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Group Games:

Importance for Promoting Conflict.

Author: David Mackey.

Original, Last Updated: May 20th, 2007; June 8th, 2011.


When we think of games we oftentimes think of an activity that is useless in the realm of “real life.” It is a method of recreation solely and sometimes we even look down on the use of games as an activity for the immature. In this paper we will discuss one way in which games transcend recreation and enter the realm of a teaching and training tool. While there are several ways in which games can be used as teaching tools in this specific article we will discuss their importance for creating conflict.


As humans we are taught to avoid conflict. We protest wars, jump through hoops to keep everyone happy – so why would we want to use games to promote conflict? The simple answer is that conflict within games provides a testing ground for the moral development of the individual in a relatively safe environment.

While individuals can give the correct answers to all the questions, this does not necessrily indicate that they will respond correctly placed in a difficult situation. Using group games as a means of promoting conflict allows one to observe the reactions of the individuals when challenged. It exposes to the individual their own decision making processes and allows secondary observers to redirect inappropriate actions.


There are numerous standard responses individuals give when entering into conflict. These can be observed when a group game promotes conflict. Some common negative responses are outlined below:

Over-Zealous – Some individuals show an inability to properly handle their enthusiasm in the midst of competition/conflict. Examples of this include running over teammates or opponents to ensure a “point” is scored; losing the ability to focus on anything besides the competition.

Perhaps you know that individual who while playing a game of football would trample his own pre-teen child in order to make a touchdown. Or perhaps it is the coach that finds that there is nothing off-limits if it will bring about a win.

These situations can oftentimes come up with single males are competing against each other in the presence of females. The men feel it necessary to distinguish themselves as having superior athletic prowess and this can oftentimes occur at the cost of their fellow teammates.

Disparaging – There is a fine line between jest and disparagment. Many individuals repeatedly disparage their teammates or the opposing team during a competition.

For example, some individuals make comments as, “You should have run harder.” “If only you had been thinking.” “Why don't you keep your eye on the ball?” “Have you ever caught anything in your life?” Such comments, when spoken in a disparaging way can cause emotional damage to the recipient, and enmity towards the speaker.

This sort of behavior can also be presented not so much by the exact words used but by the tone of voice. Girls can utilize a high-pitched shrieky voice, while guys can use a deep macho masculine voice that insults other's humanity.

Anger – The conflict gives rise to unbridled amounts of anger. What should be an entertaining competition can become violent.

This sort of anger can arise for any a number of reasons. Some of it is justified, but needs to be handled correctly. There are times when an opposing team member attacks a team member using sly moves that can injure an individual while still being “technically” legal.

Others have their anger aroused by repeated fouling. This can be observed many times in basketball during a close game where the losing team uses repeated fouls to prevent the winning team from scoring.

Sometimes individuals can't handle defeat. When they begin to lose their attitude becomes sour and they look for any reason to physically release the embarassment they are feeling.

Fear – Some individuals respond fearfully because of low self-esteem. They are unwilling to participate in the group games or constantly predict their own failure in order to avoid having others be disappointed in them.

An individual might say something like, “I know I'm going to miss” before attempting to make a shot in basketball every time they shoot. This should be distinguished from occasional doubts about one's abilities. Everyone is prone to these doubts and it is not indicative or an issue, but rather appropriate self-esteem. It is when these confessions of probable failure are continual one should began to evaluating if the individual is using the confessions as a method of relieving fear and avoiding embarassment.


The observation of responses to conflict can be a positive experience in and of itself. Especially for the individual who is the perpetrator of the bad response. Oftentimes they see the ugliness in themselves and desire to correct it. However, simply observing the bad response is not enough, active steps must be taken to resolve these behaviors and redirect to more positive responses.>

Much redirection can occur verbally, by confronting the offending individual at the moment of offense. If the individual continues in the offense having time-outs to help him recognize the seriousness of his injuring of others can be useful.

Many lesser-offenders will quickly redirect their negative responses simply because of peer pressure. Individuals as a community push for a certain level (not always a healthy level) of understanding. This push will exert pressure on offenders who do not yet have their bad responses deeply ingrained in their character.

Individuals who struggle more strongly with negative responses will require a concerted effort by the community of players as well as any authority figures to repeatedly confront the behavior over time. This includes not allowing the individual to apologize in such a way as suggests that this is simply a matter of personal preference or of acknowledging that other's are weak.


It should be noted that every time a bad response to conflict is expressed in a competition it should not result in a confrontation of this negative behavior. Rather, the behavior is confronted when the individual shows a pattern of negative behavior when confronted by a certain type of situation. As human beings we all lose our cool and act irresponsibly. This is not the issue that needs to be corrected, rather it is the repeated actions of an individual to a certain situation that should be confronted.


Group Games are useful not only as a method of recreation but also as a method of learning to handle conflict. What we have taught or claimed to believe is proved in the midst of the “game”. We learn what role anger, fear, and other oftentimes negative behaviors play in our involvement in competition. It takes what is taught from being theoretical to practical and allows for a real gauge of our success in teaching, as well as the opportunity to correct dangerous behaviors.


David Mackey is the Senior Youth Leader at Calvary Community Church of Penndel, PA. He also runs the website GameSecretary.Com which offers hundreds of group games organized by category.