout your day, between or as a part of a
larger event. Games are a great way to break up the monotony of
a long day's learning, or a hard day's work. They are also a
great way to keep small children busy, and big children happy.
You may want to play a game to reinforce teamwork after a sucky day
(because they happen) or play a game to relieve some group stress or
build the scenario to work through a problem. Games are actually
tools that a skilled facilitator has at their fingertips in a time of
Great! How do we get
Below is a list of easy-to-use games.
They come from a wide collection of games available from the Freechild
FireStarter Youth Power Curriculum.
Check out this list and go visit FireStarter for more! You can
also look up the bibliography listed under the
For many more resources on cooperative
and initiative games, visit the links on the right, and read some of
the great books available (especially those by the greats Karl Rohnke
and Dale LeFevre. Play safe, play purposefully, play fun and
play hard! And visit http://freechild.org, The Freechild
Project's Resources for Social Change By and With Young People, often!
Check out our brand-new
guide, So, You Wanna Be A Playa? The Freechild Project
Guide to Cooperative Games for Social Change by
A. Fletcher with K. Kunst. This insightful new guide
will help community workers, teachers, activists, and
all kinds of people find fun, engaging, and powerful
activities that promote teamwork, communication, and
here for a free download>!
About the author
Adam sees himself as an "infinite"
player. He has worked as a ropes challenge course instructor and director
for several years, in schools, nonprofit organizations, and summer
camps across the US. Today he works with schools and nonprofit
organizations to provide
training to young people, youth workers,
educators, community organizers, and AmeriCorps Members in many areas,
including communication, teambuilding, and social change. He
continuously uses games throughout his work people of all ages. Feel
free to email the author at adam [at] freechild.org!
*LeFevre, Dale (1988) New Games for the
Whole Family. New York: Perigee Books.
*Counts, George S. (1963) Education and
the Foundations of Human Freedom. Out-of-print.
Resources on New Games, Cooperative Games, Initiative Games, and
- Home of Karl Rohnke, leading author of materials
on initiatives and cooperative games, ropes courses and challenges.
Outward Bound - Outward Bound USA
is a system of five wilderness schools and several urban centers in
the United States. There are 40 Outward Bound Schools and centers in
20 countries around the world.
Project Adventure - A major source of information about
Association for Experiential Education The professional society for outdoor
and experiential education. This site is primarily for educators and
NOLS: National Outdoor Leadership School
- NOLS is a wilderness-based, non-profit
school focusing on leadership and skills.
The Freechild Project We provide thousands of examples of
youth-led social change in many areas, including education, community
development, and more.
For a detailed bibliography, visit
The Freechild Project's Firestarter Project Selective Cooperative
Games Bibliography or
Dave Nettell's Cooperative Adventures Adventure Education Bibliography,
a comprehensive listing of adventure education games-related books.
2008. Adam Fletcher owns the copyright
for this material on behalf of The Freechild
Project. You are welcome to print out
this material for educational purposes
only - you cannot make any financial
gain from them without the explicit
permission of the author. You may not
photocopy any part of this material
without explicit permission of the
author. For more
information write info [at] freechild.org