Quote for the day

"When we were children we were errant enough to wish to be birds for the day but there's nothing easier to lose than playfulness."

- Jim Harrison in True North

via Skoobwoman

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Junkyard Sports continues

I've been working on my keynote for The Association for the Study of Play and International Playground Association conference. I was looking around to see if there were any excerpts from my Junkyard Sports book still online. I came across this article on Fredericksburg.com - inspired, apparently, by an article I wrote for Kidscoop.

It's a collection of ideas for Junkyard Sports, contributed by elementary school kids.

Here's one:

Do you like soda? Well, drink a whole can of soda, crush the can, get out some brooms and play "Soda Can Hockey." You play this game by going to a cement or blacktop area, and take a piece of chalk to draw a very large rectangle. Put the can in the middle of the rectangle and then form two teams. The goal is to use your broom to push the can across your opponent's line for a goal. That is how you take some junk and make a junkyard sport.

--Clair Huffine, fourth grade

Mary Walter Elementary School,

Ms. Baker's class

I am delighted beyond measure to have found this. It is exactly the kind of thing I would hope would result from my work.

It is success.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Beyond Cat's Cradle

O, sure, there's Cat's Cradle, the two-person, cooperative string-figure game of deserved renown. But there are also solitaire versions that are played, apparently, wherever people have string and fingers.

The Five-Pointed Star that adorns this post is one of a multitude of Navaho string figures (this site includes videos showing how each of the collection is made - which is much, much easier to follow than the written instructions). Equally available to your Web-probing fingers you will find, for example, this collection of The Ancient Art of Hawaiian String Figures as well as the Arctic String Figure Project, and the even more culture-spanning International String Finger Association (ISFA).

Many of the figures shown in these collections, even when augmented by carefully made instructional videos, are challenging enough to make you cry. But they are all and each an invitation to fun, as well as pathway to the play of other cultures.

Before you tie yourself in knots, however, you'd do well to start with this Kids Guide to Easy String Fingers with Video Clips, you betcha.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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From throwaway to stay and play

This tire swing was built on the ruins of what was supposed to be an elevated train.

It's like a deep pocket park, as it were, built out of scrap, on a scrap of land that nobody wanted. Transformed into an invitation to play.

It's called the "Ghost Train" park. Designed and built by Basurama. Basura being Spanish for "trash."

Let us play close attention.

via Boing Boing

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Spoofing - a game of lots, military style

Spoofing, according to Robert L. Vaessen, is a military version of the game of Lots. I quote, at length:
Each participant begins with three coins. The coins are held behind the participants back. The participant selects 0 - 3 coins and places them in their game hand. That hand is closed into a tight fist (to prevent contestant peeking and coin rattling). The remaining coins are held in the off hand.

The game hand is then thrust forward in front of the participant. The off hand remains behind the back with the unused coins (if any). After each participant has selected a number of coins, and everyone has their game hand out front, the guessing commences.

Each participant in turn guesses the total number of coins contained in the game hands. The first person to go/guess is usually chosen by rank. RHIP - Rank Has It's Priveleges. The highest ranking person (or eldest if ranks are equal) goes first. After the first round, the person who guessed last in the previous round goes first.

No one may reuse a number. If one person selects '7' as the total, no one else may select '7' for that round. After everyone has guessed a number between zero and the max possible, the coins are revealed.

Everyone opens their game hand, and the coins are totaled. If someone guessed the correct number of coins, that person is out of the game. They now wait until, through process of elimination, one person remains. Snide side-line comments are usually proffered at this point.

The process is repeated, until there is one person left. This may take a while. Given some skill, deception, and a good poker face, the participants may continue 'spoofing' for some time. The last person standing is the 'stuckee'; the person who must go on the soda run (sometimes the loser might have to pay for the drinks as well), mop the floor, perform some errand or undesirable chore.

