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Make Games, Not War

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"Nation, the Olympics have always been about one thing for me. Fighting our enemies in a sports themed proxy war."
Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Reportnote 

Some sort of competitive sport or game is used in lieu of warfare, in order to settle disputes with less bloodshed. Most examples of this trope DO usually end up being Blood Sports - less bloodshed doesn't mean no bloodshed, after all. Note, however, that not all examples of this trope are Blood Sports, and not all Blood Sports exemplify this trope, so it is not simply a sub-trope. International examples usually overlap with International Showdown by Proxy.


Sometimes, the protagonist-slash-game-player is one of the people in the dispute, but far more often, the protagonist is merely a pawn, being forced to play games on someone else's behalf.

Compare Duels Decide Everything, where those involved can't even imagine a way of conflict resolution that doesn't involve the game. See also War Has Never Been So Much Fun.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Mobile Fighter G Gundam: The premise was that each nation would enter a champion in the Gundam Fight Tournament every four years. Whichever nation won would end up being the ruler of the world until the next competition comes around to eliminate the need for war. Basically whoever gets the most gold in the Olympics becomes a world superpower temporarily. Of course there was some deconstruction in how the tournament destroyed a lot of the environment, and endangered the lives of civilians anywhere but mostly the show was about Refuge in Audacity of the dozens of Hot-Blooded Captain Ethnic fighters.
  • One episode of Kino's Journey has Kino encountering a country that used to be at war with its neighbor before someone proposed they resolve their differences through friendly competition. Horrifyingly subverted when it turns out their competition involves slaughtering the indigenous people living on the border between them.
  • Anime short series Starship Girl Yamamoto Yohko featured this as the basic premise of the plot. In one of the last episodes, the main protagonist even makes a speech endorsing the concept as she mercifully chooses NOT to kill her (now bitter) opponent for this very reason.
  • In Dog Days, we have a possible inversion in that war is a game, in and of itself. The countries maintain perfectly friendly relationships, and go to war for fun and profit. Also, defeated units either turn into cute furballs or, in the case of major players, lose articles of clothing. This is facilitated by special areas protected by magic fields that render all damage non-lethal to the inhabitants: They can go at each other with real weapons and Wave-Motion Gun-class magic attacks, and nobody gets hurt.
  • Girls und Panzer plays with it. In it, what would typically be war, namely tank-on-tank combat, is instead a sport that promises to make girls into proper young ladies. It hasn't prevented any wars however, and seems to be a high school sport, like baseball.
  • No Game No Life has, as its premise, the newly-minted deity of Disboard, Tet, outlaw all forms of violence in the wake of a massive war that destroyed much of his/her race, the Old Deus, instead encouraging its peoples to solve conflicts through games. However, the sixteen Exceeds, as the sentient races are called, still consider the games a new way to express enduring racial rifts and territorial squabbles. When Sora and Shiro, stepsiblings and gamers from Earth, arrived at Disboard, they proceeded to not only unify the races (in their own bid to face Tet), but also teach to them the true meaning of the last of the Ten Pledges made by Tet — for all the races to simply enjoy the games as (s)he wanted them to.

    Comic Books 
  • In The Phantom, the jungle tribes used to have frequent wars to settle who was top dog, but since they accepted the Phantom's Peace they save it for an annual sporting event called the Jungle Olympics. The events aren't blood sports, because the Phantom wouldn't stand for that, but the tribes have tweaked them over the years to make them more appropriate for Proud Warrior Race Guys to participate in — the marathon is run through predator-infested jungle, for example, and the long-jump has a minimum distance enforced by setting the first stretch with spikes and/or hot coals.
  • An early Judge Dredd story involved Blood Sport between American and Soviet judges, televised and all.

    Fan Works 
  • In Incarnation of Legends, Hachiman built the Arena in Sekigahara for "proper stress relief", allowing anyone itching for a fight to find one in a controlled setting where people can come to watch instead of attacking each other in the street.

