Strange Games - party games, childhood games

Montegue Blister introduces himself as follows: "I am passionate about party and childhood games. Not just boring pass the parcel but unusual, even bizarre games like Snapdragons, Walking Trippy, Mouchard."

Take Lemon Golf, - a most refreshingly Junkyard-like game played with lemons and walking sticks. Lemons! How joysomely unpredictable and party-worthy. Sure, you can use yardsticks instead of walking sticks. Or umbrellas even (collapsed, probably). But what other game can you think of that combines wacky object-whacking with lemonade preparation.

O, yes, there's the oddly Prui-like Mouchard, and, as advertised, Walking Trippy, and, should you wonder, the curiously dangerous children's game of Snapdragons.

This fellow Blister is clearly a fellow in spirit - an advocate and collector of primarily pointless games, played for the fun of it. And hence, a valued resource for us each and all.

And then there's Strange Games - the Videos

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Executive Balls

This extensive collection of balls from Office Playground is a valuable resource for anyone who understands the connections between busy fingers and open minds.

The collection includes some very different kinds of balls. One kind, which we couldn't help thinking of as, well, organic, proved to be remarkably engaging. A good example is the Icky Yicky Fuzz Ball. The outer layer transparent and covered with soft spines. Within, are small, colored, soft balls. I personally did not think this ball was very icky, yicky or fuzzy, but my fingers found it to be wonderfully sensual and inviting. Another, the Molecule Morph Stress Ball is covered by an opaque skin. When you squeeze it, the outer skin becomes transparent, revealing the color balls inside. And a third, the Click Clack Stress Ball contains hard plastic balls, which, as advertised, click and clack against each other when squeezed. Each of these three balls has a different feel, produces a different effect, and yet is closely enough related to the others that, as a set, they make for an experience that invites the senses. Collect a large enough variety of these balls, and you have the basis for a powerful group activity. All too often, meetings where people have to think abstractly or creatively become far too abstract and far less creative than planned. Simply by trading balls back and forth between participants, asking people to explain their preferences or describe the differences, or perhaps playing a passing game like A What, is a perfect way to help people focus on their own senses as well as on each other.

Then there are the balls that are filled with air or liquid or other non-ball stuff. One of the strangest and most visually delicious of this collection is called the Rainbow Bubble Ball. The soft, spine-covered outer membrane is held with a net. Squeezing the ball forces the skin through the net, creating, as advertised, multi-colored bubbles. There's something vaguely reminiscent of something else that I'd rather not be reminded about. Something mildly disgusting. Which, of course, is a major part of the attraction with many of these executive balls.

Then there are the kinds of balls that are particularly good for throwing, catching and slinging. Of these, the Water Swirl Ball combines the tactile delights of a deep squeezeworthiness, and the visual wonder of pearlescent liquidity with a stretchy, yo-yo-like handle that almost immediately lends itself to a variety of attractive nuisances, while the painlessly pointy, benevolently bouncy and considerably catchable Spikee Ball just about guarantees collaborative mayhem.

Though we were able to test only a relatively small sample, we were uniformly impressed by how inviting, and different they were, and how valuable a resource such a collection is to the enlightenhearted manager, facilitator, or professionally creative player.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Audience-controlled Games

This was going to be a story about, purportedly, the world's largest Etch-a-Sketch, which, according to this story was "was unveiled at the 33rd SIGGRAPH International Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques Conference and Exhibition in Boston." (click on this image to get the whole picture, as it were, so to speak.)

Me, I wasn't that excited, really, about the world's largest Etch-a-Sketch. I mean, it's attention-grabbing, all right, and it did make me wonder about how it actually works, or how any individual audience member experiences any real control. But, then again, I never experienced that much real control, even when I was using my regular old personal laptop Etch-a-Sketch.

What I was excited about was that an entire audience could play, together, using what looks like plastic lollipops on Popsicle sticks. Wireless lollipops, even.

Turns out that a company called Cinematrix has developed a system that can sense individual input. Granted, input is binary, limited to which side of the stick you show, but with enough ingenuity, you can do a lot with nothing more than binary input. Especially if there's a way for the technology to pick up each individual response - not just determine the average, but take into account each participant's input.

