‘Cooperative games? Are you serious?’
A remarkable Canadian success story
The genius behind Family Pastimes Cooperative Games is former artist and teacher Jim Deacove, assisted by his partner Ruth. Their's is a remarkable Canadian success story.
Take Musical Chairs as an example. Traditionally, this simple, common party game was supposed to teach children good social manners, but it actually fosters aggression by eliminating the loser. ‘People are now going to be more important than the chairs,’ says Jim introducing his Musical Chairs, ‘so the only rule change is that after each round we take away a chair, but we keep all the people. It’s up to the imagination of the group to figure out how to make a place for everyone.’ Here hugging can replace pushing and everyone can now feel good by winning together rather than being ousted out of the game.
The big idea, they felt was needed in today’s world where competition and conflict reigns and threatens our health and that of our planet. Especially since research has shown that cooperation is a more effective tool than competition because competition creates anxiety and often dampens motivation. It comes down to deciding what kind of society you want to live in.
Many banks, many suppliers, many friends and relatives warned them that the business would never last with such an outlandish idea. ‘Cooperative games? Are you serious? Do not, under any circumstances give up your day job as teachers,’ they cautioned.
But give up their jobs they did. Since 1972, their home cottage industry near Perth, Ontario, has produced well over a hundred cooperative games for all ages, under the motto ‘Play together, not against each other and everyone’.
By 2017, these included more than five wooden Table Games, six Manuals and over 125 Board games in a half-million-dollar friendly business. Almost 90% of the sales go to the USA, a country that glorifies competition and private enterprise.
How do Jim and Ruth make cooperative games fun and compelling, even if everybody wins and there is no need to put down others or create and destroy enemies?
The key, as in all games, is to have all the players work together on a common problem, rather than against each other. The rules of any game can be changed, as with Untrivia for example, or Earth Game and Space Future. In the Harvest Time board game, people enjoy being neighbours who help each other to bring in the harvest before winter comes. In Mountaineering, participants help one another in climbing a mountain. Ploughshares addresses the issue of war and peace, with a search for a fresh alternative paradigm to our overfed and sacred military industrial complex.
As we consider the notion of human worth, one world, and building a world without wars, Jim Deacove’s approach of nurturing young and old to be compassionate, sharing and caring feels a lot better than confrontation, violence, and greed.
We can begin to see the wisdom of following a better way for people to live and work and play on this planet. In this new world, Jim’s Family Pastimes Cooperative Games can inspire young people to avoid a win-lose outcome, such as sacrificing their children for misguided cannon fodder.
Bravo to the power of sharing and caring and cooperation! These qualities give us hope that leaders of the world can, someday soon, come together on a common strategy for peace.
Thank you, Jim, for walking the talk and showing us the way.
By Jim Deacove, as retold by Koozma J. Tarasoff, Ottawa, Ontario. Anthropologist, ethnographer, historian, writer and peace activist.