Happy New Year!

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Party Games suggestions for your New Years bash

Here, from the vast collection of Major Fun Award-winning Party Games, a few of the aforementioned that you might find worthy additions to your New Years' silliness:


Sketchy is a drawing and guessing game for 4-8 people from Fundex Games. It is cooperative, competitive, challenging, and laugh-provoking. It makes you feel closer to the people you play with. It can get very intense. And if you win, you not only feel good about your brilliance, but you also realize that it really didn't matter who won. Playing Sketchy was so much fun, that it's all the reward you needed.

The components are simple enough - 8 golf pencils, playing/scoring pads (ample enough for many replays), a deck of cards, a die, and a wonderfully annoying, batteries-included, electronic timer (the kind that ticks faster and faster every 15 seconds).

Each card has a list of six different categories. For example:
  1. Kinds of soup
  2. Sports where individuals compete
  3. Items on a teacher's desk
  4. New England US states
  5. Foods that are eaten on a stick
  6. U-pick
Each page of the drawing/scoring pad gives you room to draw up to seven examples of the randomly chosen (by the roll of a die) category. Imagine that a category has been called, and the timer started. Now imagine everyone furiously drawing what they hope will be vividly clear illustrations of things that fit the category. When the timer runs inexorably out, and the annoying buzzer of finality finally buzzes, you use the column to the right of your drawings to name each of the objects you hopefully illustrated.

When you're finished, you sit with your partner for that round and compare your answers, looking only at each others' drawings (you fold over the column with the verbal descriptions of the objects so that your partner can't see them, and you can't change your mind about what your drawings actually depict). The timer is once more started, and you and your partner pro-tem decide which drawings on the two answer sheets are describing the same item. You can't talk about what the items are. You must make your judgment solely on the drawings. And then you take score - 2 points for each item that appeared on both of your sheets, less one point for each item incorrectly selected. ("That was supposed to be chicken? I thought it was an artichoke!")

You determine your scores. Write them down on a sheet somewhere. Change partners. And begin the next round. So see, even though you only score when you see eye-to-eye, as it were, with your partner, your cumulative score reflects your performance as an individual.

Designed by Brian S. Spence, Garrett J. Donner and Michael S. Steer, Sketchy is, by every measure, Major FUN. It is everything you'd want to see in a party game - absorbing, challenging, creative, intelligent, easy to learn, easy on time (a whole game can be played in 20 minutes), bringing people together, making people laugh.


PitchCar is a puck-flicking, car-racing game of skill and cunning for people as young as six and as old as can still walk around a table. It can get as tense as the Indy 500 without ever getting too serious to laugh about. It can be played as a race against everybody or a race between teams, as a polite game of luck and skill or a cutthroat game of strategic blocking and violent crashing. And there are at least as many ways to build it as there are to play.

The building part is wonderfully easy, though it just as easily can become a studied, exacting, and creative exploration. The tracks fit together with ease, like large jig-saw pieces. Grooves on the sides of the tracks easily accommodate flexible plastic rails. The basic set consists of 16 pieces of track: ten curving and six straight, 16 "safety barriers" - lengths of plastic railing, and eight cars (wooden pucks), each of a different color. There is also a sticker sheet used to decorate the pucks and create the start/finish line. This is enough for you to create ten different "circuits," each a serious twelve-feet long. The "cars" are propelled by any appropriate finger-flick - though some may prefer a finger push or slide.

With a little imagination, and the select incorporation of pieces of cardboard, Popsicle sticks and other household miscellany, many different kinds of tracks can be build. And, if you can find any loose checker pieces or bottle caps, you can significantly expand the fleet. If you need a little more than your collective imagination has to offer, we'd strongly recommend that you consider the additional purchase of, say, PitchCar Extension 1.

Designed by Jean du Poël, PitchCar is what people call an "heirloom game" - a term frequently used to describe a game, the purchase of which approaches a serious investment, and the promise of which is generation-spanning. It is easy enough to build and play to prove of interest to most first-graders, yet it can just as easily be made complex and challenging enough to be taken quite seriously by the mature gamer.

The designer also suggests two variations. One, called "The Pursuit," is played by two players or two teams of players. One team starts ahead, the other tries to catch up. Another variant, "The Trash Variation," players can try to knock each others' cars off the track (in the standard game, you would lose a turn). These two variations hint at another dimension of the game that can be readily explored, namely, the rules. What if we played in teams of two, one player always trying to position their puck to block other players? What if we played in two different teams, started at the starting line, but each team driving in the opposite direction? How about if we each had two moves per turn? What would happen, wondered a few of our Tasters, if we had fashioned special sticks for puck propulsion. Could we become yet even more skilled, our control even that much more precise, the distance covered in a single turn even that much greater?

