Board games, video games you love reveal how you prepare for life and work with others

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LEIPZIG, Germany — Does a person’s taste in sports and video games reveal how they approach the real world? A new study finds sports, board games, and video games prepare people for conflict and cooperation in real life and even keep groups together.

No matter how diverse a group of people is, researchers from Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology discovered how games are an integral way of bonding. Competitive games can help groups where there is conflict, the research shows, while cooperative games can aid team harmony.

In the new study, making use of historical data, researchers identified 25 cultures in the Pacific that kept records of the games they played as they evolved. They looked at the structure of socially hierarchal cultures, how often members of a culture had conflicts with each other, how often cultures had conflicts with other cultures, and how often group members hunted and fished in groups.

The researchers found that the cultures that frequently engage in conflicts with other cultures play more cooperative games than competitive games. On the other hand, cultures with frequent conflicts with their own community members play more competitive games than cooperative games.

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Kids prepare to the real world through their games too

Researchers believe this human behavior can easily translate to modern-day sports, board games, and video games in how we as humans deal with conflict and cooperation. They believe games mimic real-world behavior and may be one avenue in which children learn and practice cultural norms.

“We think that games might reflect aspects of human cultures, such as how competitive and cooperative the cultures are,” says Sarah Leisterer-Peoples in a university release.

“The cultures in our study lived in a broad geographic range, spanning the Pacific Ocean. The cultures were very diverse, but also shared similarities, which allow for a comparison on several aspects of the cultures,” Leisterer-Peoples adds. “We tried to hone in on these differences, while accounting for their similarities.”

“These findings might be non-intuitive at first glance, but make sense in light of theories on the evolution of cooperation in cultural groups,” the study authors continues.

In times of conflict with other cultures, group members have to cooperate with one another and compete with their opponents.

“This is reflected in the kinds of games that are played—games with competing groups,” Leisterer-Peoples explains. “And when there’s a lot of conflict among the members of a group, they tend to play games that are competitive. These findings suggest that the games we play reflect the socio-ecological characteristics of the culture that we are in.”

“Nowadays, store-bought games and video games have overtaken the traditional games that were played in children’s free time,” the study author concludes. “Future studies also need to investigate the specific skills that are learned through games, not just the degree of cooperation in the games.”

The study appears in the journal PLoS ONE.

South West News Service writer Joe Morgan contributed to this report.