"Quote of the Day"

"I used to think that the goal of bowling was missing both gutters simultaneously."

Dr. Bryan Alexander.

Funcast: The Origins of Volleyball According to the Oaqui

Today's FunCast, brought to you courtesy of the Oaqui, wends the winding ways of history for evidence of the origins of Volleyball.

See also this.

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"Why Should I Play with My Kids?"

I found an article titled "Why Should I Play with My Kids? by Mark Brandenburg MA, CPCC (check your pop-up window prevention settings before opening links). It begins:
"My son came running around the corner of the house. It was just as I had hoped. I gave a wild, primitive yell as I sprang out at him. He hit the ground quickly, trying to avoid my grasp. I reached down and tagged him easily, and the burden of being "it" was transferred once again.

"As I searched for a new hiding place in front of the house, my wife called from the front door. "Mark, it's eight o'clock, the kids have to come in!"

"I was a bit dumbfounded. We'd been playing tag for two hours.

"In those two hours, I'd been unaware of time. There were no worries about projects at work, what time the kids needed to go to bed, or whether we had enough money to last the month. My focus had been on playing tag, and nothing else. And when your focus is complete, you've entered a state that has no limitations. Your joy and passion can come alive, and your children's can, too."
...and concludes:

"Research has shown that kids laugh about one hundred times a day, and adults laugh about six times. Our kids are showing us something. Isn't it time we started learning how to be playful again?"

And the neat thing is, we know exactly where we can find the best teachers.

Castle Keep - a Keeper

Castle Keep is a tile placement game of luck, strategy and significant fun, for 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up.

There are 90 cardboard tiles (thick, colorful). There are three different kinds of tiles (corner pieces called "towers"), side pieces ("walls"), and central pieces ("keeps"). There are three different shapes of corner and side pieces (straight, zigzag and curvy), and three different colors. You start with any four of them. Your goal: build a complete castle of 9 tiles, with all the outside, adjacent tiles of the same color or shape, and a "keep" whose color matches any tile in the castle. Your other goal: destroy your opponent's castle. Accomplish either, and you win the game.

OK, so destroying an opponent's castle is a little harder than building your own. Well, it should be. You have to have a wall or corner tile that exactly matches (color and shape), and two Keep tiles of the same color as your opponent's Keep.

You might want to be careful about building a castle whose walls are both the same color and shape as their towers. Granted, it's a lot prettier. But there's a price for beauty: if one piece gets attacked, and adjacent pieces are the same color and shape, they are also, well, shall we say "obliterated?"

The two-player version is just different enough (you only build one castle, and try to be the player to complete it) to make it, well, different - different enough to make you have to find a different strategy in order to win. Which makes it like having two different games. And then there's a solitaire version. And then there are variations.

Designed by Richard D. Reece, Castle Keep has just enough strategic elements to entice the serious game player, just enough luck to keep everyone, adults and kids, from getting too serious to know when they're having fun, and is just long enough (around 20 minutes) to keep people deeply and happily engaged.

A definite keeper of Major FUN proportions.

A claimer (I was going to day "disclaimer," but it seemed too negative): rumors have it that Gamewright, the manufacturer of this certifiably Major FUN Award-Winning game, has contracted with Major FUN, him- (and my-) self, to produce a new card game actually designed by the aforementioned. Though these rumors are rumored to be true, this exceptionally good news for all fun kind has in no way impacted the impartiality and integrity of this reviewer. Castle Keep is a game worth keeping, no matter who manufactures it. And that's the troof.


Ping Pong Punk'd

I found this on the ever-useless repository of silliness known as "Milk and Cookies."

It might take a while to download, but it's worth every megabit. It's a video of two, evidently champion ping pong players going beyond, well beyond, the pale of tournament competition.

I have no idea what led these two to this ping pongly apotheosis. I think it might have been the guy in red who started it all. But the blue dude was there for him all the way, getting the ball back to him no matter where he went.

The announcers clearly thought it was funny. The audience seemed to be more than adequately delighted. Me, I found it downright inspirational.

