Evil or Stupid?

This week's FunCast makes the rash conjecture that there is no such thing or being as "evil," whilst both acknowledging and affirming the existence of the clearly related phenomenon of "stupidity." The text for this all this stupidity can still be found here.


Chinese YoYo

Until I found my way to a site called "Chinese Yoyo," I thought this top-like toy was called a "Diabolo." Not so, says Wikipedia. The Chinese Yoyo came first.

"The Chinese YoYo," says the author of the Chinese Yoyo site, "also known as Tzuh-ling, empty bell, pulling bell and wind bell, was created so long ago that there is no known inventor. Originally, the Chinese YoYo was made of wood or bamboo. Today, as a result of modern technology, most Chinese YoYos are composed of two durable plastic wheels and a joining steel rod and constructed so that the center of mass is located precisely at the middle of the steel rod where the string pivots the YoYo. With the weight evenly distributed, the performer can execute really fantastic tricks without fear of breaking the Chinese YoYo."

No matter which came first, both sites, the one called "Chinese Yoyo" and the other named "Diabolo Tricks," provide us with a treasury of animated invitations to play.


Of Fun and Work

Just last Sunday, there was a King of the Hill episode called 24 Hour Propane People, showing what happens "When Strickland ...refocuses on making Strickland Propane a 'fun' place to work' and makes his employees dress in costumes, have sleepovers in the office and use catch phrases." This very show aired about two or three days after Kevin Eikenberry and I met to talk about what we might do about this very thing - how we might help people make the "real" fun/work connection.

Of all the many connections we discussed, Kevin found himself especially drawn to my description of the kind of work-related fun that takes place when you are "experiencing your competence."

I first thought about the competence/fun connection after I read Csikszentmihalyi's story, documenting the existence of a factory worker who actually enjoyed his work (see Knowing How to Play). Since then, I have become even more firm in my belief that in the secret recesses of the heart of work, a lot of fun is being had. You can find a collection of my work-and-fun-focused reflections in my Fun & Work reflections collection.


V for Valiant Verbosity

Son-in-law Tom and I shared a whim-driven moment the other night, and offed to the local filmoplex to visit the last showing of V for Vendetta. Early in the movie, the lead character, a grimacing Guy-Fawkes-masked-man named, as advertised, "V," greets the heroine with a speech (see transcript on IMDB), that began thusly: "This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is it vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished, as the once vital voice of the verisimilitude now venerates what they once vilified." It goes on, this speech does, and on, V after V after V.

Someone was having fun.


Hopping for Fun and Fame

Here's a story about approximately 1880 people who, dressed in bunny hats, paid a fee, even, because they, as the reporter so pithily portrays, "hoped to hop their way into the record books with their simultaneous jumping."

There's a lot to like about this story, and these people. The money they paid went to a children's "oncology services" camp, and the bunny hats they wore bore blatant witness to their acknowledgment of the silliness of what they were doing together. Their having beaten the previous record, though an accomplishment of noteworthy significance, almost pales in comparison to the love and playfulness they shared - one hop at a time.

Of Koosh Balls and Silly Putty

Continuing on the kids' games as metaphors for understanding life and stuff, today's FunCast is a brief look at toys and meaning and similar stuff.


Social Impact Games :: Entertaining Games with Non-Entertainment Goals

According to the promise on the front page of a website called "Social Impact Games," they have "now identified over 500 serious games."

You know about this Serious Game thing, I'm sure. There are, at least according to the newly indexed site:
Education + Learning Games
Public Policy Games
Political + Social Games
Health + Wellness Games
Business Games
Military Games
Commercial (COTS) Games
That's enough games to make anyone want to take this new category of Serious Games very seriously, in deed. Like the people who run The Serious Games Initiative, for example. Look it up on Google for page after page of more examples of the seriousness of all this.

All I can say is that I hope it makes the world a little more fun, all this serious gameness. I know it can make learning more fun. And deeper. Pretty much despite what the serious gamers are learning about.


"Paradice is interactive art, a game of give and take. Players explore decisions made in response to changing circumstances and engage with the contradictions of competing needs."

Interactive art? At almost $200, it better be art! And fun, too.

It is my honor to be able to inform you that Paradice is both.

The pieces. You have to see them in the light to really appreciate how the hand-poured resin seems to shine with its own internal brilliance.

The game. You have to play it. Because playing it completes the artwork. Which means you have to read the rules. And learn about the pieces. Pieces that have names like: Opportunity, Circumstance Changer, Human Being, Forest Spirit, the Rainforest, Palm, Coniferous and Deciduous trees. Yes, that's correct, Forest Spirit. It's clearly a strategic game, with some element of chance (Opportunity looks and acts exactly like a round die). But then there's the thing about being either the Giver or the Taker. And only the Giver can win. So if you're the Taker you might think that your only purpose in life is to keep the Giver from winning. Until you are able to internalize the strategic implications of the rule that at any moment, depending on the roll of Opportunity, you might have to change roles entirely.

