Play with me


I Tried to Teach My Child with Books;
He Gave Me Only Puzzled Looks.
I Tried to Teach My Child with Words;
They Passed Him by Often Unheard.
Despairingly, I Turned Aside;
"How Shall I Teach this Child," I cried?

Into My Hand He Put the Key,
"Come," He Said, "Play with Me."

~ Author Unknown



photo of Lily and Cole Weidenbach by their dad

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Strange tales from weird world championships

I received an email from someone who's real name is not Dave Gali. Mr. a.k.a. Gali was interested in knowing if he could participate in a Junkyard Sports world championship event. Never having imagined that there could or should be such an event, I wrote him back, explaining that the whole idea of Junkyard Sports is to create events that are not to be taken seriously. "Sports for the fun of it," and all that.

After a few more email exchanges, my conceptual eyes were opened a wee bit. Apparently, there are a half-vast number of world championship competitions which are designed, specifically and blatantly not to be taken seriously. 

Mr. a.k.a. Gali and I have decided to label these events "Weird World Championships." And he, Mr. a.k.a. Gali himself, has agreed to be our Weird World Championships correspondent. He writes:
"I dug out a few photos of me in action at some of the world championships, and one of me on a cannon. Here's one from the "Sumo Suit Athletics world championship" from this year where I finished 3rd in both the high and the long jump.

The second one is from the "Tin Bath Racing world championship" where you have to row your tin bath to the harbor's entrance and back again. Whilst I put up a valiant effort I eventually succumbed to the inevitable, and sank.

The last one is from the "Woolsack Carrying world championship." I entered the team event in 2006. Most of the teams where made up of local rugby players, my team was me, a nurse, an accountant and a journalist. Unsurprisingly, we came in last by some way.

I suppose I should explain why I am doing this and what I am doing.
I am trying to enter as many world championships as I can find that are open to anyone. This first started with the "Crazy golf" world championships in 2004. After this I starting thinking about trying to enter several world championships in one year. Which I did in 2006, entering 30. I managed to convince my girlfriend and best mate that this was a good idea as well, and we spent the year going around the country.

To date I have competed in 43 different world championship, and I have won two: the "Egg static relay" world championships and the "Dry foam throwing" world championships, the second of which I hold the world record for (I must say that this is not recognized by Guinness). So far I have not had to leave the UK for any of the competitions. At a few of these world championships I have received permission to represent the Principality of Sealand, a small micro nation of the coast of England.
Apparently, the majority of these contests can be found in places like the U.K. and Finland. Most of them have a small entry fee, and offer similarly modest prizes. Googling for Weird World Championships, I was led to a disappointingly paltry collection of sites, and yet, in some small way, inspirational. See, for example, Mobile Phone Throwing and Wife Carrying.

Let us therefore warmly welcome our new correspondent Mr. a.k.a. Gali and joyously anticipate more strange, and yet inspiring tales of Weird World Championships.  

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Bambooband

Go ahead, make your day.




This clip is called Bambooband - shot at Savo, in the Solomon Islands. As with anything I see on the web, I can't really tell how genuine anything is. But this feels dangerously honest: the exuberance, the inclusiveness, the playfulness. If you're not careful, this kind of video could make you believe that our lives are actually meant to be played out like this, together, with love, joy, harmony.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Of cooperation and excellence

One of the most influential books on the idea of "cooperative sports" is now available online, for free, thanks to the Google Books project. It's conveniently called "Cooperative Games and Sports."

The book was written by one of the most influential proponents of cooperation, Terry Orlick. If you click on his name, expecting to catch up on his most recent cooperative thoughts, you'd discover that for quite some time Terry has been following something that seems a very different path - the idea of excellence.

Excellence. Which makes me think of Tom Peters and Robert Waterman's landmark book In Search of Excellence. Which is a business book. And business, as we all know, has at least as much to do with competition as it does cooperation. And coincidentally(?) Orlick's most recent lliterary landmark, now in it's fourth edition, is a book called "In Pursuit of Excellence."

What's the connection? Why would a champion of cooperation turn his attention to what in many ways is a central focus of competition?

The more I think about it, the deeper the question, and the richer the connection seems. It led me to such a fascinating contemplation that I decided, rather than sharing my conclusions with you, I'd better serve our shared interests by giving you the opportunity, and encouragement, to draw conclusions for yourself.

And while you're at it - what about the "fun" connection? Is that still part of the cooperation-excellence equation?


from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Competition and Cooperation

The key to the whole games thing is challenge. Challenge, as Csikszentmihalyi points out so clearly, is central to the experience of flow, it is the invitation for us to engage, for us to develop and refine our abilities and master evermore complex tasks.