I can tell you why, but I'd have to quote myself, which is always a questionable practice. The following comes from my article on CoLiberation:
The central experience that led me to write my book The Well-Played Game was, in fact, a game of ping pong between my friend Bill and myself. Let me describe it to you, thereby exemplifying the selfsame example of the kind of experience I hope you will also learn:

"My good friend Bill was and is so much better of a player than I that there was actually no reason for us to try to play a 'real' game. Playing for points was clearly pointless. So, we decided to just see how long we could keep a volley going. It was a perfect challenge for each of us. For Bill, just getting the ball to hit my paddle was an exercise worthy of his years of "pongish" mastery. After half the night of this, we managed to sustain an almost infinite volley. We actually lost count."
Know what I mean?

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I Like Drawing™ - cont'd

Art Stevenson, the same charming fellow who has his playfully pictorial way with trash has developed an entire website of whimsy for our collective inspiration and amusement.

Of the many inspiring art-for-fun and fun-for-art exhibits described on his site, one of my favorites is the "pictoplasmic colouring and activity room. The artist explains: "Pictoplasma invited I Like Drawing™, Jon Burgerman and Dennis Tyfus to create a colouring and activity room experience! The drawings covered 70 square meters and for the duration of the exhibition the public were invited to colour it in."

Everything about it invites fun - the wacky drawings, all those people coming to an exhibition and finding themselves taking part in its creation, coloring between or beyond the lines, finding, in a museum, the genuine and unpretentious permission to play.

FunCast: Introducing the Oaqui

Today's FunCast introduces the mystical incantations of the mysterious Oaqui. The mysterious Oaqui communicate only by email. Is the Oaqui a male or female, a child or old person? Is there only one Oaqui? These are things we shall perhaps never know.

In this transmission, the Oaqui shares a short, exemplary myth, called "Two Players."

The rest, no matter how hard you try to eff, must remain ineffable, at least until the next FunCast.


Telephone Pictionary

Telephone Pictionary is a combination of the paper-and-pencil, graphic version of the Surrealist game known as "Exquisite Corpse," along with a bit of the story-telling version of the aforesaid - only much simpler.

The rules:
"...It's best played with at least 7 (no fewer than 5) people, and an odd number of people is somewhat better than an even number.

1. Every player takes a piece of paper and writes a sentence at the top, such as 'It's the end of the world.' Then every player passes the sheet to their left.
2. The next person reads the sentence to themselves and draws a picture of the sentence below the sentence.
3. Then that next person folds over the paper so only their drawing is visible and passes it to their left.
4. The next receiving person examines the picture and writes a sentence describing it below the picture.
5. Then that person folds over the paper so only their sentence is visible and passes it to their left.
6. Continue until you get your own paper back."
See, for example, "Six Penguins."

From Melissa D. Binde

"Play is our free connection to pure possibility"

In case you need yet another validation for the fun you're having, Hara Estroff Marano's article "The Power of Play" is a treasure worth cherishing. Here are some highlights:
"Most of us think of adult play as respite or indulgence, but having fun is no trivial pursuit. In fact, it's crucial to put mental creativity, health and happiness...

"But there is also new evidence that play does much more. It may in fact be the highest expression of our humanity, both imitating and advancing the evolutionary process. Play appears to allow our brains to exercise their very flexibility, to maintain and even perhaps renew the neural connections that embody our human potential to adapt, to meet any possible set of environmental conditions.

"...today we often use our leisure time not necessarily to play, but in performance of various sorts of work, whether it's time at the health spa or artists' retreats.

"...It isn't even clear whether we are playing more or less than we used to. If we're playing more, it doesn't feel like it. Just in the past 30 years, there has been a cultural shift reemphasizing work and getting ahead.

"...Through play, contends psychiatrist Lenore Terr, M.D., clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California at San Francisco, 'we get control over the world. We get to manipulate symbols, control the outcome of events.' Terr's own now-classic work with children traumatized by physical and sexual abuse demonstrates how clearly play is necessary to mental health.

