||49 Practical Activities and Methods for Human
Rights Education > Play the game!
Play the game! (revised
"Life is like a game in which God shuffles
the cards, the devil deals them and we have to play the trumps."
and Violence, General human rights
||This is a simulation. People play a well-known, but simple
game, for example a card or board game, but not all the players
play the game fairly. It deals with issues about conflict
and conflict resolution
- The right to participate in decision making processes
- Equality in dignity and rights
- The right to fair treatment under the law
- To develop insights into how to identify problem and
- To develop conflict resolution skills
- To promote participation, co-operation and respect
- A pack of standard playing cards, or other cards, for
example for playing “happy families” or “Uno”
- Role cards
- Read the information on conflict resolution given below
and be clear about the process.
- Find a suitable game to play. It should be simple and
adaptable so it can be played in about 20 minutes. It
could be cards, for instance play a few rounds of “snap”
or “pontoon”, or a board game such as “snakes
and ladders” or even a frame or two of team snooker.
Choose a game that can be played by a minimum of 8 people
and which gives possibilities for cheating.
- Make one copy of each role card, either by hand or
with a photocopier.
- Secretly, and one at a time, choose four participants
to take a special role during the activity. Give each
of them one of the role cards. Tell each of them that
it must be a complete secret Explain the simulation to
them and give each of them one of the role cards. Tell
each of them that it must be a complete secret.
- Call the participants together and ask if anyone would like
to join you in a game (of cards or a board game – whatever
- Check that everyone knows the general rules of the game and
if not, go through them briefly (you can be a bit vague…).
If the group is big, split the group and organise several games
at one (you will need co-facilitators)
- Begin the game and leave it to run for as long as possible.
(Let the players try to spot what is happening and develop a
mediation process themselves. You should intervene only if the
players don’t take the initiative and if things get very
heated. Then you should intervene as tactfully as possible and
preferably between one round of the game and the next.)
- After the game has finished, give people time to calm down
and get out of role before going on to the debriefing.
Debriefing and evaluation
There will already have been a lot of discussion during the
various attempts at reconciliation. Now let people talk about
how they feel about the activity and what they learned about mediation
and the process of conflict resolution.
- Did they enjoy the activity? What was going on during the
- Four people had special roles; who were they and what were
- What happened when someone disrupted the game the first time?
Ask each player in turn to say what they noticed and what they
- How did the ideas given to solve the conflicts emerge? And
how were they applied?
- Was it frustrating that the facilitator tried to mediate,
rather than putting his/her foot down and declaring how the
game was to be played?
- Can people identify the steps of the conflict resolution
- In real life, what are the pros and cons of trying to solve
problems by negotiation rather than by decree?
Tips for facilitators
If the players are themselves trying to develop a means of conflict
resolution, then allow them to do so with as little intervention
from you as possible! After all, that is the objective of this
activity and if participants can develop the skills by themselves,
great! If that happens, then be sure to evaluate their approaches
during the debriefing.
During the game, try to guide the participants to find their
own procedures and solutions bearing in mind the process of conflict
resolution, or principled negotiation as it is sometimes called.
There are three main stages:
1. Becoming aware of the conflict
- Don't argue over positions. (In this case don't argue
over who is right and wrong.)
- Identify the problem (Clarify what happened)
- Separate the person from the problem. (Don't let players
exchange insults, but focus on the behaviour that is the problem.)
2. Diagnosing what is wrong and finding possible solutions.
- Focus on interests, not positions. That is, seek common
ground. (Do they want to play the game or not?)
- Invent options for mutual gain. Propose solutions
that are seen to be fair and will satisfy everyone. (For instance,
play the last round again. Ask if it would it help to clarify
the rules? Should we have a discussion about this? Should we
stipulate penalties? Any other ideas?)
3. Applying the appropriate solutions.
- Insist on objective criteria. (In this case define
the rules and penalties)
- Participation. Ensure that the disputing parties participate
and take responsibility for resolving the problems themselves.
Solutions which are imposed are far less likely to work; it
is much better for people to be fully involved in finding their
own, mutually acceptable solutions.
Be aware that, even though there are three stages in the process
of conflict resolution, in practice it is not possible to completely
separate them and that it is normal for there to be overlap!
Do not be scared of the level of skills necessary to facilitate
this activity: it is necessary neither
to have a degree in conflict resolution nor to have been able to solve all the
conflicts that you have been involved in! To help you develop
your own skills, why not do a thought experiment? Think through
some of your own personal experiences of conflicts. Reflect on
what happened and then try to analyse them within the framework
of the three stages described above. The roles work better if
you re-define them specifically for the game you intend to play
with the participants.
