I'm creating a story set in a peaceful society. The society is actually very strict about being peaceful, to the point where they don't even play games involving competition. But at the same time, this society enjoys recreation, and also is very intellectual.

I'm looking for your help to design games (physical or not) that:

  1. aren't competitive, in that players aren't divided into opposing groups, there's no way to rank players, there aren't any consequences if a player plays poorly, etc. To clarify, it's fine if players have different roles in the game. But roles really shouldn't be a substitution for teams, and one role shouldn't be "better" than another.

  2. The game must get progressively difficult depending on the skill level of the players. In a competitive game like soccer or chess, if you want a harder game you look for a better opponent. In other words, competition makes the game difficult. That's not an option here. But the game needs to scale to the ability of the players: otherwise, the people in this intellectual society will get bored.

    If possible, I would prefer to avoid players changing the rules to make the game harder (i.e. because they players are bored, they invent a rule that everyone needs to play blindfolded). I want this game to be a common cultural experience for people in this society, and that doesn't work if everyone is playing a different version of the game.

I found some resources on the internet, such as the Cooperative Sports website. But surprisingly, only one of the ~20 games listed on that webpage meets the requirements of this question.

If necessary, you can use any sort of technology (imaginary or not) to create these games. But the best games will be simple.

EDIT: Just to clarify things some more: I'm trying to avoid puzzling games. I'm looking for games where complexity is generated from simple rules, like soccer or chess.

There have been a lot of answers to this question. However, by my count only four of the roughly 100 games proposed actually meet the requirements of the question. These four games are:

  1. Collaborative singing/dancing/storytelling/art. This was the most popular (correct) answer; several people were able to come up with this idea on their own.

  2. Jenga.

  3. Push Hands.

  4. The incredibly boring ball drag (with a special type of ball).

I apologize in advance for any correct answers that I missed: there were thirty-one answers, and it was hard to read everything.

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    $\begingroup$ I find that rather difficult: a game which players are absolutely certain to beat, whatever the skillset of these players is, is no game (or at least to me). In fact, I can't think of such a game where were you to take all the bad choices you would win anyway. So if you want a game there has to be a goal which players may fail if they perform badly. And if you fail (even if playing cooperatively) that could end up in frustration and anger for some. So I would say game = no absolute peace. (as a whole perfect peace would mean no goal-driven action as they could fail and create frustration) $\endgroup$ – Riff Jul 28 '16 at 14:12
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    $\begingroup$ Isn't this just idea generation, which we agreed was off-topic here? $\endgroup$ – fi12 Jul 28 '16 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ As soon as you have any rules or measurementyou can have competition. Even art is always a competition for affection/popularity. Any social interaction is a competition, trying to be well liked by your friends and a good member of society. - Either you can have no answer, or every game is potentially OK, I think this is too broad/idea generation $\endgroup$ – Falco Jul 29 '16 at 10:12
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    $\begingroup$ "aren't competitive, in that players aren't divided into opposing groups, there's no way to rank players, there aren't any consequences if a player plays poorly, etc." "But the game needs to scale to the ability of the players: " If players have differing levels of ability, they can be ranked by ability. Your requirements are a contradiction. $\endgroup$ – Pharap Jul 29 '16 at 10:27
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    $\begingroup$ If a game doesn't have multiple opposing groups (like football) and doesn't have a way to rank individuals'/groups' performance (like running) then I believe it is not a game, it just an activity. I guess this depends on your philosophical views on the definitions of games, activities, sports, toys, puzzles, etc. This comment is sort of moot, because it doesn't challenge anything other than the word used. $\endgroup$ – Captain Man Jul 29 '16 at 18:57

32 Answers 32


People have pretty much hit on the basic problem with your question already and provided some workarounds. Your problem is you usually need competition to be a game. But for each challenge you can tweak it so that chances for inter-personal conflict are reduced. Your challenge types are:

  • PvP
  • PvE
  • PvS(elf)

Avoiding PvP is one of your goals and as others have stated an algorithm can take the place of the enemy player. An adaptive algorithm or AI that takes into consideration play from the group's previous rounds would be one that got progressively more difficult. One example of an "algorithm" would be the game rules or for an "AI" the GM/DM in an RPG. Establishing either of these turns a PvP into a PvE. PvE is rather simple especially if there's a random factor. You almost never have negative competition between players unless there's a scoring metric that applies to all of them.