As you continue playing, the whole game seems filled with light and delight. You finally see through the game (Paradice being only the first product of a company called "See-Through Games"), and begin to perceive the artist himself, John O'Neill. "John O'Neill," begins his artist's statement page, "is an artist committed to the realignment of art with society in forms that people can appreciate and afford. He pursues the synthesis of artistic inspiration with insight into the human situation."

He is also a friend of mine. Which, in the case of this review, is a mixed blessing. I am not as impartial as I should be - not enough to actually give this game a Major Fun Award. And because I have the honor to know him personally, when I see through Paradice to the artist, I see someone of vision and integrity and an abiding love of life.

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Chris Bliss - Juggling as Dance

Chris Bliss is a comedian and juggler. Or vice versa. Watch this video, as Chris juggles to music, and tell me which.

Yes, I know, this has been making the rounds, and it isn't what one would call "news" - but, after the frenzy is fed, you get to see what Mr. Bliss is doing, his "statement," as it were. The discipline of juggling. The emotive power of music. The play between.

Play and Survival in Turbulent Times

I found the following perhaps painfully relevant insights about play and survival in "In Praise of Play," Virginia Postrel's Bradley Lecture delivered at the American Enterprise Institute in 1999
"Playfulness is ... a vital adaptation to a dynamic world. That, indeed, appears to be why we play: The psychic rewards we get from solving problems and satisfying our curiosity make the human species more likely to survive in turbulent, or wildly divergent, environments.

"The evolutionary advantage of play seems to be that it fosters resilience. One possibility is that play allows an individual to accumulate lots of different experiences on which to draw when faced with a challenge. It makes more possible solutions familiar. An animal that played as a child will therefore be more adaptable as an adult.

"Animal play fits this explanation: Many animals play, but playfulness and curiosity are generally characteristics of the young, fading with maturity. Even chimpanzees are far less inventive as adults than as juveniles. In a stable environment, in which all necessary skills can be mastered during childhood, adults do not need to play in order to survive.

"Human beings, however, play all our lives, and adults do most of the inventing. For a human being not to be creative and curious is a sign of senility, not maturity. This playfulness gives humans an evolutionary advantage: An adult who continues to play will be more adaptable still, able to draw not only on old experiences but on the desire for new ones.

"This drive to discover new things is what the Silicon Valley entrepreneur means when he calls his work 'an adventure game' -- a world where surprises abound, where 'players' thrive on 'knowing that just around the corner is something new that you're going to have to learn and to react to.' The spirit of play allows us to adapt to an unstable environment, and to venture into new territories. Human beings can flourish from the tropics to the Arctic, through earthquakes and hurricanes, plagues and droughts, because we have developed the resilience that comes from play."


FunCast: On Being IT

Today's FunCast is from a meditation about games and kids and culture. The article is called "On Being IT."


Junkyard Golf Course and Community Building Event with Potluck

For some no longer obvious reason, I found myself working on a lovely little pamphlet describing what was really my first actual Junkyard Golf community building, family event. It was for families involved in a small pre-school in Palo Alto. And it was transforming.

Imagine a few hours where everybody can play. With almost any one. With almost anything.

Think of the creativity and collaboration, invitations to inclusion, incentives for sharing, that all somehow connect people a little closer to each other and to the world they actually live in together.

Anyhow, I worked hard on putting it all down into a clear, fun read. And when it was finished, it felt really good. I mean, I liked it. A lot. It was clear. Fun. Accessible. It conveyed the spirit and purpose that I felt the first time I experienced a Junkyard Golf Course and Community Event with Potluck. It covered pretty much everything.

So I decided to give it to you.

Here. Under 2 megabytes. 10 pages. Illustrated.

Use it in the best of fun.


Ludium I: Productive Fun

Ludium I, from the Arden Institute: a center for the study of synthetic worlds demonstrates how the division between work and play is not only artificial, but also detrimental to productivity. Get that? If they experienced such an acceleration of productivity by doing it pretty much all for fun (and pretend money and trophies and stuff), the separation between work and play actually makes work less productive.