At a games party, PitchCar offers a welcome balance to the more serious and sedentary strategic entertainments. At the dining room table, it provides a rewarding after dinner, after homework opportunity for the whole family to relax and celebrate each other. Competitive without meaning anything important about anyone. Cooperation without becoming tedious. An invitation to experimentation and creativity. An opportunity for genuine, good-natured fun. Fun of just the right, as it were, pitch. Major FUN, that is.

Truth be Told - "The Laugh out Loud Pretend to Know your Friends Game

Before we delve too deeply into the nature and wonders of Truth be Told," Buffalo Games' newest and perhaps most successful party game since Imaginiff, let me ask you to fill in this particular blank: "The most expensive thing I purchased last month was ____________ " And by "I", I mean "me," majorly speaking, fun himself. Given everything you know about me from all our years of virtual intimacy, what do you really think, honestly, was the most expensive thing I actually bought all last month? Wait, let me put it differently: what do you think I would admit, truthfully speaking, to be the most expensive thing, etc.? Got it? OK, now write it down, using one of the 8, write-on, wipe-off markers on one of those 8, thick, write-onable, wipe-offable cards so thoughtfully provided by those everso clever Buffalo Gamesters. Be sure you write your name on the top of the card in the assigned blank. OK, now put your card face-down and slide it over to me. Note, please, how I'm thoroughly mixing up everyone's cards, including mine.

Now, listen carefully as I read everyone's answers aloud - everyone's, including mine. Here they are, in no particular order:
A coffee pot
A subscription to the New Yorker
A pair of New Balance sneakers
A bag of marbles
A Panasonic TC - P50X1 - 50" plasma panel - 720p flatscreen TV
OK? Want me to read them again?

Now, on your paddle-like, write-on, wipe-offable, nicely thick True Answer Paddle cards, write the answer that you think was the one I gave. Remember, you get one point for everyone who votes for your answer. And one point if you vote for mine. (If you wrote down my answer, I find myself that much closer to you as well, insofar as I get a point too.) And now, one at a time, in sequential order, everyone, except me, of course, reveals their answers. I then, with great flourish and conceptual fanfare, reveal my "true" answer. Scores are recorded on the convenient, also write-on and wipe-offable scorekeeping card. And then, on to the next Truth Teller.

What actual fun! How comfortably unthreatening. How surprisingly well the scoring system works to keep the game light-hearted, fair and, uh, balanced. See, I want you to guess my answer, because it's a point for me, too. So I try to fill in my blank with something that's not only honest, but plausible, and predictable, even. And you really are thinking about me, reviewing everything you know about me, or can guess about me. The game is clearly not about trying to make me look bad, or you stupid, or trying to reveal something secret about me or yourself or anyone else who's playing, or trying to out-strategize anyone. It's not good for me or anybody to try to get you to guess wrong. When it's my turn, the game is all about me. Not about what you think of me. But about what you know of me, what you can guess about me. And then, when it's your turn, it's all about you.

There are a lot of party games that try to accomplish this "getting-to-know-each-other-better" experience. Few succeed like Truth be Told. Honestly.

Oh, by the way, it was a subscription to the New Yorker. Who knew?

Dixit - a party game of subtlety, sensitivity and creativity

Dixit is a surprisingly lovely and subtle party game in which players try to guess which image was selected by the "storyteller." The rules are simple enough to learn in a few minutes. The 84 large cards are beautifully and evocatively illustrated. And the whole game can be played in well under an hour.

The subtlety of the game comes from the scoring system and from a growing understanding of the art of being a successful storyteller - for art is what it is.

The game begins with each player receiving six cards, dealt randomly from the deck. One player is selected storyteller. Once the storyteller has selected a card, she can give any kind of clue she wants. After she has given her clue, the other players try to find a card that will fit the clue well enough to get voted for. The storyteller takes her card and the other players selections, and lays them out, face-up, in random order. Everyone uses their voting chips to select the one card they think belonged to the storyteller. Players get the most points by voting for the storyteller's card. They also gets points for every player who votes for their card. In addition to the cards, the game includes a race track scoring board, voting chips, and 6 wooden bunny-like playing pieces, each of a different color.

What makes the game so intriguingly subtle is the result how the storyteller scores. If her clue is so good that everyone votes for her card, or so vague that no one votes for it, she gets no points. So there's an art here. If you're the storyteller (you don't actually have to tell a story, you can sing a song, utter a poem, act, mime, whatever you think will communicate your choice to almost everyone), it pays not only to be subtle, but also to have a good feel for your audience.

