There are many ways to use games to learn about particular aspects of reality. As a rule, the more simple and general the metaphor on which a game is based, the broader the range of experience that can be studied through it. One useful principle of game design is not to be more detailed and complex than is necessary; another is to keep the game concrete. If you want to study how people work when they change patterns, give them patterns to change, as in Patty-Cake. If you want to study how a group creates together, set it up to build something.
Cooperation/Competition is such a metaphorical game, meant to illustrate very general behaviors—the first example of this sort here since Mirror. We learned it from Ken Margolis, who was once with the Actor’s Workshop in San Francisco. It is played in a large room with chairs, ashtrays, drapes, tables, and so on which may be used to make constructions; or in some equivalent environment, with diverse materials available for use. It needs at least eight players for energy and interest, but with more than twenty both the play and its discussion get unwieldy and superficial. After the players have been divided into two teams, or encouraged to choose them, and have been given the rules of the first two phases, they are well advised to place in an “immune pile” all personal artifacts they don’t want used in the game. The gamekeeper should also be thoughtful and explicit about which materials in the environment may not be used in constructions. (She may need to negotiate this issue, as well as the group’s unorthodox use of the space, with local authorities – though we usually found that such brief uses were well-tolerated even when not formally sanctioned,)
In phase I, each team meets for perhaps six minutes to make contact and to plan its construction. Noise, mime, and bodily contact are permitted; but speech and writing are forbidden for the whole game, until the discussion phase. In phase II, each team builds something in the space from the available materials; fifteen to twenty minutes is a useful time. In phase III, each team is instructed to retire for a few minutes to plan for phase IV, which is only now described. In phase IV, each team attacks the other’s construction and defends its own, by turns or simultaneously. It is useful to run this phase in slow motion, both to minimize the danger of accidents and to stretch out the experience. How long to run it is a matter of judgment, ten minutes often being enough; discussion follows.
A more general name for this game is Build-and-Respond; for phase IV may involve some other (preplanned) ritual or response to the other team’s creation or process of creating. We called it as we did, and played it with the particular response-ritual described here, because we usually used it to focus on the styles and processes of cooperative and competitive behavior. Whether or not this focus is conscious, these behaviors are there from the beginning, exhibited in the ways people choose teams, in the dynamics of decision and work within each team, and in the ways the teams relate to each other within their small world of scarce resources. The field of cooperation and competition is rich and dense, since every action of every player can be seen in these terms; and it grows intense as the teams interact directly in phase IV. The subsequent discussion can deal with how leadership was recognized and exercised, how decisions were made, how cooperations were organized and conflicts resolved, the inner emotional structures of these transactions, and so on.
What the word may conceal, the act may reveal – which is why, in general, we play such games to learn; though the converse is true too, which is why we discuss them afterward. This game is a game of pantomime, mute and nakedly expressive. Such acting engages the players more wholly and often more deeply than word-play can. Its experience has also the inner wholeness of planning, building and completing; and of then responding. The artifacts of collective behavior which develop in such games tend to be deeply organic. In this game, the architecture which a team constructs often can be recognized as a symbolic representation of its social organization or its collective mood; and of course is always a literal record of the process of building. Conversely, in the process of building an architecture the team has also been building a group society, integral and complex. It is this as much as their tangible construction which gets attacked and defended in phase IV; and a gamekeeper is wise to watch for the way these societies are persisting, disintegrating, or evolving, and not to end the phase before such tendencies become clear.
One natural use of such a game is to explore, within a single and immediate frame, the similarities and differences of behavior of two different groups; and so we have played it with teams of men and women, of bureaucrats and anarchists, of social workers and their clients, and so on. The game can also be played with different rules for the two teams, as by prohibiting one from group strategy sessions, or restricting its choice of materials or ways of building.