Art Games in Seattle this weekend

Gonna be in Seattle this weekend? Check out the "Sixth Annual Inquiry" to be held at the Richard Hugo House, Oct 3-5. A lot of "art" games, including writing, theatre and dance. Could be edifyingly fun.


Join Richard Hugo House, CoCA and Velocity Dance Center for a festival of arts and ideas exploring the nature of games, competition, deception, design, and more.

2 DAYS OF SERIOUS FUN

3 FLOORS OF ACTIVITIES at Richard Hugo House
10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat. & Sun.
Games, panel discussions, contests, workshops, interactive installations & art exhibitions on topics ranging from carnival scams to role-playing games, video violence to improvisational music. Play games, think, eat and drink.

2 NIGHTS OF INTRIGUE

'GAMES IN MOTION' at 3 neighborhood venues
7:00 p.m.-11 p.m. Fri. & Sat.
On Friday and Saturday evenings during the Inquiry, move between Hugo House, CoCA and Velocity Dance Center to catch some of the best writers, dancers, musicians and visual artists in the Northwest. One ticket gets you in at all three venues. Start anywhere, finish anywhere--everybody wins.

Ping Pond

It looks like someone took two ping pong tables, cut them in half, rounded the ends, put them around a big, square, shallow aquarium, and called it art! And even got it exhibited in a museum!!

And that's exactly what it is. Something kind of like four-way ping pong. That you can actually play. That is actually fun enough to be an actual game. In a museum.

The artist is a fellow by the name of Gabriel Orozco. He explains: "I think every game is a universe in a way, or every game is an expression of how the universe works for different cultures. Ping pong is a game about the universe playing or is a game about how the universe is so arbitrary and how itís constant...Every game has a connection to how we conceive nature and landscape. How we order and we structure reality."

Who knew?

See this for more examples of Orozco's work, and play.

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The Gallery of Monster Toys

It amazes me how much kids like monsters. I mean young kids. Babies. One-year-olds. Monsters are scary. You would think you would want to do anything scary to a baby. Of course monsters are funny at the same time. That's the art of monster-making - making monsters that are scary and friendly, menacing and deeply huggable.

"The Gallery of Monster Toys is dedicated to preserving a disappearing facet of our popular culture. Vintage monster toys are typically overlooked by collectors, largely because they seem obsolete in today's world. The toys in this gallery are not, for the most part, "slick" or "hyper-detailed." They are humble and imperfect. They depict flawed, tortured creatures. These toys capture a time when horror was fun."

Maybe such a resource helps us keep things in perspective. Maybe playing with horror helps us somehow accept the reality of it.

But one thing, for sure: a visit to the Gallery of Monster Toys is fun. And online. And free. And aaarrrgh....

Weird Inventions

At last, some brilliant inventor has finally come up with perhaps the ultimate in home appliances: the Indoor Sundial.

As the authors of Weird Inventions explain: "This device allows you to use a sundial even when the sun isn't shining. The accurate clock motor keeps lamp in rotation around the dial just like the sun. Correct orientation is accomplished by free-turning design of the lamp bracket rotor. This unique timepiece blends ancient world charm with antiquated nineteenth century technology. Uses regular household current and voltage. Weight=800 lbs."

A wrist model is also available, conceptually speaking.

Other inventions of note: the Invisible House, the Anti-Smoking Cowboy Hat, the Snormuffler, and, finally, wedgie-proof underwear.

Weird Inventions is a single page in a virtual Bazaar of the Bizarre offered through Saddletrout Studios, a site devoted to surrealist art. And yet, bizarrely enough, on this same site you will also find two eminently practical graphic-artist-like tutorials: Drawing with Mice and the Saddletrout Animation Workshop. Apparently, wonders will, in fact, never cease.

Devil Sticks

They're called "Devil Sticks." They're a juggling toy with some rather remarkable attributes.