In cooperative games, the challenge has to be flexible, negotiable, and always changing for us to sustain the experience of play: let's see how long we can volley the ball back and forth across the net, let's see if it's more fun (challenging) if we raise the net, play further away. Maybe you should stand closer to the net and me further. Maybe I should use my non-dominant hand. The goal is to play together, to have fun, to engage each other.  If we're not having fun, we increase or decrease the challenge.  Cooperative games are difficult to sustain - the require creativity and sensitivity in order for players to arrive at the kind of challenge that will keep them all in play, regardless of how different their abilities might be.

In competitive games, the challenge is non-negotiable and if we want to have fun playing the game together, we have to be close in abilities. The closer, the greater the challenge.  In competitive games, If we're not having fun, we have to find other people to play with. This is everywhere evident in professional sports, from chess to football. In competitive games, we wind up playing with people who are like us in skill and capability.

In cooperative games, we are able to engage an entire community into play, regardless of differences in age and ability, and more often than not, it is these differences that prove to be the source of the challenge, the very thing that makes the game inviting and worth playing.

Cooperative games nurture diversity. Competitive games, uniformity.

from Cooperation and Competition

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Early learning, late living

"A lot happens in those early years that goes beyond classroom and curriculum. Unstructured play forces children to learn the value of compromise, how to deal with others who are different from them, the social consequences of treating others unfairly and vice versa. And it extends beyond just the preschool years. At every step of the way children are forced into structures with increasingly less unstructured play time. Even after school children are immediately thrust into more structure — the legions of organized youth sports attest to the virtues of play under the watchful eyes of Little League coaches, with the rules set in stone. It’s always better to be on the ball field with freshly painted lines and adult supervision, the thinking goes, than down the street playing stickball.

"But these same children will get out of college one day and still have the work of the preschool years to do — only the play will be more dangerous. And perhaps one day a whole generation of parents will find themselves scratching their heads, wondering why their children cannot grow up after receiving the best education available."

in "Under Played"


via Streetplay

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Fun is not a 4-letter word

"Fun is not a 4-letter word"

Rocky De Koven

see also

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Clabbers, Dense Escalating Clabbers and Volost

Surfing my way, somehow, to a collection of Scrabble Variants, I learned about Clabbers which is a game of Scrabble, all right, but the letters can be in any order you want, as long as they are an anagram of a Scrabble-acceptable word. The author notes that "the board usually ends up tightly packed in places, and necessarily quite empty in others. Game scores will often be much higher than in standard Scrabble, due to the relative ease of making high-scoring overlap plays and easier access to premium squares."

That's all I needed to know: higher game scores, each word a puzzle in its own right. My kind of Scrabble.

Then there's, of course, Dense Escalating Clabbers for the serious Clabbers-player. The Wikkipedist explains: "Dense Escalating Clabbers add 1/3 more tiles. In addition, every bingo increases a player's rack size by one, and the play times are increased from 25 minutes to 33 minutes 33 seconds. There is also a 100 point bonus for playing a fifteen letter word. These modifications also make the game more challenging and interesting, and also increase the likelihood of triple-triple plays." "Bingo" I deduce, having something to do with using all one's tiles.

Then, apparently, there's Volost. A "surreal game" says the Wikipedist, "where the only acceptable words are VOLOST and VOLOSTS." I wasn't really clear about what makes this variation worthy of our collective consideration until I read the last sentence in the article. "It is typically played late at night, and alcohol is usually involved."

Ah. Alcohol. I should've known.

See also this great collection of potential Scrabble variants on Half-Baked.


from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The true object of all human life...

"The true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground."



from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Ground of Play

The profoundly playful Pat Kane has a three simple measures for the conditions governing a successful "ground of play" (as in "play ground")
1 It must have loose but robust governance
2 It must ensure a surplus of time, space and stuff
3 It must treat failure, risk and mess as necessary for development
He applies this to three different environments: Lion cubs at play on the savannah, a play park, and the Internet. Of the three, the last bears slightly more direct relevance to our being here together. I quote liberally, as I am wont to do:
1 Have loose but robust governance? Surely that's the very definition of the Internet. It has a variety of non-governmental institutions which manage domain names, and the improvement of codes and protocols that enable the web. And these codes themselves have come from a variety of actors that are neither public authorities or private enterprises, but exist somewhere in the 'commons' of open source software production...
2 Ensure a surplus of time, space and stuff? Again, that's the very definition of the Net. It ensures the infinite copyability of digital information, it exists in a state of total plenitude of content. Time mulitplies on the net: the way that social networking eats into organizational time is evidence of the way the Net busts the boundaries of our schedules, enables us to break time into bundles that suit us.
3 Treats failure, risk and mess as necessary for development? The mantra for web development is not 'ready, aim, fire' - get it right, hope you hit the mark - but 'ready, fire, aim' - keep shooting, try many trajectories and options, and out of the many iterations a few things will hit beautifully....
So, that's why I love the web. (Listen also to my Funcast called: "Learning by Dying".)

