Games Index

Introduction to Group Games & Activities

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What's all this group game stuff?

People have been playing games since the dawn of human civilization.  There is evidence that games of chance and strategy have been popular in virtually all human civilizations.

A game introduces a mystery.  The game designer provides some suggested constraints; some "starting values".  But the process that unfolds is somewhat unknown and the outcome not entirely predictable.

This is the risk: playing a game introduces one to the unknown and elements outside of one's control; in so doing, the player may come to know aspects of him/herself better.

In group situations, participating in games helps make transparent each person's patterns of thinking and behavior.  Since, ultimately, the game itself is arbitrary, what is left is the revealed imprint of personal and group patterns of thinking and behavior.

Of course, a game can just be for fun, and often simply and blissfully is.  Group games can be used for all sorts of purposes, from birthday parties to funerals, and not just for "personal and group development". 

Games are often used to spice up and energize traditional trainings and meetings.  Multi-session group game-based programs are often used in leisure and recreation, adventure programming, education and training, and group therapy.

Games often reveal games within games.   Games engage networks of possibility in thought and behavior, group norms, culture, mood, ideas, etc. in ways that can potentially resonate to our deepest levels.

Games can be very physical, such as in fighting or racing or group sport, or games can be almost entirely mental, such as in problem-solving and strategy games.

Group-based games introduce complexity and possibilities.  Almost anything can happen and often does.  That's the risk.  The gain is creative froth and "information" thrown off by physical and psychological engagement.  People usually move through various states of emotion, arousal, and cognition.  Such game-provoked energy unlocks momentum for tackling many other kinds of tasks, such as personal and group development.  This unlocking utility of games is underestimated, even though there are some well-known activities sequences for doing so.

Lest this sound all too good to be true - watch out for following game-based curricula and games descriptions too closely - to follow them too closely misses the point.  Games only work to the extent that they genuinely engage the highest needs of the participants.  Thus, a genuine game experiences must ultimately must emerge from the subjective experience of the individuals.  Game design contributes  49%, the other 51% is on the day, in the moment.


Berne, E. (1966). Games People Play. London: Deutsch.

de Ropp, R. (1974). The Master Game. London: Pan Books.

McCain, R. A. (1999). Strategy & Theory: An Introductory Sketch of Game Theory.

Von Neumann, J., & Morgenstein, O. (1947). Theory of Games and Economic Behavior. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Related topics


Team building means learning about one anotherTeam building is about discovering how people think and work
(Heng Kai, 2004)

Making people work together by playing games is not enough.  The real use of such activities to reveal how people think and behave.


Books about group games

Books about Group Games

Last updated: 04 Apr 2006