"In the aftermath of trauma children lose their flexibility. They play, but their play is obsessive; they stay stuck, repeating the traumatic episode endlessly. 'Post-traumatic play demonstrates that if we don't find a way out of difficult situations, we will play much of our lives over and over again.'

"Play is an opening to our very being, Terr observes in Beyond Love and Work: Why Adults Need to Play. It permits us emotional discharge, but in a way that carries little risk. In fact, she says, play is not just an activity--it's a state of mind, and 'all the mental activity of play comes at you sideways.' Therein lies its value: the mental activity is never the direct goal. Terr uses play therapy as a way to allow children--and adults, who often remain frozen in patterns of play originating in fearful experiences in childhood--to create new endings for their experience.

"...Play, argues Brian Sutton-Smith, Ph.D., is more than an attitude. And more than an action. While it encompasses development, it's not about that--it's about pure unalloyed enjoyment. Professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, Sutton-Smith is still the ranking dean of play studies. He considers play an alternative cultural form, like art and music.

"...We play because it reflects the brains we have and the cultures we live in. By and large, he points out, 'the connections in the brain fade away unless used. We know that early stimulation of children leads to higher cognitive scores. Playful stimulation probably hits all kinds of synaptic possibilities. It is all make-believe and all over the map. The potentiality of the synapses and the potentiality of playfulness are a beautiful marriage.'

"When adults play, notes Sutton-Smith, citing a series of Dutch studies of video-game playing, their memory is better. They are cognitively more capable. And they are happier.

"...How we play is related, in myriad ways, to our core sense of self. Play is an exercise in self-definition; it reveals what we choose to do, not what we have to do. We not only play because we are. We play the way we are. And the ways we could be. Play is our free connection to pure possibility."

Archery Golf

Archery Golf is, apparently, currently played in Italy and Cuba. Go figure. It is in deed and in fact a combination of archery and golf, and hence the descriptive name. It is also, at least in essence, a paradigm of the Junkyard Sportly mind. As explained so vividly in the following:
"Scottish many years ago enriched the pleasure to go for a pleasant walk in woods by carrying under their arm bow and arrows, which had been already used with not actually playing aims, stopping sometimes to dart an arrow: to a grass lump, a tree log, a root or only aiming high trajectory in the next of a grassland.

"This play was named "roving" (literally "to wander") and Archery Golf takes inspiration from this ancient activity adjusting little the quality of targets but keeping the spirit intact: living and enjoying the environment that you can find without leaving unpleasant tracks of your passage.

"Archery Golf is a play made by darting arrows towards original targets, which have been distributed along the path that has been adapted following territory characteristics. Bows and arrows are rigorously simple and wooden. Arrows have a garish fletching with the aim to brake and make the trajectory predictable, above all for what it concerns parabolic darts towards a centre, which is marked by a flag: just a bearing-pole with flag, such as for the classic Golf, where instead of a hole in the ground in the centre is marked a circle with a diameter of some meters."
Clearly, Archery Golf is not one of your casual, play anywhere, nobody could possibly get hurt, kind of sports. On the other hand, for any group that has ever wandered with long bow and loaded quiver amidst the rills and meadows of a sufficiently vast and clearly unpopulated land, Archery Golf is an invitation to significant play and many pure flights of delight.


"Pronoia," explains Michael Quinion, "is the suspicion that the universe is a conspiracy on your behalf, the opposite of the popular sense of paranoia. It seems to have been invented by the sociologist Fred Goldner in an article in Social Problems in 1982, in which he defined it as 'the delusion that others think well of one,' the unreasoning belief that your superiors think you are indispensable, that your colleagues adore you, and that you are doing brilliantly in your work."

The term was taken up by Rob Brezny in his book Pronoia is the Antitode for Paranoia: How the Whole World is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings. Rob takes the idea of Pronoia seriously. And beautifully. See his descriptions of Unabashed Pronoia Thereapy. Here's one of his 19 suggestions:

"18. Those who explore pronoia often find they have a growing capacity to help people laugh at themselves. While few arbiters of morality recognize this skill as a mark of high character, I put it near the top of my list. In my view, inducing people to take themselves less seriously is a supreme virtue."