Before we delve any further into the nature of Devilstickery, we must ask ourselves, "why 'Devil'? Is there perhaps some Satanic connection to all this apparent playworthiness that we must guard against?" According to Devilsticks.net, "the name "Devilsticks" comes from a very old Greek dialect word "Devil", "Dallo" or "Diaballo" roughly translated to modern English means to "Throw" or "Toss" in or through the air. The name also has another unexpected means, that is to produce magic. The name has nothing to do with the more recent religious term 'devil' that means evil spirit." Oh, glorious exculpation! O, religiously guiltless Devilstickage!

Further, according to this very same source, "We now know that the oldest Devilsticks ever found to this date was discovered inside an Egyptian tomb called 'the unknown prince.' The tomb is #15 of over 150 tombs located in and around the rock cut tombs of Beni Hassan Geographic Location. The tombs are located inside the white limestone cliffs that run parallel to the Nile rivers' eastern bank." So this fun is not only guilt-free, but with very respectable historical precedent.

As you look around the web to purchase your own set of Devil Sticks, like these cool glow-in-the-dark Luna Stix, or potentially even cooler Flower Glowsticks, you might wonder what the difference could be between beginner's and expert's Devil Sticks. The answer, according to this study: friction. And therein lies the secret to our ancient, compelling and apparently never-ending fascination with Devilstickery. The devilishness is all in the way the sticks stick, and yet don't.

Papa Ink: The Children's Art Archive

This painting is called "Flower." It is by a girl from Serbia. It is a watercolor. Her name is Kristina. She was 4 years old when she painted it. It is on a website called "Papa Ink."

"Papa Ink, the Children's Art Archive, is a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to the art of youth. Our activities encompass the exhibition of works by young artists, the archiving of historically significant children's art collections and the building of communities that support children's creative endeavors. Through open archival access, PapaInk seeks to grow the audience for children's art and reinject the creative spirit of young people into human experience."

And as the audience for children's art grows, so do we, as adults, as families, as communities, as children. Especially as adults who have maybe forgotten that they are artists. Especially for the children who have so much to remind us about. Like how beauty and joy, image and imagination, art and fun are, at the heart of it, all the same thing.

Papa Ink explains: "First, the vigorous and open-eyed quality of children's creative acts gives these acts a redemptive role complementary to other positive forms of human expression; Second, works by young artists are a vital yet largely unrecognized part of the cultural and historical record; Third, a non-profit archival body committed to the aesthetic presentation and professional preservation of worldwide children's art holdings can play a pivotal role in raising the social, historical and aesthetic value of young people's creative acts."

Cool, huh.

Shoe Art

Whether or not you think of it as art, it's definitely fun, and assuredly further testimony to the transformative power of play.

The wit and craft of Juan Mejias is positively inspiring. As you click your way through his page of Shoe Art you'll probably laugh at his cleverness, but you'll also never be able to look at shoes in quite the same way. Suddenly, shoes are a canvas for the imagination. Even leather shoes. Just as suddenly, shoes are not just fashion statements, but platforms for playfulness. Even loafers.

Mejias takes his shoe art quite seriously, and hopes to take it commercially, as well. On his homepage he lets the world know that he is looking for an "investor to finance the manufacturing and wholesale distribution in the Footwear and Novelty gift industry."

Should the art and humor of it all not be incentive enough, consider this: "the Women's Golf shoes have authentic autographs by: Nancy Lopez, Laura Davies, Annika Sorenstam, Meg Mallon, Judy Dickinson and others. The Men's Golf shoes have authentic autographs by: Jack Nicklaus, Chi Chi Rodrigez, Steve Jones and Olazabal. And the Bowling Shoes have authentic autographs by: Walter Ray Whilliams, Norm Duke, Bill Oaks + 3 other world class bowlers."

Now that Mejias has liberated us from our narrow definition of "shoe," we may be at last ready for the joy of socks.