They have a small passel of games, for those who are interested in game passel-gathering. And, yes, they have a significant enough repertoire of polling capabilities to warm the cockles of even a board of director's hearts. Audience-pleasing fun, team-building for the masses, participatory art for the many. All-in-all, a technology most worthy of our collective applause.


Funspotting by Elyon DeKoven

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Human Spring

This week's FunCast is about a game that some kids and I created together when I was working at the Intensive Learning Center (actually), in Philadelphia, on my way towards compiling an actual curriculum in children's games. It's called "Human Spring." It is what one might call the apotheosis of cooperative games. Or what another might call "vertical push-ups."

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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My Life in Play and Work

Friend and cospirator Alex Kjerulf, Chief Happiness Officer, has honored me by interviewing me about my life in games and my work with work.

You can read the interview here.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Winning is Incompatible with Almost Everything

In his article, Winning is Incompatible with Almost Everything, game maven Yehuda writes:
The point is that designating one person as a "winner" is purely a form of virtual reward. In fact, it is a reward that is based on artificial scarcity. In order for winner to mean anything, there have to be losers.

In fact, even when there is fierce competition in games, there is no absolute need for this.
This is a remarkable, and much-needed contribution to our understanding of play and games, this distinction between the idea of the "winner" from the idea "achievement." Yehuda continues:
You can easily give out the label "winner" to all people who achieve any sort of success, without sullying the word. You still don't give it to people who haven't achieved anything; effort and achievement still count. Competition still counts. You just change the nature of "winner" from one that requires all others to fail to one that measures personal achievement regardless of the success of others.
There are powerful and clearly r/evolutionary consequences for those who follow Yehuda's redefinition of winning. The same thoughts that led me to writing The Well-Played Game almost 30 years ago. And Yehuda carries them forward with the kind of depth and insight that might very well inspire us, ultimately, to remove the artificial separation between winners and losers, cooperation and competition, and to view the field of play for what it is - an opportunity for us to exercise and celebrate our powers.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Getting angry

Several of my most confidential advisors have suggested that I would be more effective in bringing more fun to the world if I were more angry about the lack thereof.

I'm not really a very angry person. And it always seemed to me that anger and fun really don't belong together. And, even if getting angry would help, I'm not sure if I could get angry about more than one thing at a time. I mean, I wouldn't want to dilute my anger.

There's lots of stuff I could get angry about, so much stuff I just don't know where to begin. So, I made a list. And then I arranged it alphabetically. And then I added more stuff and took out even more. And I was left with this:
  • AIDS, SARS, and all those acronyms that kill people
  • Batteries that aren't included
  • Bullies
  • Child abuse
  • Corruption
  • Cruelty
  • Fascism
  • Food that tastes good but is still bad for you
  • Genocide
  • Global warming
  • Homelessness
  • Hospital closings
  • Hunger
  • Illiteracy
  • Ignorance
  • Intolerance
  • Death
  • Disease
  • New Operating Systems that don't work with my software
  • Nuclear proliferation
  • Overpriced medicine
  • Pain
  • Playground closings
  • Poverty
  • Prisons
  • Prudery
  • Racism
  • Spam
  • Spousal abuse
  • Stupidity
  • Terrorism
  • Tests
  • Torture
  • Toys that break almost the moment you get them out of the box
  • TV sets that are bigger than mine
  • Violence
  • War
I'm still not happy with the list. I was going to ask you to add more items, or suggest alternatives, or at least to help me pick the one or two most angry-worthy items. On the other hand, maybe angry about all this funlessness isn't really what I need to get. Maybe, if I can choose to be angry, I can just as easily choose to be funny. Not that I can afford to ignore all these anger-making things. But, just maybe, if bringing more fun into the world is what I'm about, humor is the more powerful messenger.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Newmindspace