  • The 1975 film Rollerball opens with the narrator explaining, "In the not too distant future, wars will no longer exist. But there will be Rollerball."
  • Future Sport also uses the titular sport as an alternative to gang warfare, with the hero offering it as an alternative to a world war that is about to start for ownership of the Hawaiian Islands. Of course, some countries decide to cheat...
  • Robot Jox, in which gladiatorial duels between piloted war machines substitute for actual war. Justified in that the bouts are considered demonstrations of each side's capabilities if they were ever actually used in war, with the loser knowing they'd have been outclassed anyway.
  • In Early Man a caveman village loses their land to a Bronze Age empire, and tries to win it back in a football game.
  • The ending of Spies Like Us has an American and Soviet politician playing Trivial Persuit together. If someone whiffs their question, they lose a real missile silo, represented by markers on a Risk board.

  • Piers Anthony's Apprentice Adept trilogy has The Game, where disputes between the Citizens are settled by wagering on games that are played by Serfs. As Serfs are considered quite valuable, and care is taken not to endanger them unduly, this is one of the few non-Blood Sport examples of this trope.
  • The Fall of Colossus by D.F. Jones. After Colossus takes over the world war is replaced by the Sea War Game, where replicas of World War I dreadnoughts battle each other for viewing audiences.
  • Kiln People takes place in a future where people can copy their consciousness into a disposable body for any dangerous task. Wars are still fought, but as a Blood Sport where no-one dies. However there are actual stakes; when it looks like a country is going to lose one of these wargames, it's mentioned that they'll be rationing their water next year.
  • The kingdom of Dal Perivor in The Malloreon settles arguments between nobles by holding tournaments. It's not unheard of for two nobles to decide they want to have a tournament and colluding to come up with a "disagreement" to justify it.
  • In Myth Directions, the city-states of "Ta-hoe" and "Veygus" used to fight all the time, but at the time of the novel they have formalized their rivalry into a sporting competition, once every N years, with rulership of the dimension at stake. The game is sort of like American football, but the only formal rule is "No edged weapons." This has been going on long enough that the natives have distinct "player" and "fan" castes that the heroes initially mistake for separate species, although they insist the players are just big guys in really good shape.
  • In Epic by Conor Kostick, everyone on New Earth participates in an immersive MMO called Epic. In addition to the game dictating one's station in life - for example, do well in it as a student and you get the chance to go to university - player vs player combat is used to settle disputes and grievances, as violence is banned on New Earth.
  • The French short story "Du pain et des jeux" by Bernard Werber (literally bread and games) takes place in a future where war has been replaced by a soccer game (crossed with an obstacle course from hell and enhanced with things like jetpacks and omnipresent cameras, broadcast to the entire world). The players are allowed to kill each other, and since teams are now mixed-gender, don't hesitate to seduce opponents. At the end of the World Cup, funeral homes get together to sponsor the next one.
  • Inverted with Brockian Ultra Cricket in Life, the Universe and Everything, a senselessly violent sport where feuds between competing teams take the form of near-constant warfare over interpreting the unfathomably complicated rules. "This is all for the best," the Guide says, "because in the long run a good solid war is less psychologically damaging than a protracted game of Brockian Ultra Cricket."
  • Suggested in Jingo by Lord Vetinari once he notices how well Carrot's football game has worked to pacify the troops of both armies. Sadly, it doesn't happen again, except in Unseen Academicals, where the problem is that football IS war and it needs to be made more civilized for the good of the city.
  • In Time Wars, disputes between nations are settled by a series of 'war games' conducted by representatives of the nations militaries who are sent back in time to conduct these games during historical battles. The games are judged and scored by the Referee Corps, who decide upon the winner.

    Live Action Television 
  • Blake's 7. In "Death Watch", two planetary systems routinely wage war via Combat by Champion, with the combatants implanted with microsensors so the audience can experience what they feel. Although it's a Blood Sport for the audience, the governments concerned regard it as Serious Business as the losing side has to make the same repatriations as if they'd lost a real war.
  • An episode of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys suggests that the original Olympics started as a way to peacefully settle disputes.