This, from the abstract of the final report:
"Ludium I was an effort to develop and prove a radical new paradigm for intellectual gatherings. Abandoning entirely the standard speaker-audience structure, the ludium instead embedded participants in a game designed to generate both tangible output and emotional excitement and satisfaction - fun. It intentionally ignored the distinction between work and play, and sought to test the possibility that professionals engaged in a properly designed game would generate both entertainment and productivity at the same time...A selected group of academics and game designers were formed into five teams to play a competitive game of concept generation. The teams were tasked with developing proposals for using online game technology in university research; proposals were judged by a sixth team, with the best proposal earning a grand prize. In execution, Ludium I strongly confirmed the possibility that work and play can occur simultaneously: participants exhibited and reported very high levels of satisfaction, enthusiasm, laughter, and joy in the course of the event and on into following days, and they also produced a significant body of concrete output."
And they mean significant - an extensive online multimediafied documentary and a 144-page, downloadable, comprehensive report. I mean, it's enough to make you think. Maybe work is supposed to be fun.


FunCast: Bernie Played a Game

Today's FunCast describes a certain clearly pointless game known as "Bernie Played a Game."

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Simple Adventures for Everyday Living

Here is a collection of "Simple Adventures for Everyday Living by Joseph del Pesco." They are, as advertised, simple, and, yes, in a way, they are oddly adventuresome. Here are but a few:
Take a shower with all your clothes on.

Guerilla Swings
Make swings out of wood boards and thick rope. Go to a local park and hang them from every tree that has an appropriate branch.

Call a random number from a payphone and ask the person who answers for some practical piece of information: 'Do you know how long it takes to cook muffins?' or 'How do I get to ______ from downtown?'

Anonymous Leg Up
Send unsigned letters to a younger person you know giving them
information that will save them trouble in the future.

Music for Telemarketers
Learn to play a song using the number keys on the telephone. When a telephone solicitor calls, play it for them.

Pretending to Pretend
Go to a party where you don't know anyone and pretend to be someone else. Try it on a plane."


Playing with Stuff

The subtitle of Playing with Stuff: "Outrageous Games with Ordinary Objects. " Oddly enough, it wasn't the Outrageous Games that attracted me as much as the Ordinary Objects part.

For example, there's one game that tells you to hang a potlid by its handle somewhere - wherever it can hang freely. And then get a lot of toy soldiers or maybe leggos or something of a similar multitude, and take turns, one at a time, adding a toy, until the lid tilts and everything falls off. A pot lid! Or another where you draw a grid on a sheet of paper, color in a few squares at random, cover the whole thing with salt, and then, using straws, take turns trying to blow away the salt, square-by-square, without uncovering a colored square.

Don't let the upscale design of the book distract you from the wonders its pages can offer the rained-out mind of a 10-year-old. Yes, the print is small and the graphics make it look like it's a book for even younger kids, but the games are positively inspiring, and the use of everyday objects an invitation to ingenuity.

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Grab the Finger and other games from Wilderdom

Grab the Finger

No. not that "grab the finger" game.

This one:

"In a circle, right finger on next person's left palm. Try to grab a finger before yours gets grabbed."

Just my kind of game, don't you know, pointless, silly, laughworthy, and genuinely challenging - stretching that whole corpus callosum left-right brain thing, in most delightful manners.

Found in the significantly encyclopedic Wilderdom Index to Group Activities, Games, Exercises & Initiatives.

P.S., as it were. Late tonight, well, early tomorrow, actually, at precisely three seconds after 1:02 AM, it will be

Happy Sequentium! Like that? Sequentium? When the date and time are all in sequence? I just made it up. Consider it ours.


Shooting Dice: More on Flow Theory and RPGs

Now that I have my Google Firefox Blogger Comments extension, I've become privy to all those wonderful bloggers out there who are writing about mine in here. Today, I found this, from Malcom Sheppard, a designer of table top fantasy role-playing games: Shooting Dice: More on Flow Theory and RPGs. All I can say is that it made me very, very happy. Wait, maybe I can say more.

I've never really tried to apply the concepts cited in the article (ME/WE, Coliberation) to tabletop role-playing games. I developed them in the late 70s to describe the interplay between individual and group, especially as it takes place when people are playing exceptionally well together (as in the coincidentally relevant The Well-Played Game). Maybe that explains why my jaw had dropped onto my keyboard.

It's like what happened as I watched my children grow up and take on completely unexpected professions and lifestyles. Deeply, deliciously schadenfreudian.

"MEwards," writes Sheppard, "can confirm the individual's vision for his or her characters, and WEwards are tools that can reward cooperation on a common narrative of events in play...coliberation is the act of creating something new by combining these influences.."

And "If challenge/ability does not match to social cohesiveness of the group, then the group will define itself outside of the preset channels of the game."

Wonderful insights. They weren't mine when I first thought of ME/WE and coliberation. But they are now.

Thank you, Mr. Sheppard. Thank you entirely.