Games and Junk

As I continue conceptualizing the future of Junkyard Sports, and all that is implied thereby, I find myself harkening back to the roots thereof. Today's back-harkening takes me to the game of Kick the Can, as so evocatively rendered by the virtual version herein illustrated.

One simply cannot play Kick the Can without a can. Though any can can be used, the canny player selects a large, easily kickable can, such as a coffee can. Since an empty coffee can is far more kickable, the game, in its small but vivid manner, encourages recycling. Thus, it can only be classified as junk-based. Which fixes it firmly as an indubitable precursor to the concept and spirit of Junkyard Sports.

Kick the Can, as a few minutes of virtual play will so vividly remind you, is an immensely gratifying game for anyone who likes to play with paranoia. It's no imagined thing: as long as you are IT, everyone is in deed against you. And though you have the Power to Immobilize, there's always that one player whom you haven't yet caught, who kicks the very foundations out from under your hard-won accomplishments, and frees the frozen.

Kick the Can is worthy of much contemplation, and not just for its junkiness. It captures a reality that we are destined to live over and over again in our short lives, whether we're trying to get everything ready for a meeting or the whole family into the car.

You can download the complete rules from the pre-eminent source of all things junkyard sport-like, Streetplay.com, or read the rules of this and some the related variations here, courtesy of Games Kids Play.

Spoons

Some call it "Spoons." Some call it "Pig." I call it "fun." A lot of fun. And not just for kids. Frankly, I don't know why so many really fall-down-laughing games are thought of as being for kids only. Well, I do know, but I'd rather not go into it here.

In brief: everybody has four cards. Then the dealer starts adding more cards, which are passed or traded. As soon as someone has four of a kind, that player takes a spoon. As soon as the other players notice that a spoon has been taken, they each also grab a spoon. There are one fewer spoons than there are players. The player who winds up spoonless is the Spoonless One, which is not good. Here's a much better and more detailed explanation of how the game is played, and its variations, one of which is called "Pig."

Fascinatingly enough, there's another game called "Spoons" which is, in fact, a spoonish variation of another not-for-kids-only card game called "Crazy Eights." You know how in Crazy Eights there are certain cards, like, for example, eights, which, when played, have certain special functions. Well, in this Game Called Spoons, the Jack is the spoons card. You can read all about it here.

It does make one wonder how many other card games could be improved with a little Spoonery thrown in. I'm thinking, for example, bridge.

Pen Tricks

Boredom kills. But not always. Some times, boredom gives birth to whole new forms of fun. Not, perhaps, major fun. More along the order of what I call "minor fun." Like, for example, twiddling. To be more specific, pen twiddling. And pen twiddling itself, given enough frequent, long, and boring meetings, can develop into something of an art form. Until it is not just pen twiddling, but actual pen tricks. Penstidigitation, as it were. Magic, so to speak.

The achievements available to a true pen trickstser are so vividly illustrated by this site, serendipitously named "Pen Tricks," from whence this article's illustrations derive. Not to mention the significantly vast collections of trick-like manipulations avialble to those who follow the closely related art of Pencil Manipulation and Pencil Spinning.

(Author's note: neither of these sites restricts itself to pencils - inadvertently revealing the world view of the true twiddling devotee who will twiddle anything at hand: pencils, pens, remote controls, forks, gum sticks, and, when all else fails, thumbs).

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Paper Mazes

In my story "Mazes Online and Not," I write about online interactive mazes, and give passing mention to paper mazes. Included in that brief overview is a description of Megamazes. On closer examination, and with some friendly guidance from the site's developers, I've learned that the art of designing paper mazes is one worthy of much appreciation, Megamazes being one of the foremost among the to-be-appreciated.

In fact, designing paper mazes is in itself an art. At least in the hands of an artist. Though Jody Hall's Mazoons are purportedly designed for children (most were more than challenging enough for this purported adult), his concept of combining mazes with cartoon art is original and delightful.