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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HipSync, The Sandpit, The Hide and Seek Festival, Ludocity, Digital Maverick, and Beyond

So, I heard about the Sandpit from, wait, no, I heard about the Hide and Seek Festival from my friend the Digital Maverick. And because the Digital Maverick is what he claims to be, I tend to listen carefully to him. And so I go look for the Hide and Seek Festival and when I find it, what do I see but the Sandpit and who should be the very first name cited as one of the Sandpit Who - yes, the very same person from a group called Ludocity who asked me for permission to include some of my "pointless games" in Ludocity's admirable collection of Pervasive Games in which one can find, for example, the rules to HipSync:
Gamers are loaned MP3 players on shuffle play and place false plastic lips in their mouths (to prevent talking). On the game start they all press play on the MP3s, then only by dancing they must identify other players that are listening to the same song and from a group with them. At the songs end you get knocked out if you’re in the wrong group (or if you’re on your own when other people are dancing to the same song as you).
And suddenly I am led to connect back at least a year in time from our last contact, to that very same person, who explains the Sandpit thusly:
It's a regular event for trying out new pervasive games - the sort of thing that Ludocity documents. There are also quite a few games that are a bit more production-intensive, involving more actors or tech - these tend not to make it onto Ludocity as they're a lot harder for other people to run!

We generally get anywhere from 80 to 200 people at each Sandpit; and they play a few different games each, chosen out of the 8 or 10 games that tend to be programmed at each event.

They take place in a lot of different places - partly because it's a good way to find new people to play with and to make games, partly because it's good to play in new spaces. Usually we're in some sort of London-based mixed arts venue, but over autumn we're going on tour to 10 different cities around the UK, with a programme of games that have come out of the last year's worth of Sandpits, plus a new game or two at each venue contributed by a local maker.

The makers are - well, there's no real rules, or consistent patterns. We have a lot of people that come from a theatre background; a few programmers; an experimental composer, a technical writer, an accountant, a film student. Anyone who's interested in making a
pervasive game, really.

I curate the Sandpit, so my role is partly making sure the event works as a whole, and the games fit together; partly helping the makers to develop their ideas and make sure that they function as a game; and partly recruiting new makers.

The Sandpit is part of Hide&Seek, which Alex Fleetwood set up in 2007; and a lot of the best games from the Sandpit become part of the Hide&Seek Weekender, an annual weekend of games much along the lines of Come Out and Play in New York. For a general idea of what it's like, there's this review from a player last year, or this year's programme.
I imagine that's much more than you wanted to know, but if there's anything you're curious about that I haven't explained, let me know!
Ah the connections. The connections. Like branches of a river, rejoining. How wonderful to learn of people making the very same kind of games I would be making if I were making games with them or vice versa. Dancing to my own music. With other people. And doing it in public, for art! Ah, public art. And ah public fun. New Games renewed. HipSync in deed. And to learn of it from someone called the Digital Maverick. And to learn I knew of it already.



from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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"We are seeking the experience of being alive. The difficulty is that for us to find it, we must not be afraid of life."

"Play teaches that I have a choice beyond survival and contesting with the world. This choice to thrive is based on a trust in the power to love and to give this love unconditionally at the moment of attack, and after the worst of atrocities. The choice to be neither an aggressor nor a victim increases my opportunities exponentially. Only when I stop my dependence on self-defense can I begin to thrive. There is no safety in such a fearful, contest world that leaves little or no room for living the miracle of love. When we thrive we feel loved and are able to give love. Fear may impel us to survive, but it is love that propels us to feel alive, sustains our vitality, and restores our humanity. We are seeking the experience of being alive. The difficulty is that for us to find it, we must not be afraid of life."
Fred Donaldson, Peace is Child's Play

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Found Object Lessons

Wait a minute. Are you a non-profit, volunteer-driven organization living in and about Downtown Indianapolis? Did you know that you could qualify for a grant from the Found Fun Foundation (Rocky and Bernie DeKoven, Co-founders) which would be almost all you need to get Bernie and Rocky to lead one of their remarkably playful and instructive "Found Object Lessons?"  That's correct. 90-minutes of lively, collaborative, creative, spontaneous, and sometimes remarkably reflective play, with competition, even, at no additional charge, led by Rocky and Bernie DeKoven's, supported by awards from the Found Fun Foundation, Rocky and Bernie DeKoven, founders

To find out more, please contact Major Fun at his earliest convenience.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Treehouse Gallery

The Treehouse Gallery is "an innovative public project featuring a free daily program of events, arts, musicology and activities in Regent's Park, London." See, for another example, their collection of Foraged Pigment Paintings, yes, that's right, paintings made from pigments "...found in and around Regent's Park. The sources for the paints included blackberries, elderberries, mud, brick, nettles, madder root (the only one not foraged locally), st. john's wort, elder leaves, elder flowers, and bark. Sarah and Anna boiled these ingredients to extract the various colours and added a mordant to create watercolor paints for a children's and adult's painting workshop. Along with traditional brushes, forks, spoons and sticks were also used as unique mark making tools."