The need for both subtlety and social awareness makes Dixit a true party game. Though children as young as 8 can understand the game, unless they are compassionate and theatrically gifted (like my granddaughter), they will have trouble playing it successfully with anyone other than their peers. Though it may remind you of other games (Balderdash, perhaps? Apples to Apples?), it proves to be impressively unique, and hence a valuable addition to your games collection. Designed by Jean-Louis Roubira, with art by Marie Cardouat, Dixit invites strategic thinking, sensitivity and, most importantly, creativity. And for people who possess all these strengths, Dixit proves to be Major FUN.

(thanks to Marc Gilutin for recommending Dixit so strongly - he was right again)

Curses Again

We last discussed Curses on, to be needlessly precise, October 2, 2002. We, in fact, gave it a Keeper award, no less. The highest ranked, most Major award we have.

Recently, Curses has been "refreshed." Same package, same art, same basic gameplay as in the original Brian Tinsman design. The bell is maybe a little more modern-looking. The cards a little easier to shuffle. And some of the curses and challenges are new, and, of course, funny. But all in all the game isn't any more commercial-looking than it was then. Simple text graphics. Two decks of cards. A bell. And yet, it's as much of a Keeper now as it was then.

Because we're still playing it.

What we learn from all this, is that the Major FUN Awards, and especially the Keeper award, represent games that are unforgettably fun.

The original review is the same review I'd be writing for the game today. It follows:

Curses - a game of geometrically increasing silliness for 3-6 players, age 9 and up.

There are two decks of cards and a very nice hotel-type hit-the-top-and-it-rings bell. One deck of cards is called "Challenges," the other "Curses."

Let's start with the "Curses," which, of course, are the real challenges. A Curse is something silly that you have to do. For example, you might have the Curse of having to talk in a French accent, or having your wrists glued to your head (well, there's no real glue, but you have to pretend there is), or having to bow every time someone applauds. As the game progresses, you get more Curses. From other players, actually. Remembering two Curses is at least twice as difficult as remembering one. By the time you have three Curses you are at a conceptual point likened only to patting your tummy and rubbing your head while singing "Boat your row, row, row." In a French accent.

When you break a Curse, some observant player dutifully rings the bell. If you break enough Curses, you're kind of out. Kind of, because you still get to be a bell-ringer and cause of Curse-breaking.

The Challenges make the Curses evermore Curselike. You might have to ask someone else out to a school prom, or be in a TV commercial explaining why your deodorant is best or demonstrate how you celebrated your what you did when you scored the winning touchdown in the Superbowl. Each challenge takes on a very different light when you have to perform it under multiple Curses.

Curses radiates at least 120 Gigglewatts of pure Guffaw-power. It's can get very, very difficult to play, very quickly, and is challenging enough to occupy the most limber-minded of collegiates, whilst silly enough to keep even us over-the-hillsies laughing and coughing in glee.

The cards on the refreshed version pass the shuffle-test quite nicely. Their graphic design could make it a little easier to distinguish between the two kinds of cards. But that, compared to the sheer hysteria that this game catalyzes, is clearly, at most, a nano-niggle.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Play and Nostalgia

In his review of a recent BBC series called Hop, Skip and Jump: The Story of Children’s Play: Moving Indoors, Patrick West notes that "...we should regard childhoods of yesterday with ambivalence – and sometimes even appreciate the often paradoxical nature of society's nostalgia. A frequent lament by those who grew up in the 1940s and 1950s is that back then there were so many wonderful bombsites and ruined houses to explore, which is tantamount to thanking the Luftwaffe – who possibly killed these children's parents – for a happy childhood."

"...times have changed," he goes on to say, "and...when it comes to how we let our children play, some things are wrong today, but other things were wrong yesterday."

I suppose nostalgia is an inevitable component of any attempts at understanding the nature of children's play. In attempting to understand how children are playing, we naturally refer to our own childhood. It is challenging, to say the least, to get any accurate picture of how children are playing with what and whom, let alone a clear understanding of how we can support and nourish those play experiences. Realizing that we can't get there by comparing our childhood to theirs is at least a first step.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith



It's like Twitter, one word at a time. It tends to induce playfulness, monodictally-speaking. As well as rampant word-coinage. Don't spend it all in one place.


majorfun: wordsforfun

Posted less than a minute ago . This is the first usage of 'wordsforfun'.

majorfun: lexifunnicon

Posted 1 minute ago . This is the first usage of 'lexifunnicon'.

mrs_dableju: thenwhat?

