Game with a Purpose




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by Rick Seymour

The aphorism "Scouting is a Game with a Purpose" is often attributed to Lord Baden-Powell, but it makes its first appearance in the Boy Scouts of America's third edition of Handbook for Scoutmasters in 1936, written by William "Green Bar Bill" Hillcourt. 

The rough idea of Scouting as a purposeful game is introduced in "Chat 2," "The Game of Scouting," on page 24 under the heading "Scouting in a Nutshell:" 

Here, then, is Scouting in a nutshell: A game for boys under the leadership of boys with the wise guidance and counsel of a grown-up who has still the enthusiasm of youth in him. A purposeful game, but a game just the same, a game that develops character by practice, that trains for citizenship--through experience in the out-of-doors [emphasis in the original]. 

This was Hillcourt's paraphrase of Baden-Powell's actual "game of Scouting" quote from Aids to Scoutmastership:

SCOUTING IS A GAME for boys, under the leadership of boys, in which elder brothers can give their younger brothers healthy environment and encourage them to healthy activities such as will help them to develop CITIZENSHIP [emphasis in the original].

The BSA's purposeful game idea was then refined as one of the "Ten Essentials of Scoutmastership" on page 125: "A realization that to the boys Scouting is a game--to you, a game with a purpose: Character building and Citizenship training" (caps in original, note that at the time there were only two BSA "Aims of Scouting"). 

Scouting_Game_3rd_ed_100.jpg (149456 bytes)
Handbook for Scoutmasters, third edition

In the Introduction of the fourth and fifth editions of Handbook for Scoutmasters, under "Scouting is a Game" on page 12 he writes: 

Yes, to a boy Scouting is a game--a wonderful game, full of play and full of laughter, keeping him busy, keeping him happy. Scouting is 'learning by doing' things that are enjoyable--exciting things! 

That's the strength of Scouting! A boy becomes a Scout for the sheer joy there is in it. 

To you and me Scouting is a game, also--but it is more than game of fun. To us, it is a game with a purpose--the purpose of helping boy to become men by training them for citizenship. 

Training for citizenship--that's the aim of Scouting [emphasis in original].

Scouting_Game_5th_ed_33.jpg (174819 bytes)
Handbook for Scoutmasters
, fifth edition

Note that above, Hillcourt departs from the BSA's idea of two "Aims of Scouting" and uses Baden-Powell's single aim of Citizenship. On the page facing this, (page 13) are four photographs of Scouts practicing the four methods of the game itself, labeled: "Character," "Health and Strength," "Handcraft and Skill," and "Service to Others." all under the heading "Scouting is a Game with a Purpose." 

Thus, the shortened "Scouting is a Game with a Purpose," appears first as a graphics caption, based on the "Scouting is a game" and "a game with a purpose" phrases that appear in bold type on the previous (facing) page. 

Perhaps this streamlined version makes for a more memorable aphorism, but some view it as a mistake. Without the distinction that to the boys Scouting is a game, BUT TO US it is a game with a purpose, the phrase lends itself too easily to the practice of making the "game" less important than the "purpose," resulting in the many shortcuts that typify "modern" Scouting.






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Peer- Level Topic Links:
[ Game with a Purpose ] Spirit Scavenger Hunt ] Scout Law History ] Learning Scout Law ] Woodcraft Laws ] B-P Law & Promise ] B-P Scout Motto ] B-P Salute Sign Badge ] Timberwolf Promise & Law ] Otter Promise & Law ] Traditional Variations ] The Order of Nature ] Boy Pioneers Constitution ] Scoutmaster's Benediction ] BSA as Religious Org ] Good Deeds ] What is a Boy Scout? ] A Scout is Reverent: ] When Others Say "God" ] On Patriotism ] Flag History & Care ] Value of Little Customs ] B-P & Nature Knowledge ] Religion of Backwoods ] Baden-Powell on Religion ] B-P Fundamental Ethics ] Letters to a PL ] Pantheism ] Evidences of Christianity ] Within My Power ] Has God in Him ] Matthew 19:13,14 ] Matthew 25:3146 ] Kingdom God Within You ] B-P Badge + Sign ] BSA Congressional Charter ] Scouting in 1938 ]

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Last modified: October 15, 2016.