While the game is typically played to an undesirable end, I have seen it used to determine who gets to leave early, or determine the particpant for some other desirable task. In this version, the last person standing is eliminated completely, and a new round is begun with those who 'spoofed' out. In this case the game continues until there are two contestants. The last person to 'spoof out' is the winner. The last person standing is just another loser.
Rob continues to explain how much a part of his military experience the game became, and how he never found it played in any other circles. He concludes thus:
Spoofing became something of a competition sport at one of my assignments. We kept records of who won how many games. There was even a 'Spoof King' crown. The person with the worst record was humiliated by having to wear the crown while 'spoofing'
Interesting to contemplate the military influences that have molded this game. How it accommodates distinctions of rank, how the winner gets to leave the game and heckle the other players while the losers have to keep playing. I'm quite certain there are more, shall we say, "civilian" ways to play the game. But it's nonetheless instructive to note how games tend to mirror the culture in which they are played.

description of Spoofing is copywritten by Robert L. Vaessen

via Rob's World

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Major Fun award-winning Rafael Lozano-Hemmer creates Olympic Light Art

According to Switched The ten, online user-controlled (yes, really, go ahead and try it while you still can) search lights currently installed on each side of Vancouver's English Bay is the work of none other than Major Fun Award-winner Rafael Lozano-Hemmer!

"Ah!" says I, and also "ha!" How satisfying it is to see a Major Fun award-winner earn something closely equivalent to gold medal Olympic recognition for playfulness.

This opportunity has been a long time coming. Lozano-Hemmer debuted his Vectoral Elevation in Mexico, ten years ago!

(Photo from Rick Hamrick who writes: "It works, Bernie! Not only that, when I submitted my design, it was executed in the predawn sky over Vancouver within about 30 seconds. My cool design (ahem) is attached.")

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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One-Button games

You've certainly read my previous posts about games of the one-button variety, and how enamored I have become of said same, given the ease of interface for those of us with less than full access to our various button-pushing extremities. Hence you will almost immediately grok my interest in One-Button Bob - especially how, as you progress from screen to screen, the function of the one button changes. Had I opportunity and inclination to design Lightwaves again, surely such transformations would be gleefully explored.

At any rate and in the interim, I invite you to do your own explorations. Play as many levels as you can. Contemplate the implications. It's for the betterment, don't you know.

via In4mador

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Coworking continues

My interest in the idea of Coworking evolved from my interest in Coplaying. I had been immersed, since 1971, in exploring what I came to understand as "the play community" - the social dynamics of people playing together.

I was living in Silicon Valley (Palo Alto) in 1983. My friend Dave Winer, who was very active in what we later identified as "social computing" (I had met him through his "Living Videotext" online bulletin board) had developed a computer program that called "ThinkTank," an "outline processor." It was a prefect match for how I worked, as a computer game designer. It allowed me to give structure (a very flexible structure) to my designs, to assemble all the interactions between the player and virtual objects with greater and greater detail until I was able to arrive at a comprehensive, clearly organized design document.

By that time, I had attended enough meetings to make the connection - an outline processor, projected onto a large-enough screen, could help me facilitate the social dynamics of people working together.

In 1984, Dave popped over my house with one of the first (I think it was number 4) of the new Macintosh computers. He was already at work developing an outline processor for the Macintosh, and I was able to help him understand his "personal productivity tool" in the context of group productivity. This led to a product called MORE, which was also the first program to allow people to develop group presentations.

By 1986 I was using a Macintosh and a computer projector (my first was a Limelight) to facilitate meetings all over the world, at places like Apple Computer and the Stanford Research Institute. I learned a great deal about how people worked together, and especially about how technology could be used to help them work with ideas, together and more productively.

My understanding of the dynamics of the play community was a tremendous help, because I discovered that meetings, like games, had many different levels of rules and interactions, many of which were changing almost as quickly as they were defined. And, like games, when meetings were "good" they tended to be fun. Sometimes very deep fun.