Posted 9 minutes ago . This is the first usage of 'thenwhat'.

sugarhigh: nomnom

Posted 21 minutes ago . This is the first usage of 'nomnom'.

jv_t: dedmarazmipridurochka

Posted 21 minutes ago . This is the first usage of 'dedmarazmipridurochka'.

mrs_dableju: pingsan

Posted 22 minutes ago . This is the first usage of 'pingsan'.

barauswald: booboo

Posted 35 minutes ago . This is the first usage of 'booboo'.

barauswald: voiceofsteel

Posted 40 minutes ago . This is the first usage of 'voiceofsteel'.

heckymeal: thissux

Posted about 1 hour ago . This is the first usage of 'thissux'.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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At the Centre for Learning and Games in Israel

Here I am, once again, in the Educational Centre for Games in Israel, preparing to participate in a "Playforum" sponsored by the center, enthralled by Helena Kling's boundless energy, profound understanding, and deep commitment to play. The Playforum turned out to be a rare opportunity to meet an eclectic collection of play folk - teachers, designers, developers, dramatic play therapists, business play leaders - each with their own gifts of play to share. It was brief, deep, and embracing (maybe because we played a couple's version of knots).

Helena, a certified Defender of the Playful, was recently featured in an article in the Jerusalem Post. Here are a couple of not entirely random quotes from the article:

"If it's got 'educational' on the box, don't buy it," says Kling. "There is so much other stuff you can buy and have fun with, why have a piece of cardboard where a child throws dice and goes round a board and doesn't get anywhere?" Besides, she says, crudely overt "educational" games are the first to be ejected from game collections..."

"KLING SAYS she's often contacted for advice on what parents and grandparents should buy for their children. "Buy something you like that you'd like to play with" is her recommendation, as parents and grandparents should be a part of the child's play. "

Lovely woman. So knowledgeable. So playwise. Who provided me with yet one more lovely opportunity to meet and teach and learn.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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"Newly invented sports are fun for all"

Circle Rules Football, Mojo Kickball, Whiffle Hurling, Office Chair Polo... all "newly invented," all demonstrating a common assumption that new sports should be, first and foremost, fun for all; all featured on Good Morning America Weekend.

"Game on" the subtitle reads, "New Sports for Non-Jocks." Sports whose acknowledged purpose, whether devised by art students or social activists or people who are just playing around, is to create a sport that is physically challenging, engaging, and that anyone can play. Of the four, Office Chair Polo is the only sport that you can play sitting down - hence of most inherent interest to the under-exercised majority. It also looks fun (as well as funny), has a flavor of mild rebelliousness (office chairs, for goodness sake), and most vividly objectifies the "sports for all/fun for all" message.

Whiffle Hurling, Mojo Kickball, and Circle Rules Football are sports we have been following on this blog for quite some time, encouraged by how these sports manifest that wonderful spirit of newness, playfulness and inclusion that characterized the New Games movement (this is a link to the HTML version of a seminal paper by the Ludica group - it describes the New Games movement and makes a case for a similar initiative in online games - you can download the PDF version here).

Seeing these new sports together, mainstreamed, is more than an encouraging sign - it is a mandate for all of us who have the creativity, the playfulness, the social awareness; an inspiration to universities, athletic centers, art and recreation schools. Let's make new sports, sports that emphasize fun and inclusiveness more than competitiveness and professionalism. The masses and media are ready. It's time, once again, to take playfulness seriously.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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All you need are a bunch of friends, a place to play, "a soccer ball (size 5, preferably the Brine Matrix 100), two street hockey nets, two lacrosse (goalie) stick, and eight cones" - and you've got your basic Andyball. Andyball - a genuine, certifiably sportly sport, with teams and leagues and stats and uniforms and devoted fans and a meaningful invitation to serious, all-out, competitive fun.

How did it all come to pass? Divine intervention? Exhaustive plotting and planning by the National Commission for Athletic Events? Actually, according to their historical synopsis, it went something like this:
"On July 14, 2003, four bored teenagers from Quincy, Massachusetts met to do something. Having been turned away from the Shaw’s NBA Summer League at UMass Boston, where they had hoped to see a young LeBron James take the floor for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the gang regrouped back on the concrete tundra of Dayton Street in Quincy. The foursome, made up of Joe Griffin, Steve McDonagh, Andrew Potter, and Brandon Ranalli, would quickly find themselves down a man after Brandon’s mom made him come home for dinner. Steak dinner. Left with a treacherous trio, Griffin, McDonagh, and Potter, batted around ideas of how to enjoy themselves on a fine summer evening. They thought about playing basketball, soccer, hockey, football, wiffleball, and pretty much everything else. None of these, however, seemed to satisfy the deep longing in their souls for something new and different. With the light growing dim and the mosquitoes fast approaching, the gang quickly improvised. Rooting through the McDonagh household’s basement and backyard, they came up with a soccer ball, a hockey net, and a lacrosse stick. Using their Quincy Public School-educated brains, they quickly brought together these seemingly unrelated weapons of fun into a new game that they played well into the night, only pausing to watch Garret Anderson defeat Albert Pujols to win the Home Run Derby."
And the result, six years later, something worth playing. Something that clearly started life as what some would refer to as your typical Junkyard Sport, and went beyond to become something worth watching. Something worth celebrating. Something known to those who know it, as Andyball.

