The Daily Telegraph
Board games teach conflict resolution and co-operation
FURIOUS family feuds over Monopoly, Pictionary and Mouse Trap are common up and down Britain, with homes ripped apart by bitter disagreements over the popular board games.
But, a study suggests these bust-ups may be good for children as it teaches them how to deal with conflict and also improves their co-operation skills.
Researchers making use of historical data identified 25 cultures scattered around the Pacific and looked at the games they play, and the traits of their society. Two groups of people can be very similar in terms of ethnicity, geography and biology but have different cultural norms and games, and this was assessed by academics from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
“We tried to hone in on these differences, while accounting for their similarities,” said Sarah Leisterer-peoples, the study’s author.
Researchers looked at how socially hierarchical cultures were structured, how often members of a culture were in conflict with each other and how often they were in conflict with other groups.
They found that the people who frequently engage in disagreements with other cultures played more co-operative games than competitive games. In contrast, cultures with frequent conflicts within their community had more competitive than co-operative games.
Ms Leisterer-peoples added: “These findings might not be intuitive at first glance, but they make sense in light of theories on the evolution of co-operation in cultural groups.
“In times of conflict with other cultures, group members have to cooperate with one another and compete with their opponents. This is reflected in the kinds of games that are played.”
Researchers believe this human behaviour can easily be translated to modern sports, board games and video games in how we as humans deal with conflict and co-operation.
They believe games mimic real-world behaviour and may be one avenue in which group norms are learnt and practised during childhood.
“Store-bought games and video games have overtaken the traditional games that were played in children’s free time,” said Ms Leisterer-peoples.
“Future studies need to investigate the specific skills that are learnt through games, not just the degree of co-operation in the games.”
The poor old Pacific Islanders are under the microscope again and academics, we report today, believe their leisure games can be compared with our own sports and board games. Communities with an external enemy tend, it seems, to favour co-operative games, but in a divided community, competitive games prevail. Perhaps the anthropologists do not go far enough, for all the world’s a game, as Shakespeare almost said. If Christmas Monopoly seems cut-throat, think of the games we play year round in the office or local WI. Games do not divulge their secrets easily. What looks more sedate than croquet? Yet nothing is more competitive and destructive of an opponent’s efforts. Whether that is to be blamed on the Pax Britannica or on Victorian class divisions depends on the games academics play.