Games are the universal language between adults and students. Games grant people an opportunity to step out of their routine to show a different side of themselves. Here’s the problem with games, and that is coming up with them. We’ve all witnessed incredible games before, and we’ve also seen those games which flopped upon arrival.
A good game makes your environment feel welcoming and engaging, and a lousy game seems to put an awkward tone onto your service. Here's the tricky part though, how do you come up with good games? I’ve met a large number of youth pastors who are incredibly gifted at youth ministry, and yet they struggle with recreation and games. If that’s you, please fear no more. We want to give you a four-step process to never struggle with games again.
You see, the odds are you have already played your next successful game in ministry. You need to be taught how to improve it.
We are going to do this process twice: once here in the article, and once in the video/podcast. This will give you two free games to start using today!
Step 1: Think of a Game You Love/Loved to Play
This is hopefully the second most natural thing you have to do on the entire list, but it does come first. I think a significant problem we run into with games comes when we try to reinvent the wheel. We don't' need to come up with entirely new games all the time. Why not start with something we already know is a win?
My hope is that you have played at least one game in your life which you enjoyed. This can be a board game or a sport. It doesn’t matter the game, is it fun? When you can answer this question about the game being fun, you have your base. You can use this same principle but place your students in place of you. What is the game they love/enjoy playing? Are they a football centered crowd, do they love the game of Uno, maybe they are a baseball group? Once you find your game, this will lay the foundation for the rest of the process.
EXAMPLE: I love to play the game Yahtzee. It was a staple dice game for my family growing up, and we would play it all the time.
Step 2:List Out All The Processes Used to Play the Game
Roll the dice, pick up a piece, and move it. Score a point. Draw a card. These are just a few examples of what it takes to play a particular game. For the second part of our process, which is the easiest part, you are going to write out everything it takes to play the game. You won't need to be creative here at all. You want to write out each step as monotonously as possible.
It is essential to be thorough because this will have a significant impact on the rest of the process.
EXAMPLE: To play the game of Yahtzee
1. Pick up the Dice
2. Roll the Dice
3. Assess the Dice and Reroll a Desired Amount
4. Choose What to Mark Based on Final Roll with Scoresheet
5. Pass Dice to Next Player
Step 3: Pick 2 Which Are Boring
Remember, you are reinventing a game you have already played. When you played the game in the past, what have been some of the boring parts for you? You've got a list of everything that happens in a standard version of your game. Start this step by examining the list and picking a few which could be modified.
There are some ideas or parts which are essential. It’s hard to change those parts because they hold the identity of the game. A game you might have seen circulating on the internet the past few years is Tic Tac Toe Relays. How do we modify the game of tic tac toe? We change the placing action and turn order.
EXAMPLE: For our modified game of Yahtzee, a visible bland part to me is how you pick up the dice. Nothing is exciting about reaching over and picking up a collection of dice. Once we identify this step, our mind can start to imagine changing it. Notice this step is something you might overlook if you did not create a list of steps. These little steps can be precisely what's needed to modify your next big game.
The second modification is where our game of Yahtzee will look different while still retaining the identity of the game. Sometimes we can change what appears to be an essential piece by looking at the goal of the step. In Yahtzee, why do we roll dice? This step generates a set of random numbers. Now ask, do we have to use a dice to do this? No! Once we understand the heart of the step, we can then open up our minds to the possibilities in front of us. The second step we will modify is merely rolling the dice, …which may not even be dice at all.
Step 4: Make Them Bigger/Different
Now here comes the tough part. You need time between steps three and four. It's hard to come up with creative solutions when you are crunched for time, so let the two steps you selected sit in your subconscious for a little bit. You will be amazed by how you see those two steps in other areas of your life as you go throughout your day. I'll mention this a bit more when I jump into our example for closing out reimagined Yahtzee.
This is the hardest part, but you aren’t alone for inspiration. Think about other games you enjoy! Combine two pieces from other games and put them together. I was on a cruise ship when I saw basketball and connect four be combined for the first time. People would shoot colored basketballs into a giant contraption that resembled connect four. As the basketballs fell into their slots, people needed athletic ability combined with their strategic connect four minds.
For this step, consider changing the pieces needed first. Are you using small pieces in the original game? Why not make the pieces the size of small children? There is a resurgence of Jenga in youth groups all over the nation, and it's not standard Jenga. It's Jenga with 2x4's cut into pieces!
We are in youth ministry, and our games can always be bigger!
EXAMPLE: While I was writing this article, I took the night off after finishing step three. After all, I can't tell you this method works if I don't practice it! Remember, the time between these two steps is completely acceptable.
The first step we decided to modify was picking up the dice. How are we going to do this? By placing the dice on the opposite side of the room or even spreading the dice out, we create variety. To pick up the dice, we will have them run over to the dice, or we can also limit how they pick up those objects. Last night I ate at one of my favorite restaurants, Chipotle. As I ate my bowl, I thought about eating this meal without a fork. How would I eat this delicious meal if I wasn't allowed to use my fork? That's when our primary method hit me. Our participants will use a giant pair of chopsticks made out of broomsticks or crutches! This should make it especially fun while they carry the dice back to us.
The second step we chose to modify was rolling the dice. I don't love the idea of students throwing things via the giant chopsticks, so for safety reasons, I would allow students to run from one side of the room or field to the other, bringing you the dice. Our game will not be rolling dice, though; they will be using big rubber play balls. After Chipotle, I went to Wally World, or as some say Wal-Mart. I'm a big kid at heart, so even at twenty-seven, I still head to the toys section for inspiration. I rounded the corner, and the inspiration was waiting in front of me. The big PVC corral with rubber bands keeping those pastel-colored balls in place screamed Yahtzee! We will take the numbers 1-6 and write them in a large font all over the ball.
Once our runners arrive back with the ball they picked up with chopsticks, we'll have another player take the ball and throw it in the air. A third teammate will catch the ball, and wherever their hand left-hand lands on the ball will be the number we keep.
This takes the action of rolling a dice, involves three people, and makes it much more substantial! The rest of our Yahtzee game will play as usual!
The beauty of this four-step method is you can use it over and over again. You can use this method to help create games for your next retreat weekend, or you can use it for a stage game on Wednesday night! At YM360, one of our values is that we crush hassles. We don’t want games to be a hassle for you, and we hope this helps get you off to a great start on your next game time!
What you do matters, and if we can ever help with your game struggles, please feel free to reach out! We would also love to hear about your favorite games in the comments below!