Christopher Berg is another paper maze artist, whose site, Amazingeingart.com, is among the most technically sophisticated, and includes: a precious few, unique, printable, shaped mazes, a great overview of the history of mazes, and an excellent collection of links to others in the amazing maze art world.

Finally, at least for the purposes of this brief survey, we come to Mark Michell's Mazes. Mark has developed the art of creating Word Mazes. To accomplish this, he has also created maze-generating software. The "FUN" maze, illustrated in this article, is an example of the product of his unique software. Visiting his site will lead you to many, many more examples. And, should you not find the maze-word you are looking for, an email to Mark might very well result in a new maze word, just for you.

9/11

It's September 11th. It's hard to write about fun when it's September 11th. And yet, today, it's especially important to try.

I wrote this little article last year. The following is most of it:

Now, itís after 9/11, and the peace is deeply disturbed Ė everywhere, globally. And what those grown-ups are doing, playing, dancing, laughing in public is not an act of childish discourtesy, but a political act Ė a declaration of freedom, a demonstration that we are not terrorized, that terror has not won.

A Frisbee, in the hands of people in business dress in a public park, is a weapon against fear. A basketball dribbled along a downtown sidewalk, is a guided missile aimed at the heart of war. Playing with a yo-yo, a top, a kite, a loop of yarn in a game of catsí cradle, all and each a victory against intimidation. Playing openly, in places of business, in places where we gather to eat or travel or wait, is a gift of hope, an invitation to sanity in a time when we are on the brink of global madness.

Yes, I admit, I am a professional advocate of public frolic. I am a teacher in the art of fun. I hawk my playful wares every time I get a chance, with every audience I can gather, war or peace.

But this is a unique moment in our evolution. America is no longer a free country. We are tied into a network of terror that crosses national boundaries with such consummate ease that we are as unsafe in our office towers as Israelis in a supermarket. We are at some kind of war against some kind of terror. We are none of us safe. We have to protect the peace.

And I believe that we have far more powerful weapons than any military solution can offer us. And I believe that those weapons can be found in any neighborhood playground or toy store.

" The human race has only one effective weapon --and that is laughter."
- Mark Twain

Cootie Catchers

Cootie Catcher, Cootie Catcher, where did you come from? And why?

According to this site (which features an instructional video on Cootie Catcher fabrication), Cootie Catchers came from Japan and have been around for at least four centuries.

"Earliest reference...appears during the beginning of the Edo period (early 1600s) in Japan, when mass-produced, low-priced paper became available and the art of paper folding became widespread. There is earlier reference to similar ceremonial and functional origami pieces - in one instance used to serve dried spices. First mention of this folded amusement in European history also occurs in the early 17th century, although it remains unclear whether this particular piece was introduced from Japan, or arose spontaneously from within the European folded paper craft movement."

As to why? My guess is that it has something to do with fun, and magic. The magic part is an example of what one might call "Praeternatural Play." For some reason, we take great pleasure in fortune telling games. We know they're games. So we don't really believe them. And yet, we kinda really do. This is what Colin Campbell calls "Half Belief."

Whether you belief is half, whole, or not at all, knowing how to make a Cootie Catcher can only be a good thing. Here, therefore, are animated instructions with a downloadable print and fold template.

If your Cootie Catcher question is urgent, here's a virtual cootie catcher for your immediate, and clearly questionable gratification.

Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Doubles Wild

Warning! It looks like another game of tic tac toe. In fact, it looks like a game of tic tac toe where you roll dice to decide where you can put your marble on the grid. So, it's wooden. So it's really well-made and delicious to feel. But, so what? It's tic tac toe!

Well, it is, and it isn't. The tic tac toe part of it makes it easier to understand and play. The dice part of it, most surprisingly, elevates the game to something surprisingly unique, nail-bitingly exciting and, from time to time, pants-wettingly fun.