So I began to focus more and more on working together, and how working together could be made more productive, and more fun, through the shared use of technology. This led to my use of the term CoWorking.

According to the - Internet Archive - the 36th online issue of Coworking was published on May 11, 2000. The site was an outgrowth of my work with a method I called "technography" (first instantiation I could find on the Internet Archive - was April 29, 1999, and on 3.4.1999 on Dave Winer's UserLand bulletin board)

A few years later, I met Gerrit Visser - who was passionately collecting and documenting links to the exploding variety of computer enhanced communication and productivity tools. He and I partnered to extend the comprehensiveness of the Coworking concept. And in 2005, Brad Neuberg began using CoWorking to describe a shared physical space, adding a dimension to the CoWorking concept that helped bring it into popular use.

Today, Gerrit and I are delighted to announce that the Coworking.com domain will soon be transferred to people who are continuing to enrich the idea of Coworking, bringing it to new places and practices. (See Gerrit's article here)

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Happiness is a by-product

"I was having a conversation with a writer the other day, and he stated that the best things are always by-products. Happiness is a by-product, and I loved that he said that. You can plot your journey to success or happiness or wealth or whatever it is you’re looking for, but if you’re too focused on the end result, you’re going to miss anything good going on around you. (There’s also the fact that the end result will keep moving if you live like that. Okay, I got a four figure advance, now next time I want twice that, bigger press runs, and a New York Times review, then I will feel successful.) Not that we should all sing songs around the campfire and braid each other’s hair, but there has to be a combination of the two, forward motion and goal planning, but while taking a look at the people around you."

That's "by-product." Not "buy-product."

from Jeff Vandermeer'sAn interview with Jessa Crispin, founder of Bookslut, via Bobulate, via Swiss Miss

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Some walking games from Phil Smith

Gum Galaxy

Where the pavements are covered, like a rash, in chewing gum, use chalk to draw lines to connect the pieces of gum in stellar constellations. Name them in Latin (if you don't know any Latin make it up).

Solo 'Splorin" Exercises
  • You are Cupid. Match people in the streets.
  • You are a diver. Explore the city as if it were underwater.
  • You are a mist. Drift through the city.
  • You are a fox in human skin.
  • You are dead and gone to heaven/hell.
  • The city is under occupation by intelligent microbes, Martian bodysnatchers, mind control rays - you can't tell the resisters from the wholly invaded. Do not attract attention to yourself. Choose routes where the least number of people will see you. Use allets and back paths. Walk calmly through crowds. Show no emotions. Ignore commodities. Hide your hunger.
I found the above from Phil Smith's new book Mythogeography - A Guide to Walking Sideways - Triarchy Press (pp 148-149). I've written about Phil before and even before that. He continues to amaze and confound me with his light-hearted, and often disturbingly profound explorations of the art of walking alone.

This is his site.

(gummy street image from neoneocon)

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Sign post

Jeroen Beekmans writes: "To inform the world about their (free) Ovi Maps mobile navigation software, Nokia built a house-sized, interactive signpost in the form of a dynamically rotating electronic LED screen, and hung it next to London’s Thames river, 50 meters up in the rainy sky. The gigantic structure allows passers-by to send in a location via text or email and then automatically rotates to the given direction and displays the submitted description (which are called ‘Good Things’ by Nokia, but why?) and the distance to it."

In a manner of thinking, this "sign post" is a related phenomenon, pointing you, in a computer-augmented kind of way, to something I think is worthy of your notice. Nokia's Signpost allows erstwhile anonymous individuals are invited to broadcast their appreciation for particular city sites and services in a way, similar to blogging, that evokes both personal empowerment and public playfulness. The anonymity, accessibility and giant public display all oddly heighten the sense of personal authority - "I can show the world what I like." They also provide an opportunity for a kind of altruism. Unless you're pointing at something you own, you are given the opportunity to advocate places you like - a personal appreciation to share with the world at large and small.

