In Cooperative Games, Everyone Has Fun (Even When No One Wins)
If you think that there are no winners and losers in cooperative games, then you’re wrong. It’s just that, unlike standard competitive games, cooperative game players win together, if they win at all. Sometimes, when teamwork is weak or the odds don’t work out, the game wins. This is what Donna Jaffe, President of Peaceable Kingdom, has taught parents and game enthusiasts over the last few years through her company’s series of Parents’ Choice Award winning cooperative games.
Jaffe is a regular game player, but she only recently became aware of cooperative games. The idea resonated with her instantly. Jaffe says that as a child, “I was a sore loser and a sore winner. I felt bad when someone lost.” That feeling, and the opposite unpleasant feeling of losing games, makes playing them unpleasant for some little ones. Some of us try to alter game rules, or intentionally lose to make games less likely to trigger tears. Children are very perceptive, though. They know when a game is not fair, and can tell if mom or dad is letting them win. Fortunately, there is another way to keep games fun while still giving children access to the learning and family time games offer, one that involves rethinking how games are won and played.
When you consider Peaceable Kingdom’s history, it makes sense that they are responsible for the comeback of cooperative games. Founded in 1983, the company’s mission is to create a more peaceable world through inter-generational play. They create products that encourage adults and children to connect in positive ways. At first, the company focused on releasing gifts and stationary that promoted storytelling and sharing between adults and children. Their first product was a poster featuring artwork from the classic picture book Goodnight Moon. They expanded to other posters featuring classic illustrations licensed from picture books, before shifting toward stickers, cards and other products featuring original artwork.
Peaceable Kingdom eventually began producing games, though they did not focus on cooperative ones at first. The company shifted toward those in early 2011, soon after Jaffe developed an interest in them. Though she is a regular game player, she only became aware of cooperative games after discovering the Canadian company Family Pastimes, which manufactures many of them. The philosophy behind their games, which encourage families to “play as friends, not as enemies,” resonated with her instantly. Cooperative games are a gentle way to introduce games, as they contain a built in mechanism for bringing children and adults together in a single learning process. By playing toward a common goal, family members learn about each other, practice listening, and develop patience. Cooperative games are infinitely re-playable, because they are fun, non-stressful games for kids that challenge parents, who are used to playing competitively, too.
Jaffe says that game designers have enjoyed designing a different type of game, especially since the cooperative game form has not been visited much since the 1980s. There’s lots of room for new ideas, and the resulting games that Peaceable Kingdom has produced are diverse. These include: Lost Puppies, where players collaborate to bring puppies to their homes before it gets dark; Willy’s Wiggly Web, in which everyone tries to free flies from a spider’s web; Hoot Owl Hoot! in which players return baby owls to their nest before sunrise; and Feed the Woozle, a fun challenge requiring players to feed “Fried socks and booger chili” to a hungry monster.
Parents have responded very well to Peaceable Kingdom’s games. Dr. Lisa Striar, a school psychologist and mother of three explains why: “In my opinion, the games’ ability to stimulate compassion in kids is one of their best assets. Our family loves to play games. However, when one child has a small defeat, the other children rejoice because it means they are closer to winning. In a cooperative game, when one player has a small defeat the other players feel empathy. They are truly sorry and may even offer a bit of consolation and encouragement. When you are all in it together, compassion comes naturally.” Anyone who has witnessed a game room meltdown during family gatherings can appreciate the skills and empathy that cooperative games develop.
Peaceable Kingdom will continue to design cooperative games both for preschoolers and, starting next year, children over 8-years-old. Jaffe observes: “In school, sports, and life, so much of our attention is on competition. Kids get a lot of practice in stressful competition.” Working together to beat a cooperative game, parents and children engage in a challenge that prepares them for life in a more positive and supportive way.