See, it's called "Doubles Wild." And it's the wild doubles thing that is at least partly responsible for the fun of it all. Because without the wild doubles thing, you just roll your the dice and move where they tell you to. But with the wild doubles thing, you can position your marble anywhere along the specified row or column. And if you get two doubles (it didn't happen to us during the Tasting, but we all acknowledged the possibility), then you can put your marble anywhere on the board.

And it's also the attack-defend thing. See, if you can land on someone else's piece, you can maybe remove it from play. Maybe, because you have do engage your opponent in the feared "battle of the dice" where you have three chances to try to roll the higher total. And the losing player loses a marble.

And even more surprisingly, it's the roll again thing. If you don't like your first roll, you can roll either or both pair of dice again. So you have to think of the odds. And the strategy. And how desperate you are to keep the other player from winning.

And, as you can almost guess from the first move, it's the more and more marbles on the board thing that really makes the game into what one could only call a Major FUN Award-worthy experience. Because as the board gets populated, so do the strategic implications.

You can play Doubles Wild with two, three or four players. We had six at the time of our tasting, so we decided to play the 3-player version, in teams of two. I wish you could have been there to hear the profundity of reasoning and the intricacy of pro- and con- measurement. We played for an hour, and were surprised by the depth of the game on the average of every three minutes.

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Quadtria

Quadtria is an elegant, and beautifully made two player strategy game from the one game company I have the most difficulty writing about - because I write for them - Out of the Box Publications.

My main bias-reduction strategy is our more or less weekly "Game Tastings." Despite my eagerness to play every game that comes in, I sat this one out and limited myself to comment-free observation.

What I observed is that the game looks a lot simpler than it is. Oh, it's easy to learn, all right. You move one piece at a time, along a comfortably smooth channel to the next satisfyingly inset pit. If you get any three of your five pieces to form a triangle in any of the four sections of the board, you win. Of course, triangles in your starting section don't count, at least not in the beginning of the game (or both players would win as soon as the game starts).

Perceiving triangles, however, turns out to be far more subtle than one would think. And this is really why the game became so intriguing, even to those of us who just kibbitzed. We kept on thinking that the game would prove to be trivial, that the next player would definitely win, only to discover that we were wrong.

They say the game takes from 5-35 minutes to play. Our first did in deed took five. Our second - yes, the players insisted on playing it again - a good 25 minutes. And I mean "good."

There are too few unique, easy-to-learn strategy games. Quadtria is definitely one of the few.

Extreme Water Pistols

Remember water pistols? I think they still sell them. Little gun-shaped plastic things you'd fill with water and shoot by squeezing a plunger/trigger thing. Some of the better ones could shoot maybe 6 feet! Some looked like ray guns and some looked awfully like the real thing.

Not any more. Not since 1982, when Nuclear Scientist Lonnie Johnson and inventor Bruce D'Andrade designed the Super Soaker, ushering in a new age for the agelessly playful. The technology of the Super Soaker is so advanced that only an animated model can explain its workings. Like this one.

So advanced, so seriously-takable is this technology that it has given rise to a new order of the militantly playful, called "Water Warriors" - where I found the manic Super Soaker illustration used in this article.

If you don't have a Super Soaker with you, and find yourself with an immediate need to simulate the experience, here's a virtual and irrefutably drier game for your immediate gratification. On the other hand, if you find yourself suddenly needing to own one, more or less immediately, try these.

Finally, for those who need to go even further, perhaps you might consider borrowing the Ultimate Water Gun.

Twenty Questions, at least


20Q.net
You wouldn't think of the game of a site devoted to the game of Twenty Questions as the home of "the neural-net on the Internet," and yet... As the site's author explains: "20Q.net is an experiment in artificial intelligence. The program is very simple but its behavior is complex. Everything that it knows and all questions that it asks were entered by people playing this game. 20Q.net is a learning system; the more it is played, the smarter it gets." So, to play it is to make it "smarter." I wouldn't be at all surprised that it will also make you smarter - at least about the nature of artificial intelligence.