For example if your playing a game where you're each a collector and you get a point for collecting an item of your own type but none for collecting another players'. If you had each player score individually it would be competitive but if you had the team score be the sum or the fact that every collector found something, then you have a game where everyone wants to help other players find their collectable because it increases team score/win. The only score is if the team wins or not and/or by how much. You could have competition between larger groups but that's a different game at that point (you have a different scoring system). If you kept the collaborative scoring of the smaller groups it just becomes a larger game.

Another example is a "Validating" game. There's a second win condition that can only be met by losing so both players win, but in different ways. Take a war simulation in an army. The winner wins and the loser proves a point that helps the team (they're all on team army). The point if the enemy is the loser is we're doing a good job we think. The point if the team is the loser is that we have things we need to fix together.

Ways to make PvP non-competitive in a sense: make scores binary (if you add a factor to ensure winning this results in scores of 1:1), make team score a composite of personal scores (Collaborative), make scores for each player orthogonal (PvS), make competition game rules or AI (PvE), have a orthogonal secondary goal that is met only by losing ("Validating"), have a never-ending PvP game (No Score Game).

PvE has only the problem of losing. We can transform any such problem rather easily though. If the team would lose start a "Fate Game". This saves the player from their immediate doom at the cost of time. For example: start a new game that is slightly easier. Fate Games can have Fate Games inside themselves. Eventually your chance of losing reaches 0 and you clear the loss in the main game. The better you are as a team the quicker the game. There are of course other ways to transform a game with losses into one without losses.

PvS is also in the category of creative games. PvS are "non-competitive" because they're self-competitive by definition. Your goal or your team's goal is to do something they couldn't have done before. Either yourself overcoming your expectations or the group outperforming an individual. Think tanks and Exquisite corpse fall into this category. Once again, as long as your playing the base PvS game nobody loses. Creative games can also be outside of this category; Mao, Nomic, Mornington Crescent, and 1000 Blank White Cards are in general PvP creative games. Those types of games by their very nature of modification are only valid if there are "super-rules" which say everyone must win. The challenge then becomes ensuring this.

Creative games are a wild card, that in general can be solved by adding your conditions as super-rules.

To meet your goals the game only needs to get harder which is something that, if culturally understood, is inevitable. If you're guaranteed a win given enough time then the goal is to have fun. A narrow (and yet broad) definition of fun is a challenge that is surmountable. For a really narrow look at this definition: The more the challenge, the more the sense of accomplishment. The more surmountable, the quicker you get the reward. Goal is to minimize time and maximize challenge. So if the reason everyone is playing is to have fun it makes sense that they'd make the game harder in a PvS. You could even have an assigned antagonist. You would think their goal would be to win, but if the super-rule is everyone must win they have the challenging task of making the game winnable but as hard as possible. So their unspoken win condition is "lose, but make it a show". In a PvE you can evolve the game based on player performance. And in a PvP you just make it into a PvE or PvS (or make it never end).

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  • $\begingroup$ I came up with the concept for orthogonal win conditions and then when looking for an example could only come up with the "Validating" war game. Does anyone have a better name for that abstract concept? I don't know if "Validating" is general enough. $\endgroup$ – Black Jul 31 '16 at 8:33
  • $\begingroup$ @OP Personally I think the hardest intellectual PvE game you can find with the "Fate Game" rule added is probably your best bet. Either that or something like Nomic with a super-rule. $\endgroup$ – Black Jul 31 '16 at 8:55
  • $\begingroup$ I interpreted "there aren't any consequences if a player plays poorly" as "No losing" since there's not much point in playing a game you're guaranteed to lose (unless you're shooting for a "secondary" goal like how long until death). $\endgroup$ – Black Jul 31 '16 at 8:59

Cooperative groups will still have to overcome problems: manage a drought, find a cure for a disease, etc.

Similarly, cooperative games don't have to be free of competition, conflict, and opposition. There can even be consequences, if the group plays poorly.

I own a board game where all players have to work together to reach a treasure before the pirates get it. The odds for the pirates and the group are even, and half of the time the group looses its battle. The point of the game is that all players win or loose together. It is a very simple game and doesn't meet your requirements, but it shows how a cooperative game can be competitive, once you allow yourself to think of the competitor as being some force outside of the group and that that force doesn't have to be human (or even alive).

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