If there's anything else you need to know about Andyball, you can probably find it on the Andyball website.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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So, what is a grownup to do to promote play?

Here's an excerpt from a Reclaiming Play for Children, an article Wendy Rowan published in a recent issue the Times-Standard. It's a good reminder for us all about the kinds of gifts we can give our kids, and the kinds of gifts kids have to give to each other:

"So what is a grownup to do to promote play? Fortunately, as every young child wants and needs to play, a little guidance and simple toys should suffice. Reflect upon your positive early childhood play experiences to remember toys that stimulated your imagination, engaged you physically or involved others. I have vivid memories of my younger brother playing endlessly with his trucks in a patch of dirt my family referred to as the 'diggins.' He made a complex network of roads, tunnels, and hills. My cousin Linda and I claimed a patch of small acacia trees outside our classroom, naming them the bunny bushes. We were captivated by the story of Peter Rabbit and his nemesis Mr. McGregor. We repeatedly enacted dramas about entering Mr. McGregor's garden, running away from Mr. McGregor, and returning safely home to our bunny family."
For those of us who are out and about traveling the laneways to love - may we all return safely home to our bunny families.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Surrealist Games

Two of Ten Surrealist Games from the post: Ten Surrealist Games


How would you conserve, displace, modify, transform, or suppress certain aspects of your city?


Paris: The Eiffel Tower
Conserve it as is but change its name to 'The Glass of Milk'.


Come up with a new superstition.


When passing a police station, sneeze loudly to avoid misfortune.

See also:
A Book of Surrealist Games by Alastair Brotchie and Mel Gooding

Time Travelers Potlatch - and more Exquisite Corpse

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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What to do in Times Square when there's a snow storm?

Have a snow ball fight!

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

Scenes like this could reaffirm your faith in the fundamental fun of it all, could make you love New York, even. From a distance, probably. In someplace warm. Where people aren't throwing things at you.

twitpic photo by James Sims

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Tape Measure Mastery

Here's further evidence of the play/work connection. The mastery this guy has developed that led to these feats of tape measure magic comes as much from his need to: 1) have fun, and 2) keep engaged in his work.

via J-Walk Blog

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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It is once again time to write about the "the most unique food charity in the world" - Canstruction.

Canstruction, you ask? I quote:

"A foundation of the Society for Design Administration (SDA), Canstruction® is a Trademarked design/build competition currently held in cities throughout North America Australia and cities from around the world will soon be participating. Teams of architects, engineers, and students mentored by these professionals, compete to design and build giant structures made entirely from full cans of food. It takes 8-12 weeks and thousands of cans of food to create a structure.

"The results are displayed to the public as magnificent sculpture exhibits in each city where a competition is held. The public is invited to donate canned food at the time of the exhibition. At the close of the exhibitions all of the canned food used in the structures is donated to local food banks for distribution to emergency feeding programs that include pantries, soup kitchens, elderly and day care centers. "
So what you get is playfulness, creativity, art, technology, and charity! What a perfect combination! How Deep Fun-worthy!

Except, maybe, for the competition part. I mean, what do they do with the losing cans? And why should anyone have to lose when everyone can, if you excuse the expression, win so much? It saddened me, just a little bit. I expressed this very concern to Canstruction president and executive director Nick Telesca. He responded: "It is not sad. It is ingenious. We have created an exciting way for people to volunteer and to help others. We had over 120 competitions across North America. Over 10,000 volunteers participated and we raised over 2 million pounds of food. It is phenomenal! All of the food is donated to the local food bank. "

Can't argue with success. I guess.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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"A Playful Path is the Shortest Road to Happiness" - the Oaqui

"Ask not what fun does for you. Ask rather what you do for fun." - the Oaqui

"The more fun you have, the greater your value to yourself and to your society. The more fun you share with others, the more fun you have." - the Oaqui

"For every Way there's a way of following that Way that's fun" - the Oaqui

"The Path that is best for you is the Path that keeps the best of you in play" - the Oaqui

