I’ve long wondered why I didn’t mind sports but I hate games (icebreakers, party games, that sort of thing). The other day I was talking about it with a colleague and then it hit me: sports generally reward the winners, party games mostly aim to punish the losers.
When you play a sport, you’re trying to win. When you play a party game, most of the time you’re trying really hard not to lose. There’s a world of difference there.
Since my teenage years, I’ve never been totally comfortable with game forfeits. I find my laughter at the “funny” things people are forced to do as punishment decreasing every year. Ha-ha, ok, funny, but we didn’t need to do this, I think. I’ve always hated it when people call me “unsporting” for not wanting or liking to play games. But it’s hard to explain to people that “I don’t mind losing, but I don’t want to be humiliated or embarrassed in public.” It’s often said that you should praise people in public but criticise in private. The basic idea behind that is that as far as possible, you don’t want to embarrass people or turn them off (from listening to you). It’s also just basic human psychology. So I don’t see why it has to be the reverse with things like party games.
“Motivation through rewards, not fear” is entirely preferable to me and I try to apply that with my students. (The sad thing is, I often have to use the “if you don’t do XYZ, marks will be deducted” simply because 90% of them don’t bother to read the assignment briefs and won’t fulfill requirements unless threatened with loss of marks.) I don’t like to punish people in class. If you get an answer wrong, nothing happens to you. I even try not to shoot down answers in class – especially those that voluntarily attempted it – with a harsh “no, that’s wrong.” If any part of the answer is somewhat right, I’ll point it out. The last thing I want is for the students to be afraid to try to answer because they don’t want to be embarrassed in class. Do unto others as you would have them do to you. I always hated being embarrassed in public so why would I want to inflict that on other people when I have control of the situation?
As it is literally the goal of most party games to single someone out for a punishment, it’s no wonder that I detest them. The words “we’ll be playing games later” are enough to send me running. They trigger a “fight or flight” instinct in me and as I’m no fighter, I start desperately looking for ways out or wondering if I can ensconce myself in the washroom the entire time. Obviously I can’t do either one so the result is me being on edge throughout the entire game(s), and instead of relaxing me it just makes me tense up.
But I will happily do something like bowling – even though my track record with that is extremely erratic (I’ve had high-scoring games but more often I end up with about 50-something points out of the possible 300. haha). Why? Because even if I lose, even if my score is the worst of the group, nothing will happen to me. I just have a bad score. There’s no “dance around on one foot” or “imitate an elephant”-type of stuff involved.