    Tabletop Games 
  • During the Clan Invasion in Battletech, the Draconis Combine world of Sheliak attempted to defend their world with a game of American Football since they had no military, hoping that The Clans didn't know how to play the game and would lose through fouls. Clan Ghost Bear, who very much knew how the game was played, took them up on the challenge and bid a binary of Elemental Super Soldiers as their team. The result was the cleanest takeover of any world during the Clan Invasion, as well as the cleanest game of American Football ever played on Sheliak: The Clanners considered getting a personal foul a stain on their honour and as a result refused to get rough.
  • Games Workshop's Blood Bowl is set in an alternate version of the Warhammer universe, where all conflicts are settled on the Blood Bowl pitch. Blood Bowl is a strange mix of Rugby and American Football, where even lethal weapons like chainsaws are merely frowned upon.
  • The backstory in Anima: Beyond Fantasy states that, during the good days of the Empire of Abel, this was the way to resolve large conflicts between principalities, with wars arbitrated by the Empire following very strict rules that ensured no damage to civilians or innecesary bloodshed.

  • Transformers: Generation 1: One of Eject's major character points is that he wants to do this after being exposed to Earth sports. He thinks that competitive sport could serve as a replacement for war and bloody gladiatorial combats on Cybertron, by serving as a less harmful way to channel aggression and resolve disputes.
  • In BIONICLE, the world of Bara Magna instituted a (heavily-regulated and not bloody) Gladiator Games system to settle disputes; the justification being that Combat by Champion is a lot less taxing on already-scarce resources than equipping entire armies. Then it turned out the Rock Tribe had the resources to equip an entire army, and they were tired of playing gladiator games.

    Video Games 
  • Unreal Tournament somewhat subverts this trope, since the players are full-fledged soldiers, they're just fighting small-scale wars with handfuls of soldiers in carefully constructed battle arenas, rather than legions of soldiers fighting on the contested turf.
  • Custom Robo has a the titular Robo Battles supplant the need of actual weapons, which is especially noted in the Nintendo GameCube version. This initially seems incredibly strange and quite silly until it is revealed that the only reason that they managed to beat Rahu, the being who almost demolished humanity, was to trap it in a a child's toy (a robo). Following this, the robos were used as a means to train people to defend themselves from such an end, even if they were the cataclysm was then wiped from memory.
  • The manual to Mutant League Football gives the backstory that the violent sports tournaments are used as a substitute for wars between nations, the mutants having learned from the humans who wiped themselves out in a world war.
  • One archeological event chain you can find in Stellaris reveals that long ago there were two stellar empires who settled disputes by sending one mech each to an asteroid and having them duel in lieu of having costly wars. The dig site itself is the chosen asteroid battlefield where an unusually high concentration of mechanical warform remains are found.

    Web Comics 
  • Manly Guys Doing Manly Things has warfare in the future replaced with having a small group of soldiers look so badass that the opposing country would lose. This included things like Commander Badass having his name changed to Commander Badass, uniforms replaced with red/black biker gear, and cybernetic limbs. He drew the line at the last one.

    Real Life 
  • Researchers speculate that the the Mesoamerican Ballgame may have served as a proxy for war. Of course, the game also came to be associated with Human Sacrifice, possibly of the winning/losing team and/or their captain.
  • According to a legend, when chess' inventor taught the game to an Indian prince and the latter asked what he would like as a reward, the old wiseman told him that he had lost his entire family to wars, so his wish is that from that moment on, all battles would only be fought on the chessboard.


Video Example(s):


The Great Muppet Caper

The climax of the film, has the Muppets playing keep away with the Baseball Diamond, from Nicky and his gang, which soon turns into a full on baseball game, with Scooter selling popcorn, the rats acting as fans and Louis Kazager doing commentary.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / MakeGamesNotWar

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