Games and sports are usually very competitive, but this article describes games that are based on cooperation.

 by Dada Maheshvarananda

Play on, if you dare!


The dominant message in the mass media, advertising and the educational system is individualistic and competitive: “First get an education, then get a job and make as much money as you can.” These institutions rarely convey a message of responsibility towards others in our human family. This materialistic attitude extends to sports, too, where the goal usually is “I win, you lose,” or perhaps, “I win, and it doesn't matter to me what happens to you.”

We need a new cooperative paradigm in our lives that promotes kindness, honesty, trust and teamwork. We need to overcome our fears—of failure, of looking bad, of getting hurt. And in the process, we need to lighten up, have fun, and realize that the best things in life are not for sale.

Cooperative games and ‘initiative challenges’ involve creative problem solving. I sometimes call them ‘New Age Games,’ because they are full of surprises and challenges, but in fact, some of them are very ancient!

After leading hundreds of workshops, I can confirm that leading and facilitating small groups is both a science and an art. Each group of people is unique, and not everyone or every group is ready for every game. Some are very funny, while others are silent and moving.

Many organizations and books of cooperative games are now available. Stewart Brand, the hippie founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, was one of the pioneers in the late sixties in the creation of ‘New Games’ with the theme: “Play hard, play fair, nobody hurt.” Karl Rohnke of Project Adventure has published several excellent books of hundreds of adventure activities. (Of course, there is no copyright on a game!)

‘Car-car,’ which I learned from David Earl Platts of the Findhorn Foundation, is one of my favorites because it is fun, very simple and almost every group takes to it right away. I usually present the activity like this: “Trust and responsibility are two very important qualities in creating world peace. This activity will help you experience how you feel about trust. Choose a partner. This is a silent exercise. One person, ‘the car’, stands in front with his or her eyes closed and hands held in front of the chest with palms outward as your bumpers. The second person, ‘the driver’, with eyes open, stands behind with hands on the shoulders of the car. Keeping his/her eyes open, the driver will steer the sightless car around the area, avoiding collisions with other pairs. Remember that the safety of the other person is your responsibility, so you must show compassion and care. Any questions?”

I demonstrate with one volunteer compassionate, slow ‘driving,’ reminding the group that anyone with eyes closed is going to feel nervous. Then I’ll put some quiet music on, remind everyone about no talking, and then announce in a loud voice, “Begin.” After 3-4 minutes I announce, “Stop. Open your eyes, and now switch roles with your partner. OK? Begin.”

At the end, I ask everyone to sit or stand in pairs and talk about how they felt in both roles, as the car and as the driver. If it is a small group, I might then sit in a circle and encourage everyone to share their experiences. This debriefing of the event is very important part of the learning process.

I explain that the goals of cooperative games are:

 1. To work together as a group for both individual and collective development, on the physical, mental and spiritual levels.

2. To serve others by giving support and constructive feedback.

3. To overcome fears that arise in the game, and to gain the courage to confront other fears in one’s life.

4. To work together as a group in attempting what seems impossible, and to feel good about our efforts and successes.

5. To have a lot of fun together.

 I also explain that in addition to safety guidelines for some activities, the rules of these games are:

 1. No one may devalue or discount others or oneself, for every person is unique and beautiful.

2. Anyone may choose not to do any activity at any time.

 I lead more than a dozen different games involving closed eyes, because these activities develop trust and help to overcome fear. I prefer asking players to close their eyes than providing blindfolds, partly because it’s less trouble for me, but in large part because it follows the theme of Project Adventure: “Challenge by choice.” This means that rather than forcing participants to do an activity (the obstacle courses in a military training camp are a good example of that), I invite and encourage them to try it without pressure. If participants choose not to do any activity, that’s fine. But at the beginning I choose the least threatening games that are clearly a lot of fun, to get everyone laughing and to gradually build the group’s trust in me.

‘The Human Knot’ is an initiative challenge that is fairly easy. Ask the participants to form circles of 8-14 people each. “Stand close together, shoulder-to-shoulder, and put your arms out in front of you. Join your hands with the hand of two different people who are on the opposite side of the circle. Don’t take the hand of someone standing beside you. OK? Congratulations, now you have created a human knot. The challenge is, without letting go of the hands you are holding, to untangle your knot. Start.” After some hesitation, members of the group will start to duck under or step over the linked arms of others. Eventually the group should end up with a big circle, or sometimes with two circles. But it sometimes takes 10-15 minutes, and occasionally a knot cannot be unraveled. In that case, the leader can offer the technique of Alexander the Great: to “cut” one link and then immediately reconnect it again after freeing it from the other hands and bodies that were in the way. It is important in this and other initiative challenges that the leader offers a positive perspective to the frustration involved at the difficulty level.

‘The Lap Sit’ is a famous cooperative game. I ask everyone to stand in one circle. “Please arrange yourselves so that someone about the same size as you is on either side of you... We can do many things as a group that we cannot do as individuals, and this game, called Lap Sit, is one of them. At a festival in New Zealand, 1,700 people once did this at the same time. Everyone turn to your right. Step in closer to the center and put your hands on the waist of the person in front of you. In a moment, we are each going to sit on the knees of the person behind us keeping our own knees together as we do. Concentrate on guiding the person in front of you to sit comfortably on your knees, and trust that the person behind you will guide you, too. First we will have a trial run. On the count of three we are going to bend down, touch bottoms to the knees and come right back up to make sure we are all standing closely enough together. Ready? 1, 2, 3...” I then ask them to readjust their positions if necessary. “Now we are going to sit down and then clap our hands... Again...” This activity usually amazes people by what they can do in solidarity. The game was originally called Empress Eugenie’s Circle, because the soldiers of that Austrian empress did this to keep dry while resting in a wet field waiting for a royal visit.

‘Welded Ankles’ is an initiative test of the group’s ability to cooperate and move together. “Stand together side by side in a line. Your feet should be comfortably spaced about equal distance as your shoulder width. Each foot must be touching the foot of the person of each side of you. The problem is to move together, as if your ankles were welded together with the ankle of the person on each side of you. The group has to walk to the finish line about 8 meters away without separating your feet from your partner’s. If I see that happen, the group has to stop and walk back (separately) to the starting line and start over again.” This is surprisingly difficult, but very inspiring when the group together figures out how to solve the problem.

With a challenge like this one, that has more than one possible solution, it is important that the leader not give the answer. Allow the group to discover it. Good facilitation involves encouraging creative ideas and “out of the box” thinking. Experiment, practice, and develop your own cooperative games. The world surely needs it!

References: Quicksilver, by Karl Rohnke and Steve Butler (Project Adventure, PO Box 100, Hamilton, MA 01936, USA). 
Playful Self-Discovery: A Findhorn Foundation Approach to Building Trust in Groups
, by David Earl Platts (Findhorn Press, The Park, Findhorn, Forres IV36 0TZ, Scotland, e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

This article was printed in New Renaissance, Vol. 11, No. 3, issue 38, Autumn, 2002  Copyright © 2002 by Renaissance Universal, all rights reserved.  Posted on the web on November 10,  2002.  Y

ou can reach Dada Maheshvarananda by sending an e-mail to maheshvarananda (at)