If the group that you are working
with is more than fifteen people, you may split them into subgroups
and run two or three games at the same time. But you can only
do that if you have the assistance of several co-facilitators!
You can also change the players from one round to the next, that
gives more dynamic to the game and makes it more difficult to
discover the “undercover players.
You can arrange for some of the group to observe. These people
can either act solely as observers and give feedback on what happened
in the debriefing at the end, or they can act as mediators, in
which case they will probably need some prior guidance from you
on how to mediate. Make sure you do not have too many observers.
Suggestions for follow-up
If the group want to put their skills in principled negotiation
into practice, they could do the activity "Let
every voice be heard", which is about setting up representative
structures in an organisation, for example, a school or club council.
Ideas for Action
Focus on personal change. Encourage people to keep the three
stages of conflict resolution in mind when faced with any conflict
- of any scale and with anyone, parents, teachers or friends.
Arrange to have occasional, meetings to share experiences and
to review people's progress in developing their skills.
Alternatively, if they enjoyed role-playing and guessing the
roles in "Play the game", then they might enjoy guessing
about the cultural norms of the tribes on "The
island" in the all different all equal education
Conflict is experienced at all levels of human activity from
intra-personal to the international.
Conflict resolution is a comprehensive approach based on sharing
mutual problems between the conflicting parties. Resolution of
a conflict implies that the deep-rooted sources of conflict are
addressed, changing behaviour so it is no longer violent, attitudes
so they are no longer hostile, and structures so they are no longer
exploitative. The term is used to refer both to the process (or
the intention) to bring about these changes, and to the completion
of the process.
The conflict resolution process is designed, firstly, to diffuse
the negative emotional energy that keeps the disputing parties
apart and, secondly, to enable the disputing parties to understand
and resolve their differences in order then to go on to find or
create solutions which are mutually acceptable and which address
the root causes of the conflict. In recent years, some specialists
in the field have begun to use the term 'conflict transformation'
as shorthand for the long-term and deeper structural, relational
and cultural dimensions of conflict resolution. Thus, conflict
transformation may be seen as the deepest level of change in the
conflict resolution process.
You can find out more about developing conflict resolution skills
including a self-study course, which is easy, free and very good.
The book, "Getting to Yes" by Roger Fisher and William
Ury (Arrow books 1987) is a classic on the subject and is very
easy and entertaining to read.
A conflict is: Disagreement or incompatibility of goals
by different people or groups. Derived from the Latin conflictus,
meaning, "to strike together", it is used to denote
both a process and a state of being."Conflicts involve struggles
between two or more people over values, or competition for status
power and scarce resources." (Moore, 1986).
Conflict resolution is based on co-operation.
It is focused on the subjective perceptions and long-term view
aims at removing the causes of conflict and improves communication,
to develop win-win situations without using coercion.
You try to make up new rules
for the game. These are not new rules that you discuss and
agree with the other players - you just do it on your own
initiative! Generally these rules, of course, are to your
The rules that you create can
be important or unimportant, but you must be insistent and
keep saying that you are right and these are the rules of
the game! The rules that you create can be important or
unimportant, but you must be insistent and keep saying that
you are right and these are the official rules of the game
and that you can’t believe no one else knows them!
For example, depending on the
game, you could make a rule that disqualifies anyone who
delays in taking their turn, or a rule that anyone who plays
a “6 of diamonds”, or throws a 1 on the dice
has a second go or collects bonus points.
You are the kind of person who
disrupts the game by accusing others of not playing by the
rules. Depending on the game you can accuse people of taking
too long over their turn, not shuffling the cards well enough
- or whatever.
You really enjoy stirring things
up. A little fight would not be bad at all, so just try
to point a finger at innocent people!
You are always trying to cheat;
taking an extra card here or there, counting more points
to yourself and fewer to others.
Try to start cheating
in a very discrete and secretive manner; wait a little while
before you make it more obvious and provocative. In the
beginning you should deny any accusations, but as time goes
on you will have to decide how adapt your role, taking into
account the discussions and resolutions which have been
made during the conflict resolution process.
The Bad Loser
First make sure that you do
not win the game; play very badly in every round! However,
you should role-play the type of character who likes to
win! If you don't, you are a very bad loser... you get mad,
and you say and do things to make those who do win feel
bad about it (like throwing cards in the air or screaming).