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The surprising nature of cooperative gaming

March 11, 2013

There seems to be a perceived wisdom on young children and competition in that competitive games can upset them and lead to tears before bedtime. It is thus preferable to play lots of cooperative games, along with other games where any competition is incidental and you can pretty much gloss over who has won (or you can go with the “let the wookie win” approach and keep throwing the game, which is a whole other kettle of worms). Indeed, we have generally avoided direct conflict games as they have mostly not gone too well in the past, with the notable exception of Magic: the Gathering, which is purely a slugfest.

The thing is, though, that Miss B has been developing quite a competitive streak, though she is usually pretty good when she loses and generally remembers to compliment the winner (sometimes along with an “I’ll get you next time!” comment). Furthermore, over the last six months or so I’ve noticed that she is getting more resistant to cooperative games, which I feel is a shame as I happen to love them!

Anyway, we have had a discussion about this and I asked her about the various cooperative games we have played to see if I could figure out how she is thinking. Here are some of the things Miss B said…

“I’m not too keen on Forbidden Island because you’ve got to be good at guessing what cards you get and it might be water rise and that’s really bad.”

It seems that the problem here is that the game state just keeps getting worse, however hard the players try. Later on she commented about liking to play against people and not “Mr Nobody”, which seems to fit in with this.

“Castle Panic was good but I hate it when we get the giant boulders even when they crush the monsters, it’s killing monsters but damaging the castle.”

We’ve always had fun with Castle Panic, particularly when playing with more people, but again I think the problem with the giant boulders is that they are just these big bolts from the blue; at least when monsters are coming, you see them coming and can do something about them.

“Flash Point is 6 out of 10. I’ve only tried it twice and the second time was better because there were more people. But at home we’ve got to do it with less people because there are three people and Mummy doesn’t usually join in the games.”

Cooperative games definitely seem to go down best with more people and both Flash Point and Castle Panic can handle six players, which can make them into a real social event which can distract from any deficiencies in Miss B’s eyes.

“I like close games as well as ones where you play against each other.”

Win or lose, games always seem more exciting if they are close and it really feels like the winner only managed to squeak ahead. I guess that if you lose, this supports the “I’ll get you next time” thing.

“I don’t really like the idea of doing what cooperative games do.”

I should have asked for clarification on that but I didn’t think about it at the time. I think that in general, if Miss B is going to be playing on the same side as everyone else she might as well be playing one of the free-form make believe games that kids play all the time.

I wondered about team-versus-team games though. At first Miss B misunderstood me, thinking that I meant when people help each other to play one position in a game between them (as we do sometimes), but I gave her an analogy about football teams.

“I think that’s in the middle of everyone working together and everyone just on their own.”

So, team games are okay but individual competition is better.

I feel this was an interesting discussion and I learnt a lot. Miss B wants to discuss competitive games for another post, and I think that sounds like a good idea (though maybe thinking about types of competition), so maybe there’ll be another discussion soon. In the meantime I have to remember to listen…

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  1. March 12, 2013 at 3:45 am

    This isn’t anything to be scared of my any means. Children love to be the winner, especially when they can beat their parents. If you win together, sure they’re happy, but beating mom & dad is always much cooler. Just don’t let them win, or make it obvious because they’ll pick up on it. I tend to make a lot of mistakes, but don’t just take a fall for the loss. The secret is to beat them about 1/2 the time as it keeps them wanting to play you since you’re not invincible!

  2. March 12, 2013 at 9:40 am

    Thanks for the comment, Chris. I think you have a good point. I don’t ever actually throw a game, but there are occasions when I make a sub-optimal move, sometimes genuinely to explore the game and see what happens, but sometimes because I think Miss B needs a break. Most of the time, though, I play to win, although sometimes not being as aggressive as I might against an adult. I figure the trick is in the mix of games: we have a number of games that we play where randomness is probably the biggest factor or that really fit with Miss B’s style of play, so she wins fairly often at them. There are also games which I suck at and make a lot of mistakes in, so she can do well in those too. When she finally beats me at Dominion or Citadels, that will be a fine day, and she will have really earned the high fives. I think that day may be closer than I originally thought!

  3. Dan
    March 12, 2013 at 10:38 am

    We’re all relatively new to the board gaming hobby, and I’m finding co-op games to be useful as they reduce sibling arguing. saying that, there’s nothing like grinding you sister or dad into the dust.

  4. March 12, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    I guess as long as they each get a turn at doing the grinding at some point, it’s all good. šŸ™‚

  1. March 12, 2013 at 9:14 pm
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