A little less than a year ago, I wrote about a game of Urban Capture the Flag, hosted by a group called "Newmindspace." And though I find myself sorely tempted to write about the upcoming, Feb. 24th event called "Pillow Fight NYC," I find myself moved to talk about a more sobering event, called "Nightlights." Because of the beauty of the vision, and the sad wisdom contained in this little blurb:
300 LED's were stolen at the beginning of Night Lights.
We are shocked and disappointed that while we were creating this event, a small handful of people prevented the installation from even happening. (These LED's were eventually to be used for fundraising after the evening was over.) We lost over $500.
It is precisely this kind of wisdom, for all its sobering significance, that makes Newmindspace such a valuable resource for anyone contemplating the production of a public event, especially if they are doing so for the sake of art, play and community - because Newmindspace has learned what it is like, playing with the public, in all of its beauty and ugliness, and because they continue to bring us to play, nevertheless.


from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Fun at Work

Here's an article from the Christian Science Monitor, written in 2001, about Fun at Work. I quote:
Basketball hoops at work? Graffiti encouraged in the company restrooms? Nerf-dart wars on the office floor? All part of the day's work - at some firms.

The New Economy made foosball tables and an informal office setting the norm for companies desperate to attract talent. Then the dotcom bust turned those foosball tables, some critics say, into relics of a frivolous-business era. Now, casual dress is out; suits are back in vogue.

But even as the pendulum swings back toward the traditional, there are clear signs of lasting legacies from the New Economy workplace. Some amenities - espresso bars, redesigned workspaces that encourage interaction, break rooms - are here to stay. And a few successful firms are cultivating a culture where fun is more than a needed break from work - it is part of work.

The article captures a belief that many of us are trying almost desperately to hold on to - that bringing more toys into the workplace will make things more fun. It seems to me, however, that bringing more toys into the workplace to make work more fun is like bringing more canaries into the mine to make the mine safer. If the environment is toxic, it's time to get out of the mine.

Funspotting by Dr. Roger Greenaway


from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Playing with children

For today's Funcast, we find ourselves engaged in a semi-polemic contemplation of vicissitudes of intergenerational play, intergenerational community, intergenerational family, and all things inter, um, generational. It's not a very playful polemic, as polemics go. But it might very well help to move you or someone who needs such movement, to consider more carefully the importance of playing with. It begins:
The separation between parents and children, adolescents and family is so wide that we hardly recognize ourselves in each other. Our generations have become institutionally isolated, divided out into schools, businesses, factories, day care centers, hospitals, rest homes. Our days have become so filled with working and consuming, so consumed by "communication" that with have little time for ourselves, less time for each other, and no time for our community. The result is a steady deterioration of marriage and family, community and planet.
You can, should you find yourself so moved, read the whole of it here.


from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Funny games for people with limited mobility

It turned out that someone with the good sense to purchase a copy of The Well-Played Game found herself needing more than an in-depth exploration of the parallels between games and community and culture and life and stuff. What she was actually looking for was a collection of games she could play with older people.

Though I have made some efforts to compile a collection of board games that one could deem "Senior-Worthy," I discovered that I hadn't as yet compiled a useful list of funny, social games that would be specifically of value to people of the significantly mature ilk. Hence, it is with some sense of actual, though delayed accomplishment that I herewith announce the online availability of a sweet compilation of funny, social games for older people and people with limited mobility. You will, of course, find these games equally appropriate and amusing, even should you be of unlimited ability and/or not of the elder persuasion.


from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Sweet silliness for playful couples

And, by sheer coincidence, here's a collection, not of what you might call actual games, but of some gently sweet, silly, pointless things that playful couples might find themselves doing together, not for the game, but for the fun of it, not for points, but for the love of each other and of being in the world together.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Badly Laced Shoes

The following is from one of the first posts on a new weblog called "Digital Mavericks. It is written by Drew Buddie, a Scottish schoolteacher and virtual correspondent who I am both proud and puzzled to discover has become my friend - proud, because of his commitment to playfulness, puzzled, because we have never actually met. After you read it, the reasons for this friendship should be self-evident.
A few months ago I was sat on my sofa having returned from work dog-tired, and promptly fell asleep. I still had my shoes on. I was awakened by some furtive activity at my feet and looked down to see my six year old daughter admiring her handiwork. She had undone my shoelaces and now proclaimed loudly that she had managed to lace them back up again.

Now, I felt I should be cross at her - after all you don't do shoe laces up as shown in the picture. You just don't. But wait a minute, she did! She chose to lace up my shoes that way. So just because they are not laced up the traditional way, is there anything wrong in that?