Yes, even though pronoia might be as unfounded and irrational as paranoia, if you have a choice of irrationalities, I say, go pro. Now.

FunCast: Bomb and Shield

Here's a game I've been playing a lot lately. It's called Bomb and Shield, from a fellow named Augusto Boal in his book Games for Actors and Non-Actors. I'm not sure why people have been liking this game so much lately. It might have something to do with the political ramifications of playing with human bombs. On the other hand, it probably has more to do with it being a lot of fun for a lot of people - even kids. You can read more about it here.


"Why we play games"

Though written primarily for computer game designers, these key points from Nicole Lazzaro's exploration of "Why We Play Games" are relevant to anyone who takes play seriously:
." 1. Hard Fun
...players who enjoy the Hard Fun of Challenge say they like:
- Playing to see how good I really am
- Playing to beat the game
- Having multiple objectives
- Requiring strategy rather than luck

"2. Easy Fun
...players who enjoy the Easy Fun of immersion say they like:
- Exploring new worlds with intriguing people
- Excitement and adventure
- Wanting to figure it out
- Seeing what happens in the story, even if I have to use a walk through
- Feeling like me and my character are one
- Liking the sound of cards shuffling
- Growing dragons

"3. Altered State
...Players whose enjoyment focuses on their internal state say they like:
- Clearing my mind by clearing a level
- Feeling better about myself
- Avoiding boredom
- Being better at something that matters

"4. The People Factor
...players whose enjoyment came from interaction with other people say
- It's the people that are addictive not the game.
- I want an excuse to invite my friends over.
- I don't like playing games, but it's a fun way to spend time with my friends.
- I don't play, but it's fun to watch"

She concludes:
"What surprised us most was the dramatic contrast in emotional displays between one vs. several people playing together. Players in groups emote more frequently and with more intensity than those who play on their own. Group play adds new behaviors, rituals, and emotions that make games more exciting. We were also surprised at how aptly 'Flow' describes challenge and the promise this holds for making games that can improve quality of life."
See also my article "Of Fun and Flow." And then call me in the morning.

Adult Playgrounds

I found this half-baked idea for an "Adult Play Yard" posted in the appropriately inimitable Half Bakery by someone called "Senatorjam:"
"Similar to the ones at McDonalds, when you feel you need an escape, [i seem to need to escape frequently] you pop into this play yard, they give you a freshly laundered t-shirt and shorts, and you spend the next 15 minutes or so, swinging, sliding, playing in the ball pit, jumping on the bouncy castle, or just sitting and sucking on your thumb...."
First of all, despite some of the comments (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), I find it remarkably refreshing to learn that someone thinks of adult play in such comparatively innocent terms. Though all play is sensual, adult play does not need to imply sex play. Adult play, as depicted by Senatorjam, can be innocent and profoundly fulfilling. By using the term "adult play" and "adult playground" as a gateway to pornography, we do ourselves a deep disservice. As adults, we need to play with each other, lovingly, freely, innocently. Instead, by implication and connotation, we deny ourselves this experience, systemically.

An adult playrgound. A place for us to play together, with all the abandon and artistry we, as adults, are heir to. Giant swings and endless slides. A consummation devoutly to be wished.


Of geese, wolves, games and culture

In the article "Game Traditions: Lessons for Life," Jann Lacoss describes the correlation between the games Russian children play, and the society and culture within which those games are played. Exploring these correrlations is highly instructive, for anthropologist and educator, game player and designer. Lacoss describes a game I learned of as "What's the Time Mr. Wolf."
"As an example of a game for smaller children, I have chosen "Gusi-gusi" (Geese-geese). This type of game is typically played by children aged 5-8. Several similar games exist, all with similar goals. These include tagging players and incorporating them into a different group. The players start by choosing the leaders, a "mama goose" and a "grey wolf." Once the vedushchie (leaders) are chosen, the game begins. To start the game, the mama goose stands at one end of the playing field. The goslings (all of the children besides the mama and the wolf) stand at the other end. The wolf remains in the middle of the field. The mama and her goslings engage in a poetic interchange:

"Mama: Goosey, goosey!
Goslings: Honk-honk-honk!
Mama: Do you want to eat?
Goslings: Yes-yes-yes!
Mama: Well, fly on over!
Goslings: We can't!
Mama: Why not?
Goslings: The gray wolf behind the hill won't let us come home.