For another perspective on the artificial intelligence - twenty questions connection (henceforward to be referred to as AI-20Q) , I have to share a page from the DeepFUN website, coincidentally called "Twenty Questions."

The article consists of two parts. The first is about an artificial intelligence lesson. A friend introduced me to a computer version of Twenty Questions (this was maybe twenty years ago) that seemed uncannily sophisticated. And yet was written in only five lines of code! The sophistication was an illusion, supplied, not by the technology, but by human naivity!

The second, about a variation of Twenty Questions, called "Plenty Questions," where the answer guy can only respond in terms of "hot" or "cold" and variations thereof. A good game. A different game, actually. Requiring the development of quite different strategies. Demonstrating that the vast intelligence gathered by AI technology can be rendered virtually useless with a simple rule change. Try your AI on this - a 20 Questions game where all the questions can only be answered in numbers!

Demonstrating the following truth: no matter how artificial it gets, the intelligence of Artificial Intelligence lies not in its complexity, but in how well it engages the minds of the users.

Playing with Virtual Cameras

You know how a camera shows things from a particular perspective? And that if you could move it around, you'd see things from a different perspective? And if you keep moving it around, everything seems to spin? Can you imagine who much fun I'd be to play with maybe 5 different cameras at once?

Well, you don't have to. Imagine it. Thanks to Thomas Glynn's interactive "dynamic bullet time," you not only can imagine playing with 5 different cameras, you can play with it. Virtually. Five different, virtual, movable and moving perspectives. Simultaneously.

And you not only get to play simultaneously with 5 different and movable virtual cameras, you get to play with probably the signature scene of the Matrix. You know, the famous bullet-dodging scenes. (After you click on this Official Matrix Reloaded link, click on the numbers at the bottom of the screen. There are three videos, the first is the Computer Generated Image (CGI) of the actor, the second of the bullets, and the third shows them combined.)

If you find being able to play with the very stuff of computer animation and CGI fun (and who wouldn't?), you'll probably find a quick dip into Jean-Marc Gauthier's remarkable Animation and interactive 3-D tutorials an immersion in a virtual sea of digital delight.

Proving once more that something as simple as fun can lead us to some remarkably deep places.

Fun, at last!

Chris Dickson from the Mindsports Olympiad (see my story on "Sane Competition for more about Chris' work), sent me a link to this article about the marketing of the new PlayStation. The sign in the illustration pretty much points to the story here. PlayStation is using the word "fun."

"We've never said 'fun' before," he (David Wilson, head of press and public relations for Sony Computer Entertainment Europe) said, referring to the new branding of PlayStation.

"It was always an emotive word that somehow devalued the products. But nowadays we have reached 53 million worldwide and now we feel we can use the word."

As chief correspondent for the, yes, FunDay Times, Wilson's revelation sparked in me a small flurry of research How long has the virtual games industry been so profoundly misguided as to believe that "fun" doesn't sell?

I found a site called "The Dot-eaters: Videogame History 101." Immersing myself in its dense and scholarly pages, I came away with the distinct impression that, at the beginning of it all, it all seemed like fun, a great deal of fun.

My visit to the parallel universe of the arcade game, as so earnestly captured by Phosphor Dot Fossils, and to this admirably detailed, century-spanning timeline of technology, only reinforced my observation that it all not only seemed like fun, and not only in the beginning, but, in fact, a great deal of fun has been had by an impressive number of people for a significant length of time. However, as a sometimes designer of computer games myself, I also know that it wasn't something anyone really talked about.

Finding myself at last at the Classic Gaming weblog my suspicions were confirmed. This weblog not only chronicles the history of virtual games, but also comments on the state of the art. I searched its contents for "fun." My search engines came back empty. Apparently, in their branding of "fun," Mr. Wilson and his PlayStation cohorts are bringing something fundamentally new to the gaming world: the very reason it exists at all.

Let us wish them every success.