Nokia comments:

"Based on the simplest form of giving someone directions (pointing) it lets you share the places you love, or tells you about the places others love. When the signpost is live it constantly turns and shows the distance and direction to new Good Things. Submit your favorite cafe, an upcoming concert or a rare record store and the signpost will [apparently] automatically turn in the right direction and the giant LED screen will light up.”

via Popup City

Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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A Valentine's Day prescription

As fun as fun can be, as central as it can become to a healthy, healing relationship, it is remarkably hard to take seriously. Even though fun is the experience that binds, the purpose that shapes, the phenomenon that leads into and out of body, most organizations and institutions insist on pretending that fun has nothing to do with it. Even though, if they took it seriously enough, they could heal themselves and probably the world.

Here is a suggestion: give each other a weekend devoted to fun - to thinking about fun, practicing fun, expanding your abilities to create and share fun with each other. In other words, to playing a lot of games - fun, funny, loving games that help you laugh and love each other - word games, walking around games, "pointless" games in which nobody keeps score, where the only point to playing is the loving fun we can give each other.

Play with each other, play with strangers and neighbors. Play games that make you want to play lovingly. Games that are FUN, gentle, touching, safe, freeing, and in some very real, very unthreatening way, intimate.

In between games, talk about the FUN you shared, the FUN you created for each other, the FUN that truly made you feel free, CoLiberated. And then, during the next game, see if you can bring each other more FUN, CoLiberate each other to some higher plane of FUN.

Play some more. Love some more.

More here.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Sportpong and the future of sports

players playing pong, with their feet, on projected boardSportpong "is an interactive physical computer game. The field is projected on the floor, two or more players can fight in teams against each other. With a paddle on each foot you hit the ball to the goal or to defend your goal. Not only smartnes and reactivity let you win, also geometric appreciation and teamplay is required...a reflector on each foot is the only physical tool to interact with Sportpong. The interface is integrated in the field which is projected on the floor. The players control the game with their feet, nothing else."

It bears all the hallmarks of a genuine sport - engaging mind and body, requring speed, agility, focus. But it's played in a darkened room, with computer-controlled light. There's no physical ball or racquet. To get a better feel for the depth of the game, take a look at these videos or images.

Sportpong is an intimation of the future of sports. We may not see Sportpong in the coming Olympics, but it is clearly inevitable that, sooner or later, advances in technology will become so profoundly incorporated into the very definition of sports that we will be meeting on computer-enhanced playing fields, interfacing with technology and each other to test our extended virtual, intellectual, social and physical skills.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Doing the doing

A while ago, I made a CD I called Recess for the Soul. My purpose in putting it together was to demonstrate to myself and my listeners how one could explore one's own inner dialog through the lens of play.

There's a story on the CD called: Hide and Seek: Serious and Silly Find God. In the imaginary game between these two imaginary characters, I found myself trying to understand what they saw in this particularly endless game of hide and seek that they played together - what was so fun or significant or wonderful about the game that made them want to play it over and over again. At the end of the story, I imagined myself asking them those very questions. When I did, "...they started running after me, yelling 'You're IT.'" I, of course, ran away as fast as I possibly could.

I called this story "Serious and Silly Find God," because what I learned from my imaginary playmates was what I had known all along - that there was really only one player in my inner playground. The rest I was imagining into being. Everything. Silly. Serious. The whole darn playground. On my inner playground, I am IT.

This was a big lesson to me. One of those simple truths that you know all along but are transformed by every time you rediscover it. In my inner playground, I am the only unimagined player. I am the one that's doing all the playing.

Every addiction I have ever had - food, sex, drugs, love, recognition, security - everything I've ever done to myself or for myself, I am the one doing the doing, if you know what I mean. I am the one playing angel and devil, the one who makes himself eat more than he should, the one who shouldn't, the one who eats anyway.

What started me thinking about all this again was a conversation I had with my daughter-in-law. We were talking about how we, who can do such good things for ourselves and others, sometimes do things that aren't good, for ourselves, for others.

