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Games as Conflict


Disciplines > Game Design > Games as Conflict

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While games are often viewed as being relaxing entertainment, they often are closely related to conflict, even when we do not realize this.

Many games are played as competitions, which are often treated with great seriousness by the players on either side. Opponents are viewed as enemies. They are denigrated and dehumanized in songs and talk. Deliberate and unsporting violence and threats are used to intimidate and demotivate.

Games can also create conflict as primitive reactions are stimulated when an initially friendly game turns nasty. All it takes is for one person to get too competitive and the other to consider this unfair and so fight back.


Two towns have an ongoing rivalry with some long-running feuds and bitterness. Every year there is a football game between the two towns. It is not uncommon for several players to be carried off the field as real-world enmity is played out.

A mild-mannered person often plays chess and croquet, in which they become vicious in their clinical and unforgiving attack of their opponents.


One of the most primitive purposes for games is practicing for real-world conflict. From tame kittens and puppies to lion and wolf cubs, the young of many species indulge in play fighting that is, in reality, a learning exercise, preparing them for the battles of adulthood. 

As humans, we consider ourselves civilized, yet war is never far away and we are easily provoked into conflict. It is perhaps not a coincidence that many video games are simulations of brutal combat. Even 'nicer' games like chess are based on war and beating the other side.

Conflict often starts when:

  • Needs are threatened and we instinctively fight back (often triggered by fear and anger).
  • Goals are frustrated and it seems necessary to fight in order to achieve them.
  • Values are transgressed and we feel justified in meting out punishment to people we have judged as bad.

Games have value in providing a release for inner conflicts, a safe place where our frustrations about life and relationships can be let out in a way that is largely harmless.

There is concern that as computer games become more realistic, the boundary between the real world and the computerized world can become blurred, with computer violence being replicated in real life. In practice very few people get confused by this and perhaps these are people who are already on the edge and might have turned to violence anyway.

When people turn to conflict it often reflects inner issues that may go back to childhood more than the current situation.  Games that reflect conflict often also appear in everyday situations where we unconsciously play out patterns of behaving that reflect our inner problems. 

See also

Evolution, Values, Needs, Coping Mechanisms, Games


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