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

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

"All for fun, and fun for all!" - the Oaqui

"A Playful Path is the shortest road to happiness." - the Oaqui

"Laugh longer, live louder." - the Oaqui

"You can only have fun helping other people have fun if you're having fun doing it." - the Oaqui

"Fun is better than winning." - the Oaqui

"You ask: 'What is the Meaning of ME\WE?' I/we answer: 'When the will of the one is one with the will of the many." - the Oaqui

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

"It's more fun when you're not the only one having it." - the Oaqui

"Happy are those who get to talk. Happier are those who get listened to." - the Oaqui

"The purpose of fun is to live it." - the Oaqui

"Fun is where it's at. That's why you have to be there." - the Oaqui

"If it's not fun, tell me, why are you still playing?" - the Oaqui

"Losing is hardly ever fun." - the Oaqui

"Ask not what fun does for you, but what you do for fun!" - the Oaqui

"In the beginning, it was fun." - the Oaqui

"Might as well remove those doubts. Fun is what it's all about." - the Oaqui

The above is published at the request of the Oaqui, who, despite any implicit indication of having arrived at these examples of playful pith by sheer playful pithiness, most humbly, yet insistently request to be acknowledged as the source thereof.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

The Lexifunnicon Project

"Forklike, I continue my multi-pronged efforts to bring yet another morsel of fun closer to the mouths of the many. We who hunger for fun. We who tour the supermarket of the world with all the varieties of fun so temptingly displayed before us in the freezer cases of truth, and walk away fun-hungry, fun starved. We know exactly what we want. We just don't know how to read the packages."

Which is why I invite you to this collection of new words for fun -- this lexifunnicon of funonyms, as it were, lacking only a few more contributions from readers like you.

I exemplify:
  • frolic acid - the fun vitamin (jed)
  • fun - what makes you like yourself
  • fun ( v) is the active tense of the verb form of fun. I fun, you fun, we fun.It includes both having fun, being fun, and sourcing fun. (JN)
  • Fun Economy (The): a socioeconomic movement based on the observation that the more fun you have with others, the more fun you have.
  • fun (not):1) a near-dead experience (rd) 2:) what makes you not like yourself
  • funalog - something funlike

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

The Exorcism of Fun

"The exorcism of fun could be compared to Foucault's Histoire de la Sexualité - where he analyzes how we construct sexuality to be a taboo topic, yet at the same time create an opportunity to make it all we think about (us victorians). In politics, we perform rituals like: dressing appropriately, awaiting turns for speaking with limited timeframes, having a chair that interferes when we may get too cheerful or drift off of topic improvising. We design buildings where not everyone is welcome, we put up chairs in specific order and the benches on which we sit are fixed, so we don't scoot towards one another to chit chat. We have to really try hard to keep the inclination for spontaneous behavior out and when a politician does display playful behavior, we may even claim s he is mocking democracy. There are, of course, politicians that display forms of contempt for democracy. We need only look at some of the remarks Berlusconi made recently, to see that in terms of the responsibilities he has, he does not do justice to the weight of his function. But this is not due the playful style with which he enters the political arena, it is due to the negation of the seriousness of the topic at hand. So, should we look differently at the notions of playfulness and seriousness, we may find a better way of conceptualizing forms of positively productive play and forms of play that deteriorate the game of politics, without doing away with play and playfulness altogether."
from a presentation titled: "Notes on a democracy of playfulness in 'Spectacle 2.0' political campaigns" made by Maaike de Jong & Valentina Rao during a conference called Media, Communication and the Spectacle.

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"Real life is an informal sport, not a formal one"

In his article "Some Lessons Taught by Informal Sports, Not Taught by Formal Sports," Dr. Peter Gray, who writes frequently and deeply about play, identifies some "lessons of informal sports" which are downright hippifying.

Here's the pith:
  1. There is no real difference between your team and the opposing team.
  2. To keep the game going, you have to keep everyone happy, including the players on the other team.
  3. Rules are modifiable and are generated by the players themselves.
  4. Conflicts are settled by argument, negotiation, and compromise.
  5. Playing well and having fun really ARE more important than winning.

One of the reasons I am so attracted to his work is that it strongly supports everything I've written in The Well-Played Game.

