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Why cooperative games are better than competitive games

Thor Muller and I did a panel at SXSWi this last week on cooperative games! We were expecting somewhere between 75-200 people, but I think there were probably 500ish people in that room (and many more waiting outside that couldn’t get in because it was full).  Luckily, by the time we figured this out, we had no choice but to go forward with our plan to play a cooperative game during the panel that required that everyone get up and move.

Room 12b: Gamechanging! With @tempo and lots of people! #sxsw

We played a game! We had bourbon for the winners. I got to talk about Health Month and afterwards got to meet some very interesting people who are thinking about many of the same things that we are.

Competitive vs Cooperative Games

Yes, it’s a false dichotomy. Yes, most things have both competitive and cooperative elements. Even when you play on a team, there is some taunting and competition amongst teammates.  And that’s healthy.

HOWEVER, the competitive and cooperative elements of a given game do serve different purposes and appeal to different kinds of players.

Competitive game elements work best in the following conditions:

  1. Everyone is highly motivated to play
  2. Everyone is of about equal talent, or balanced by luck
  3. The game is of finite length (doesn’t go on forever)

Cooperative game elements, on the other hand, work best in these conditions:

  1. The players are not highly motivated to continue playing
  2. The players of the game come in and out of the game
  3. The game is loose, casual, played over a long period of time
  4. The players have different skill levels, different areas of interest within the game

And, what I think is one of the bonuses of cooperative games: they allow cultures to emerge as groups of cooperative players create new rules that their group is required to follow.  Game ethics, game manners, and loyalties emerge.

We, as humans, work best in self-interested groups, where we can specialize, encourage each other, and help those who need help so that we are in turn helped when we need it.  Cooperative games help foster self-healing communities that are able to take on tasks that any individuals in the group could not have accomplished alone.

I’ll be linking to more info about the games we played and slides from the talk once Thor posts them in the next day or so.  In the meantime, here’s a rather long list of tweets from the panel, via storify.com.

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