"At this point, the goslings run across the field. The wolf attempts to tag as many of them as possible. Each gosling that he tags becomes a wolf. The game continues, with multiple wolves catching an ever-diminishing corps of goslings.

"What does this game teach? Keeping in mind that its target audience (i.e., players) is children who are entering kindergarten or are old enough to do so, it teaches them to become independent from their mothers, which is apropos for this age. The goslings attempt to rejoin mother but often end up in the larger group of wolves; they end up with their peers rather than their family, as depicted by the "mama." The wolves work together toward one goal: increasing the group as much as possible. Although the goal is to avoid joining the group, the latter gains in importance and desirability as it grows. This may indicate that the group still holds a strong position in society. Other "wolf" games display similar characteristics. In past generations this game may have reinforced the notion of working together; it still may. In this variant, I have seen players create strategies for corralling the remaining geese or isolating the 'weak' ones in order to tag them. For the children who play this and similar games, the group still apparently holds a prominent place."
See also my article "Tag, Like Pachisi, is model of interaction, even evolution."

Making a game out of Katrina

I have the very good fortune to be working with Tracy Fullerton, teaching a class at USC, in the Interactive Division of the School of Cinema Television. Last Thursday, we were exploring the game of Pachisi and its many manifestations (see my article). I mentioned that we could use the same basic dynamics to build a game that expressed some of the issues surrounding hurricane Katrina. Reflecting on all this, one of our students, Jess Rosenblatt, wrote a blog entry that was moving and provocative, and touches on the life of anyone who has ever designed or played a game that has anything to do with reality.

She begins:
"So the question came up in class last night as to whether it was appropriate to design a game based on New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, since this had been an example given by Bernie of a possible life lesson around which to mod Pachisi.

"My answer is not now, not for a long time.

"Certainly games can deal with serious subjects, and certainly there are games that deal with traumatic events. However, I believe that it is only after a respectful mourning and acceptance period following such an event that such a game is appropriate. It is certainly not appropriate while the event is still going on, when effort should be spent on helping those who are there rather than imagining "what would I do if I were there?" Because we're not there, and it is disrespectful to pretend we are.

"How long a wait is long enough? When does something stop being a recent event and become history? How many people have to have come to grips with a tragedy before it is appropriate to subject it to cold objectivity? I don't know."
Her thoughts, and those of fellow students responding to her, are sensitive, profound, illuminating, and most worth your careful consideration. To these, I added the following:

During recess at a pre-school, there was some kind of accident that took place in plain view of the kids. It was between a car and a motorcycle. The cyclist fell off his bike and was lying on the street, unconscious and bleeding. Soon after, an ambulance came. By this time, everyone in the playground was watching. The paramedics lifted the motorcyclist onto the stretcher, wheeled him into the ambulance and drove away. The kids were abnormally quiet. Finally, the caregivers escorted the kids back into school.

The next day, a few kids started playing "motorcycle." One kid would drive around on a pretend motorcycle while another would drive a pretend car. They'd crash. The "motorcyclist" would lie still on the ground. Other kids would then try to lift (or drag) the motorcyclist around the playground, while sounding their pretend sirens.

This "game" continued for a couple weeks, and slowly dissolved into a game of tag.

This is a true story, captured by an anthropologist and recorded in the annals of The Association for the Study of Play.

For the kids, the game served an important purpose. It was an invitation to integrate, through play, the various factors that led to an overwhelmingly powerful event. It turned out to be a "good game" - good enough to be repeated for a couple of weeks. Because it was fun and built from a truth.