To wit, his comments on keeping everyone happy, even the players on the other team (2):
In the minds of the players, the informal game is conducted just for fun. Nobody is forced or pressured to play. There are no coaches, parents, or other adults who will scold you or be dissappointed if you quit; no fans to please. There are no trophies or other prizes to win or lose. A score may be kept, and players may cheer each time one of their own crosses home plate or makes a great play, but tomorrow nobody will remember who won. Part of the definition of free play is that players are free to quit at any time (see definition of play). Because they are free to quit, the game can continue only as long as a sufficient number of players choose to continue. They will continue playing if they are having fun; they will find some reason to quit if they are not. Every experienced player knows that implicitly. Therefore, every player who wants to keep the game going is motivated to keep the other players happy, including those who are on the "enemy team."
If you enjoy this weblog, I heartily recommend that you read Dr. Gray's article, as well as the bulk of his play-related articles on his Freedom to Learn website.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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A game fit for a prince

Apparently, even the Prince Philip played Lap Game.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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An ecology of play

I was reading a publication of the Association for the Study of Play called Transactions at Play and thumbed my way to an article by Avigail Morris on the game of "Nine a Side Basketball" as played in the Kingdom of Tonga. The focus was on "a case study in negotiating gender roles." It was about how the women of Tonga - who spend most of their lives engaged in very genteel, feminine activities - adapted a game of competitive basketball to reflect their own values.

Aside from all the keen insights of the paper, and the fascinating study of how culture is reflected in sport, there was one of the things she said (Vol. 9, p. 25), almost in passing, that struck me as particularly poignant. "As in many other Pacific Islands," she writes, "international sport has replaced many of the traditional games played only a few generations ago."

Games disappear. One of my favorite sites, Street Play, has been devoted, for many years now, to saving at least the memory of stick ball, box ball, stoop ball - all those games that captured a whole culture of inner city life in the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. Then there are the children's games I described in my article Near Myths, where I first publicly began to explore the idea that games are a form of literature, as profound as a theater piece, as culturally and psychologically relevant as a Shakespeare. Any of these games, as they disappear from the collective memory, become lost to us, and we become a little more lost without them.

I don't mean to appear recidivist. I welcome new games in any form - especially those that give us new opportunities to play. But until I encountered that observation about the passing away of traditional games, I don't think I properly mourned that loss. There's an ecology of play, whole species of games that at one time prosper and multiply, and later get displaced by the new. They are living things, cultural treasures that bring life and understanding, and their loss is ours.

We should play them again, some time. The old games. We should give them life again, from time to time. They were fun then, and they are as much fun now. And as relevant. And as deep. We should play them again, before they are gone, and something dies in us, forever.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


The Well-Played Game as a cultural imperative in the design of video games

Dr. Celia Pearce, currently Assistant Professor of Digital Media in the School of Literature, Communication and Culture at Georgia Tech, sent me a blog post that her student, Terris Johnson, had written about the Well-Played Game. I, understandably, quote it in full:

I just wanted to call attention to another reading from class that has resonated with me, but didn't quite know how to incorporate it into the topics above. Though DeKoven does not really mention race and representation as part of a well-played game, as his concepts deal with game mechanics and rules, I view race, gender, and representation as part of a well-played game when dealing with video games.

Video games are extremely representational in nature, as they require assets of which must be viewed and understood. I often feel that some games would be "well-played", if they were more fair and mature about representation. As the cover of DeKoven's The Well-Played Game states "In a well-played game, everybody wins". When I am playing games like Gears of War, Tomb Raider, Virtual Fighter, Blazblue, or King of Fighters, I feel that some of us are "losing" from the beginning.

While males enjoy nuanced characters that have a variety of roles, motives, and are well constructed, females often times have to endure characters with little intelligence, exaggerated physical features, and submissive roles. White males enjoy the largest cast of diverse characters across the gaming-sphere and can find characters like them to identify with (Hippie, Nerd, Scientist, Bully, Superhero, Teenager, Distraught Widower, etc) . Japanese males have a similar pool of characters to choose from, but may feel alienated that many of supposed "Japanese" characters appear white. Other minority groups must be subjected to the same 1-dimensional archetypes that feed off of stereotypes, no matter the game genre, theme, or setting.
Terris' reading of the Well-Played Game most definitely reveals a central aspect of the experience that I had hoped to capture in writing the book - how, when it happens, we are able to transcend all the labels that divide us - race, culture, ability, status, even species - where all players experience themselves as equal participants in the same community. He is one of the first I know of to have extended that particular aspect of the Well-Played Game to the design of video games.

It makes me: 1) think that I have to write a sequel, updating the book, applying the concepts of the Well-Played game to the conduct of the virtual community, and 2) with readers like Terris, to realize that this new interpretation is already being written for me.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Democratic Games

I was contacted by Christian Ulrik Andersen (Associate Professor, Ph.D, Chair of DARC DIGITAL AESTHETICS RESEARCH CENTER, Dept. of Information and Media Studies, Aarhus University). He was working on a paper called "Writerly Gaming: Political gaming" and was interested in using a photograph from a New Games event to illustrate his article. He had found the photo on the Deep Fun site on Lee Rush's page devoted to a New Games Album.