This set me thinking, we as teachers are so quick to judge the work of our students based on them producing out put that conforms to our expectations.
You can read the rest of this touching and insightful story here

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Hands

There are so many wonderfully playful videos being released of late that many of my favorite blogs o' fun, like, for example, Milk and Cookies, have become almost totally devoted to sharing the best and the silliest. Though many of these videos are often paradigms of playfulness, I've been hesitant to populate the funsmithy with their often quite moving images.

This one, however, caught my conceptual eye, not only because of its playfulness and artistry, but also because, for a brief moment, the Frog of Enlightenupment, him- or herself, makes a pointlessly poignant appearance. Hence, this:


from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Near Myths

Today's Funcast is about games as "myths" - cultural narratives that embody social truths. Listen to it with care. It might make you think.

You can read along here. It begins:
Ever since I discovered the power of games, I've suspected that they are more powerful than I guessed. I'm beginning to think that they may be, in their playful way, the kind of archetypes that Jung describes as "primordial images and symbols found in the collective unconscious, which - in contrast to the personal unconscious - gathers together and passes on the experiences of previous generations, preserving traces of humanity's evolutionary development over time. " I've come to see them as mythical metaphors, as Joseph Campbell has come to understand myth and metaphor. They are a theater without dialogue, a literature without words, each one revealing its wisdom in play.



from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Hand Art

Guido Daniele's "Hand Art" is a product of deep, and deeply skilled playfulness. It has to be. There's something magic about how he manages to transform the human form into something close to pure illusion. It's what one (especially this one) might call an act of "slight-of-hand."

As you view these photos (caution: if you go deeper into Daniele's portfolio you will come to images that could easily be considered unsafe for workplaces in these United States, hence, I most proprietarilly recommend this site), you will find it a bit difficult to get beyond the faithfulness of the illusions. Upon a second, or perhaps third viewing, you'll begin to see the hands beneath the paint, how they are positioned, how the fingers are folded and extended, lending shape to the illusion. And you can almost imagine Daniele sitting at some cafe, playing with his hands, over and over, shaping them, superimposing his visions on to them. And begin to appreciate how this art, like so many, was born of play, hours and days and years of play. And maybe you can find in all this wonder one more reason, one more permission for you, yes, yourself, to play.


from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Play Pump

Forgive me, I needs must enthuse. All that talk about serious games and serious play and here we have someone who has sponsored the epitomical manifestation of purposeful play and functional fun - the Play Pump. As explained in the Frontline special, punfully subtitled " Turning water into child's play:"
"(Trevor) Field then teamed up with an inventor and came up with the 'play pump' -- a children's merry-go-round that pumps clean, safe drinking water from a deep borehole every time the children start to spin. Soup to nuts, the whole operation takes a few hours to install and costs around $7,000. Field's idea proved so inventive, so cost-efficient and so much fun for the kids that World Bank recognized it as one of the best new grassroots ideas."
Yes, and of course yes, the Play Pump is only part of the solution to the rest of the world's crying need for an accessible supply of potable water, and my focusing on the use of a children's playground device doesn't begin to do justice to the seriousness of the problem. But, see, fun is my passion, my purpose. Fun, the kind of fun that is central to human growth, essential to the evolution of the species, is what I'm here for, what I'm working for. And the Play Pump, and the similar "Power Wheel" (which also generates electricity) are the very embodiment of that very thing. And, though I haven't actually played with a Play Pump, it is clear that it embraces everything I ever thought was major about Major Fun. Functional fun. Lasting, liquid laughter. Purposeful play.


suggested by Shael DeKoven Weidenbach, funspotter

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Telephone Pictionary

I received an unsolicited phone call from someone named "Elise." She was trying to figure out how to play a game called "It Could Be Worse." It's one of those funny, pointless games that I find myself playing more and more often. And, being pointless, it's hard, sometimes, to convey the actual point of playing it.