I think the same thing holds true here, even for something as disproportionately painful as the events surrounding Katrina. I also think that the people in our class are in a uniquely qualified position to capture whatever they understand about the dynamics of the event, and express it in game form - and yes, a game that is fun to play.

I brought up the Katrina event because we were at the time studying a game of chance and strategy. All right, not very much strategy, even with Backgammon as the archetype. To illustrate how powerful a role chance can play in games and life, how the source of dice and spinners comes from the same source that confronts the gods. They call it "divination," don't they?

All of which is to say, I am delighted by the sensitivity and concern that is being expressed in this dialogue, and honored to have played some role in its genesis.

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Human Toys

In my search for more "learning from children" connections, I found this article written by Sharon Barrey Grassick about playing with children who are deaf/blind.

She says: "Rather than manipulating a child's hands to teach him or her how to use a toy, offering ourselves as human toys and making our hands available for the child to control can achieve remarkable conversations (Miles & Riggio, 1999)."

She goes on to give a few illustrations:
1. "Instead of pushing a button to cause a toy to pop up, push against Dad's arm to make his arm pop up (in a specific and predictable pattern every time).
2. Instead of touching a switch to cause a light to go on, touch Mom's face and watch her eyes and mouth open wide, then shut again. (Brightly colored lipstick and eye shadow can help here.)
3. Instead of touching a toy to cause it to move, touch Mom's hand to make it move in a particular way. (Brightly colored nail polish may add interest.)"
I used to play like this with my kids, and still do with my grandchildren. A couple of my kids' favorites were: "guess the fingers" - they'd be sitting on my belly, leaning back against my knees and when they picked the correct combination of fingers, I'd straighten my legs and they'd fall back; and "remote control fork" - a feeding game where I pretended to be a remote controlled arm, and the kid, using thumb on my other hand as a joystick, would try to get me to put the food in her mouth.

Grassick concludes: "the most valuable activities are those that involve personal interaction...and the enjoyment of being connected with another human being."

Amen, sister. Amen.

Playful Pith from Pat Kane

Pat Kane, singer hero of the "Play Ethic," has published a very encouraging article in the London Times. Some playful pith follows:

"More play in your life can help you to live longer and think sharper, broaden your occupational and spiritual horizons, and generally fine-tune the complex organism that is you."

"...a recent book from Harvard Business School (Got Game) claims that computer gamers will reshape future businesses, creating workers/players who love to take risks, who cope with failure as a learning opportunity and juggle multiple scenarios with ease."

"... in our workplaces, it's a sign of an organisation's basic health that the atmosphere is relaxed and full of laughter, that creative brainstorming (a form of adult play) is the norm rather than the exception, and that management is about telling inspiring stories rather than controlling perspiring workers."

Funcast: Dum Dum Da Da - revisited

There's an old "New Game" called "Dum Dum Da Da." In today's FunCast, we get to hear a new version of the game, and another personal apotheosis for your favorite person-of-fun and mine.


Gianter Pick-Up Sticks

Embedded Funmaker Chris Saeger writes:
"Over the weekend we had a picnic for the ISPI Potomac Chapter. They wanted some kind of game to play so Becky and I thought we would try a version of giant pick-up sticks.

"We used twenty 1 inch x 10 ft. pvc pipe and colored tape on the ends. A little bendy but very light weight and they could fit in the car :-)

"We played teams, but we couldn't remember the rules about scoring so just had each one worth the same points. You only got to get one stick at a time. (this we called European union rules) Then a twelve year old who was playing, suggested that if you picked up a yellow stick you got to go for one more on that turn. (this was dubbed French rules) We played French rules. He also informed me that these were by no means the biggest pick up sticks. He had read about much bigger ones in the Guinness book of records. (he was right)"
You can read about the "gianter" game of Pick-Up Sticks, Guinness-Record-Making here. Ask me, those sticks, PVC or not, look dangerous!

Chris and Becky, by the way, are both colleagues from the much-revered NASAGA (North American Simulation and Gaming Association), who'll be having their deeply playworthy conference this year in October, in New Hampshire (should be beautiful there and then).

For even more Giant Pick-Up Sticks Stories, see this.