Days are workshop-filled. Maria Tsartsali, for example, will host "an art installation made with real leaves of the London Plane tree, inviting anyone from the public to come and paint leaves with latex to re-imagine them, once they have fallen, and for you to take away yourself into other spaces and contexts. They can be a wallpaper or a curtain stuck with blu-tack, a rug or anything you wish. The idea is to highlight the beauty of nature and recreate the natural environment in an interior setting. They need to be handled delicately." And "Eco-activist and award-winning poet Mario Petrucci will be talking and reading from his moving and thought-provoking work. An experienced and powerful performer, he has written brilliantly about Chernobyl, while being described as creating 'Poetry on a geological scale... a new track for poets of witness.' Poetry that is as connected to the big eco-issues as it is unforgettable."

I learned of this particular wonderfulness through a particularly wonderful cyberfriend named Digitalmaverick, who told me to be sure to check out the exemplarly awesome work of Dougald Hind who blogs about the Treehouse Gallery and many playful, social activistish things. Dougald calls himself a "former busker, door-to-door salesman and BBC journalist. Co-founder of School of Everything. Thinking about practical, imaginative responses to future scenarios. Inspired by deep thinkers and storytellers such as Ivan Illich, John Berger and Alan Garner."

I love the web.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Follow the fun!

I learned this:
Just For Fun is a book about when big business happens to people who care far more about creating than marketing, and who love what they do for its own sake. As such, it is not just a book about an alternative business model - the open source movement - but about an alternative affect, one that honors the joy of creative work more than the humorless pursuit of profit, and that sees fun, rather than power or money, as the proper goal of life.

And this:
Torvalds’ real genius lies not so much in his programming abilities, though those are extraordinary, but in his capacity for that thing so many of us never learn to do: have fun. Fun, Torvalds believes, is at heart very far from the frivolous thing capitalism and religion have made it out to be. Fun is, rather, the highest form of human behavior, the thing that comes after survival and community, the thing, in other words, that not only makes life worth living, but is - or ought to be - a lifestyle in itself.

from this highly reputable source.


- Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The more

"The more, come to think of it, the potentially merrier."

 - The Oaqui

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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On Winning

"Fun is better than winning."

 - the Oaqui

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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LEGO and the funsmith

As you know, over the last few years I've been doing some work with LEGO on the development of a new LEGO project called: LEGO Games. One of the annoying things about consulting on new game projects is that I can't share my excitement or, more importantly, my discoveries with you.

The site is now live enough (though still under development, and not, conceptually, available to people in the US), and a couple of my articles about the LEGO Games System are finally available for global sharing.

See:
  • and Designing for Fun (Part One), followed immediately by Designing for Fun (Part Two) - I find myself impartially proud of the part I had in this small part of the LEGO Games website. I get to remind grown-ups about the fun and depth of learning we find when we get to re-invent the game we are playing.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Laugh longer

"Laugh longer, live louder."

- the Oaqui
from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Exploring musical truths, playfully

Funfollower Alex Kerjulf sent me this article, which included this video of Bobby McFerrin demonstrating his amazing ability to engage people, playfully, in exploring musical truths.



Watch it several times. Note how McFerrin engages his audience, how wonderfully spare his instructions, how much fun he is sharing.

via Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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"In the beginning it was fun..."

"In the beginning it was fun. In the end, it was all for fun. And in between is where it tickles most."

- the Oaqui



from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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re: truth

"...and the Truth will Make you Laugh."

- the Oaqui
from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Deep Rope

 There was a minute or two in that increasingly amazing movie Mystic Ball (increasingly amazing just in the memory of what you've witnessed: the love, the play, the skill), when you get a glimpse of a few girls playing rope. Take a look. Click on the image if you want to see it bigger.

Looks like they're playing Double Dutch. Except the girl in the middle's balancing a ball on one foot. Balancing a ball one one foot and jumping two ropes at the same time!  OK. Now look at this picture. Also from the same movie. Also the same kids. Only they're all balancing a ball on one foot!

This is the kind of stuff that gives me chills, that makes me just about want to pray to the spirit of play, if you know what I mean, if there is such a thing. Double Dutch, from 4 corners, while balancing a ball on one foot. And, o, wait. Isn't the girl in the middle also jumping her own rope while she's jumping the two crossed ropes while keeping a ball balanced on her foot? How utterly accomplished is that? How fun, how lovely, how spiritual, how miraculous how the spirit of play has moved these girls to such profound and practiced depth!

Play. Do not doubt its powers. Even when no one wins, everyone wins.


from Junkyard Sports

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