Why Play Games?

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As someone who grew up in a youth group and now works with youth in different settings I am a huge fan of games. Alpha’s major must do’s are; food, games, talk/video and discussion. It is part of our DNA and quite honestly it’s not Alpha Youth without a game. I have been quite surprised to hear youth workers and volunteers say, “I am just not a fan of games.” When I ask, “Do you play them?” I get a look I know all too well means, no. This to me is like having Pizza without cheese, youth without games is unnatural!

You may not enjoy games or planning and running them, but the youth are missing what I feel is such an important aspect of youth work. So let me break down why I feel so strongly about this, what games are intended to do and ways to get around you yourself facilitating a game.

1)      Games really do break the ice.

A group playing what we’ve called Jump into the pond lead by Tom.

A group playing what we’ve called Jump into the pond lead by Tom.

They are called icebreakers for a reason. When I go into a new group or even a group I know, they may not know what to expect, who we are and what we’re going to do. A simple game breaks that awkwardness and gets us to a place quicker of feeling relaxed, especially if the game can make you laugh. It can also be key in learning about the young people. When you know a bit more about people, when it comes to discussion it’s easier to ask questions or relate something back to them. You can also quickly learn who in the group is confident, shy, the “class clown” etc.

2)      Games help set an atmosphere

Our leaders getting quite competitive in an old school favourite game of “Numbers” at a Just ASK camp.

Our leaders getting quite competitive in an old school favourite game of “Numbers” at a Just ASK camp.

I know I’ve had groups of youth and when I say, “Right, everyone up, we’re playing a game,” I get moans and groans. “Do we have to?” Is my personal favourite response (I’m joking of course). I will never force a person to play games as nowadays it doesn’t seem to be “cool”, but  I do encourage them to give it a go. More often than not they end up enjoying it, even if the students are sharing in how awful or silly of a game it is. However, let me tell you when myself and other leaders get up excited, competitive and invested. We create an atmosphere, whether we know it or not. That atmosphere is relaxed, fun and silly. With these things comes a sense of trust. If a leader can be silly and engage, you automatically have relationship because you are sharing in something. It is that simple.

3)      Relationship and discussion can come more naturally through games.

At a retreat for a classic boys verses girls team building game where the leaders got quite invested.

At a retreat for a classic boys verses girls team building game where the leaders got quite invested.

I’ve seen a notable difference between the groups who play games and don’t. When people dismiss games and go straight to the “serious” part, the youth often don’t engage as well. Not to say it’s not valid, but it is different. How can you build relationship when you don’t know people’s names? Little things like figuring out teams they support through a game or how competitive someone is are all ways to bond. I’ve had chats with people about little things I’ve learned about them through an icebreaker. I find when we’ve played a proper good game and we’ve had good banter, they tend to be more at ease and open in our small group time. This is when the real discussion happens.

Example: There were some people running Alpha in a school and the teacher and some of the volunteers had said, “The students don’t seem to be engaging or enjoying Alpha this year, I don’t know what the story is.” I had a chat with a few people from the Alpha about how it was being run. Missing factor? Games. It was just this idea that games can be left out because they are perceived as not important.

The next week I joined them to help introduce a game. I was unsure of how it would go down, but the volunteers said how much more open the students were, how much better chat they had and how much fun they had. A simple game can make people feel more comfortable than we think.

4)      Games are not a waste of time!

At an Alpha Gathering where we played “X ball”.

At an Alpha Gathering where we played “X ball”.

At the end of the day, youth are still children and still need to enjoy and play games, in fact so do adults. In a world that is serious, where it is “uncool” to have a laugh in a wholesome or silly game, I think it is so important to be able to have time spent that’s not necessarily an intentional or purposeful. Games are just fun! I really love to play something silly where it’s just so ridiculous everyone is laughing because a lot of times that will be what a young person will remember.

I still remember some mad games my youth group played when I was a teenager and the laughs we had, but wouldn’t be able to tell you what the speaker spoke about that night. I have good relationship with my youth leaders to this day because they played and created games for us that we still laugh about. Those relationships are still strong today and I am so blessed by that. I look to them for advice and guidance and no, the games didn’t magically do that, but the fact I knew I could and can be silly and laugh with these people created a trust that when something came up, I could also be serious with them. Never underestimate a silly game.

5)      Don’t like games? Don’t run them yourself!

An alpha where the leaders took turns to run a game each week.

An alpha where the leaders took turns to run a game each week.

We all have different skills as youth workers. If running a game isn’t yours, find someone who enjoys this aspect of youth work and get them involved. They can run them for and with you. I would encourage you to get involved in some way though, otherwise you’re an observer of the fun. I recently had a teacher get involved in a game and the students absolutely loved it!

Don’t have someone who fits this description? Maybe you could get the youth to run a game. I worked in a place for a bit where each week one young person would be assigned an icebreaker game for the following week. They really got into it and it gave the young people an opportunity to be creative and to lead, which is amazing to witness.

If you think this still wouldn’t work and you have a good bit of time you could have board games hanging about so it’s less pressure. Like twister, giant connect four or jenga. You won’t have to run it, but put a group on each activity with a leader who can explain what is happening.


To summarise, play games because they are worth while and there are many ways to do it. If you are stuck for games you can check out the app, “Tried and tested youth games” or check out games Alpha use and love here.

Written by Shannen Greenhalgh

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