When I read Robert Bly’s book, Iron John, I was stunned by the observation he makes about modern male relationships. I have mentioned this before.
Contemporary business life allows competitive relationships only, in which the major emotions are anxiety, tension, loneliness, rivalry, and fear.
While boys experience a natural pressure and desire for competition, they are not alone in this societal pressure to “win”. I personally believe we can do a better job of educating our children that there are more kinds of relationships than only competitive ones. As parents, what can we do about it? I believe video games can help.
Why do I believe this? Two words: Co Op games.
These are games where players are challenged to work together to achieve a common goal or objective. These are games where players have to work together, as if they were on the same team. This latest generation of games go way beyond the Halo co-op mode where two players are essentially playing the same game side by side. In this genre of games, the cooperation is integral to the overall game experience. In short, you can’t really play the game without someone else. Single player just doesn’t make sense
Game play is important for the social and emotional development of all humans. What’s more, play is where we discover the boundaries of our capability and the edge of where our individuality intersects with others and society. We all know the expression, It’s not whether you win or lose, it is how you play the game. And in our modern, “win at all costs” culture where winning has become “the only thing”, we lose sight of the META game, the game above that game. This is not only to win, but to play so that you will be invited to play again with others.
Using multiple player cooperative games, a chance for gamers to learn how to play together in ways besides direct head to head competition. I like these games because they are ideal games for parents to play with their kids or together as a family. In the footnote there is a great article by the website Gamerant that lists 12 awesome games, my personal favorites are:
Only Snippers Clips is exclusive to the Nintendo Switch, but the other two games are available on practically whatever gaming system you already own including: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and MS Windows.
Exclusive to the Nintendo Switch, Snipper clips is a brilliant puzzle-based game that stimulates creative thinking. It contains all the polish and fun you expect from a Nintendo first party title. In a nutshell, players play as two (three or four) paper shapes that match the shape of their Nintendo JoyCon controller. To solve puzzles, they often must “snip” or “clip” each other, changing their shape to fit a pattern displayed on the screen. Players work together, solving these puzzles. Puzzles can also include physics objects like bouncing balls and climbing on top of each other to reach different parts of the level map. I find the game is best played on a big screen TV on the couch. I played it for hours with my daughter when it first came out. It was great time we spent together, and I used it to talk about game and puzzle design. I also took a back seat to let her guide me and give me directions in solving the puzzles. I used those times to share with her what would make it easier for me to follow her directions. Giving more young women a chance to successfully lead men in collaborative and cooperative tasks is also an area where we could help our children build a better future.
This zany independent game by The Knights of Unity and published All In Games has a bit of jiggly humor and multiplayer messy fun. With this game you play a bouncy handyperson who must move around a house in a limited amount of time to remodel, repair, and revamp apartments and homes. What makes this game a little different is that you can easily make mistakes that you have to clean up which can cost you time. Don’t clean up that spilled paint? And you find your character slipping and sliding around the floor like a slap stick character from a black and white movie. The controls can take some getting used to (I often found myself pressing pick up when I meant interact, and interact when I mean to pick up), but after a found of the training rounds this kind of trivial learning curve goes away. What really makes this game interesting to me are the PLANS. You can hold them up and the game will show you what the level is supposed to look like. Then you have to go about doing it. Again, assigning roles, communicating, and forgiving each other for making mistakes is the name of the game.
My favorite of this genre has to be Overcooked 2. I first saw this game at the Nintendo booth at E3. I thought, a cooking game? Seriously. And the answer is YES, seriously. The nature of this game is that everyone plays a chef in a fast paced kitchen. Any chef can do any task, but no chef can do every task. You must work together to complete orders in a timely fashion. The progression is simple and the replay value for each level is nearly additive in itself. In fact, we use Overcooked 2 as part of a leadership and development program we call Culture Kitchen. There is nothing quite like seeing people work together in real time to understand the obstacles that get in the way of working together. What’s more, if you haven’t heard a room full of adults laughing out loud together at the same time while they work together, you are missing out.
What I like best about these kinds of games is that they inspire you to beat your own score, not someone else’s. Though successive rounds you can learn to work together better, communicate more effectively, and explore the types of relationships that go beyond competitive, they go to collaboration and cooperation. These games make you feel good when you set a record because everyone did it together. These games all fall on the affordable end of the spectrum with Snipper Clips costing $41.08, Tools Up! has a free demo but costs $19.99 on Steam and Overcooked comes in at a very reasonable $24.99 on most platforms at the time of this writing (with Overcooked All You Can Eat – the complete library worth it for $39.99). I would encourage you to check out this genre of game and sit down with your family and give it a go. It’s amazing what you can learn about, and from each other when you work together.
- Jun, P. & M.D. (2019, May 23). The Importance Of Play: An Interview with Dr. Jaak Panksepp » Brain World. Brain World. https://brainworldmagazine.com/the-importance-of-play-an-interview-with-dr-jaak-panksepp/
- Warren Farrell, P., & John Gray, P. (2018). The Boy Crisis: Why Our Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It. BenBella Books.
- Peterson, J. B. (2021). Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life. Portfolio.