He sent me a draft of his article, in which a photo was included, as well as the following quote from one of Stewart Brand's articles in the New Games book:
“You can’t change a game by winning it, losing it or refereeing it or spectating it. You change a game by leaving it, going somewhere else, and starting a new game. If it works, it will in time alter or replace the old game.”
His taking that quote out of the context of the book helped re-frame it for me, allowing me to see more clearly the political relevance of Stewart's vision and of the influences underlying my own play/work. I included here again because I thought it might help you do the same.

Christian's work and play in "democratic games" are most worthy of our collective contemplation. See Planet Pledge Pyramid for a worthy example.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Towel Surfing?

They called it "Towel Surfing." Apparently, it was a flash mob event on beautiful Bondi Beach, very much in keeping with the guerrilla dancing meme made famous by our beloved Defenders of the Playful, Improv Everywhere, producers of the inspiring Where's Rob stadium event. I didn't see anyone actually surfing or dancing or even standing on towels, so I didn't get the towel surfing part. But the event was definitely YouTube-worthy (starting with the semi-inspiring image of a fat-challenged man dancing in his Speedos and then going on to embrace the more clearly inspiring images of lovely lasses dancing in their all-but-all-together), and the commercial underpinnings remained safely in the background. But commercially under-pinned it certainly was, sponsored by Do You Flip, an Australian site promoting the people who make the Flip digital video camera. And therein lies the departure.

So, OK. So they take a very successful meme which was created as a playfully artistic statement and use it to sell cameras. And it makes one perhaps enter into disturbing conjectures, similar to those entertained by the recent conference, called "The Internet as Playground and Factory, where variously sober thinkers discuss the way that some people make money off of others' freely contributed inspirations, the Towel Surfing video vividly exemplifying the very point the speakers make over and over again. And yet, and yet, when all is said and done, it's still fun. Even without towels.

via The Presurfer

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Eigenharp - a youtube adventure into instruments of play

I began this particular journey with the Eigenharp from Eigenlabs - a jaw-droppingly amazingly futuristically one-man-bandly sort of instrument that you can play with and on and on.

Which led me to searching Youtube for more audio-visuals of this particular techno-amazement in action. Which, almost before I knew what I was doing, landed me on John Fowler, a guy making similarly amazing music with the humble, and significantly non-electronic "Jaw Harp."

Which made me think and rethink about the meaning of play, the vast toy-instrument continuum, and the deeper reaches of fun.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Matress Dominoes

Here's a clip that will make you:
1. laugh
2. want to work in a mattress company
3. experience something akin to astonished respect for the mattress domino-endorsing mattress company management
4. think about the fun you could be making your work into

via Humor That Works

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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101 Ways to Create Humor at Work

Working work humorist Drew Tarvin has come up with a significantly useful resource for those of us who can still see reasons to bring light to the dark of the working day. He calls it 101 Ways to Create Humor at Work. I exemplify:
12. Lock-in Inspiration: Create easy-to-remember, hard-to-hack, inspirational passwords.
13. Pump It Up: Get energized for the day by listening to some of your favorite songs on your commute to work.
14. Rock It Out: Create a playlist of fast paced rock music or equivalent; listen to it while doing less than exciting work.
15. Listen Closely: Listen to classical music when you are required to concentrate on one task.
16. Address Yourself: Write a letter to yourself highlighting where you want to be in 3, 6, 12 months and include a silly joke.
17. Motivate: Get a motivational poster.
18. Laugh-tivate: Get a de-motivational poster.
19. Picture the Good Stuff: Get a digital picture frame and fill it with pictures of your friends and family.
Even if you don't do any of these things, this is a bookmark-worthy page. It will remind you that you have the choice. Which is what it's all about, no, yes? The choice. Choosing to have fun. To laugh. Even though.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


All we are saying is "give kids a chance"

In her article, The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting, in the Nov 20 issue of Time magazine, Nancy Gibbs gives "helicopter parents" a lot to think about, and, hopefully, even more to question.
"The insanity crept up on us slowly," she begins; "we just wanted what was best for our kids. We bought macrobiotic cupcakes and hypoallergenic socks, hired tutors to correct a 5-year-old's 'pencil-holding deficiency,' hooked up broadband connections in the treehouse but took down the swing set after the second skinned knee. We hovered over every school, playground and practice field - 'helicopter parents,' teachers christened us, a phenomenon that spread to parents of all ages, races and regions."

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