While we were talking, she asked me if I had ever heard of one of her favorite games, called "Telephone Pictionary." I hadn't. So I immediately Googled it, finding clarity once again in this Wikipedia article:
The first player begins by writing any sentence or phrase they wish, though bizarre or surreal offerings are generally preferred. The next player attempts to come up with an illustration that represents the sentence. The paper is folded over so that only the picture can be seen, then passed to the next player, who attempts to formulate a caption for the illustration. Usually there are some restrictions on what can appear in the illustration alphanumerics are commonly forbidden to ensure that the third player cannot easily replicate the original sentence. Once the third player has captioned the illustration, the paper is folded over so that only the caption can be seen, and is passed to the next player.
Oddly familiar. Reminding me, as a matter of fact, of the game of Redondo, and a host of related "Surrealist" games, oddly enough, as "Exquisite Corpse."

Well, talk about oddly, it seems that Telephone Pictionary is also known as Eat Poop you Cat. And if you visit the aforementioned, you will be able to play it online. As you will yet another remarkably related game, called "The Sentence Game."

It's odd, but typical of the games world, that a game gets reborn like this, into another name, another identity. It's a sign that the game is larger than its history. That the fun it encapsulates is greater than any attempt to capture it into any single form.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Why Fun?

It was Feb. 2 - one of those special, once-a-month, symmetrically numbered days (2/2). But I didn't realize how special the day was until I found this message in my inbox:
I discovered your website today. It was very timely. For fifteen years, I have been soulsick, paralyzed by depression. I start becoming more active, but then I lose energy, and isolate myself.

A few days ago, I volunteered to be a docent for the Chinese garden, for a group of university students. Afterwards, I was supercharged. It felt so good to give these students something that might influence them, and it was FUN to run my mouth off for an hour about the garden. Yesterday, I bought myself Koosh balls and a yoyo, but I have been thinking of these things as distractions. But no, perhaps my life's work is to have fun.

I have bookmarked your site.

Thank you,
Mary
Almost immediately after I was able to exhaust my exhiliration with an extended Dance of Glee, I emailed Mary to ask if she would please, o please allow me to share her note with the known universe. She responded:
Sure, you may add it to your web log.

Today I had a day loaded with fun, and I didn't even feel guilty over it. (Well, not much.) I am happy to say that I have been too busy playing to visit your website again. I am glad that someone has the nerve to stand up and say that having fun is serious business. It seems like I have always thought fun was okay, once all the useful bits of life were taken care of. Of course, work will expand to fit the time allotted to it.

Mary
Which resulted in what one could only call a moment of personally pure "Primal Glee."

Oddly enough, fun is a hard sell. Most of us think we know everything we need to know about fun and the having of it, while, at the same time, most of us seem to be having so little of it. The people whom I've named Defender of the Playful are a few of the many who, like I, have given so much of their lives to bringing more fun into this world. It is not often that our work is appreciated, and less often that it is actually supported. Luckily, it hasn't stopped us. Even more luckily, from time to time, someone like Mary appears in our lives, to remind us that it is not all in vain. Not at all in vain.


from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Cooperation and Competition

Spurred by a conversation with Janine Fron of Ludica, I found myself writing an article about the connections between competition and cooperation, in games and everything else. My perhaps most quotable and easily misunderstood quote: "Cooperative games nurture diversity. Competitive games, uniformity."

Hence, today's FunCast

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Patty Wooten - Compassionate Humor

Nancy Nurse is one of the three clowns developed by one of the few people I know who has mastered the art of compassionate humor, Patty Wooten. Patty becomes this particular clown as part of her effort to lighten the often overwhelmed hearts of the nursing profession. Nancy Nurse, explains Patty, "is a wild, red-headed clown, armed with a combat belt of weapons; such as, bedpans, urinals, enema buckets, and over-sized syringes used to fight disease.. Her stethoscope is made from a garden hose and a toilet plunger which is great to use on those big-hearted patients... it can also be used to relieve constipation!"

Several years ago, Patty came down to one of my seminars at the Esalen Institute. She made us laugh so hard, and so deeply, and with such a loving purpose that, for many of us, fun became even more functional, even more central to our reasons for being.

Patty's attempt to bring a little joy to those who so desperately need it, has been a constant struggle for her. Bottom-line priorities, twelve-hour days, scant appreciation for their dedication and skills have all but overwhelmed the caregiving professions. And yet, Patty continues, when- and wherever she can, to heal with humor, to soothe with silliness.

Patty Wooten, Defender of the Playful.



from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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