We talked about the choice between good and evil, two conflicting "inclinations," which, according to Jewish tradition are fundamental to the gift of free will. And I found myself trying to explain what I had learned in my Inner Playground - that I could find no angels or devils making me do evil or good. That whatever I found myself doing to myself, it was I who was doing the doing. And I could imagine myself have great, deep fun doing it with myself together!

I was amazed to rediscover how fundamental that simple truth has become to my understanding of who I am, and how. In my Inner Playground, I am the one making up all the games. I am the one pretending to be each of the players.

There's a lot more to be learned on the Inner Playground. A lot of fun to be had. Truth to be told. Healing to be done.

Enjoy yourselves, whatever you imagine them to be.


An experiment with strangers

Comedian Mark Malkoff wanted to see if he could get people to carry him across Manhattan. To augment his reality, he used Twitter, and procured the services of a film crew.

Ostensibly, his goal was to demonstrate that New Yorkers are a lot friendlier than their reputation. Regardless of anything else that one might conclude from watching his clip, there is something undeniably reassuring and most definitely touching about his findings.

Given the invitation, and reinforced by the opportunity to get filmed doing so, strangers can be strangely wonderful, loving, supportive (I had to say that), caring, and extraordinarily playful. It's almost enough to excuse your frequently blind faith in humanity.

via the Presurfer

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Should we be spending more time crying?

You know how they say "Children laugh 400 times a day, while adults laugh only 15"? Apparently, that started with Norman Cousins, whose book, Anatomy of an Illness was a most convincing journey into the healing powers of laughter and play.

According to Allen Klein, widely recognized humor maven, maybe the child's daily laugh count is not actually 400 times a day. But it's still a lot more than adults. Which is why we have people who are professionally helping us to laugh more. Even when we don't particularly feel like it. Even when we can't really find anything to laugh about. Just because it's healthy.

After much serious contemplation, I've come up with yet another irreverently relevant observation. Not only do children laugh more than adults, they also cry more.

So I'm postulating here that maybe the implications for a healthier adulthood are not just that it's better for us to laugh more, but also maybe even to cry more. Surely we can make ourselves cry almost as easily as we can make ourselves laugh. And, as long as we're the only one's that are making ourselves do it, maybe it's just as healing, making ourselves cry more, as it is making ourselves laugh more.

I don't know. I'm more of a postulator than a researcher. But I have personally and repeatedly observed that sometimes crying, like at the movies, or with someone I love, feels kind of delicious. Kind of healing. Kind of, even, fun.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Cheating for fun

It's been a long time since I sat down with a deck of cards and played solitaire. So used to the well-ordered clarity and immediacy of computer solitaire games have I become that I had almost completely forgotten about the many charms and "affordances" of a physical deck of actual playing cards. Aside from the sensuous tactility of the cards, their perfected flexibility and functional stiffness, the elegance and visual clarity of their design, the autonomic joys of shuffling and laying out a new game, there's the compelling opportunity to engage in what one might call "the inner-dialogue surrounding the pros and cons of," well, "cheating."

You can't really cheat at computerized solitaire. And it's a shame.

The almost lost art of cheating at solitaire, I rediscovered, can lead one to a self-exploration of the highest order and deepest discovery. So you're playing, say, Canfield, and you've dutifully gone through the "stock," three cards at a time, and have reached that soul-encountering point that accompanies the realization that you have lost the game. So you go through the stock one, nay, two more times, and everso clearly reached the point at which the only thing left to acknowledge is defeat.

You now have two choices: 1) admit defeat, shuffle, and start the game over, or 2) explore, just for the sheer educational value, what would happen if you, say, put the top card of the stock on the bottom. In fact, now that you think about it, there could be a veritable voyage of discovery awaiting you. You could investigate the impact of turning over every two cards instead of every three, or perhaps arbitrarily selecting a card from the middle of the deck and placing it on the bottom, or even contemplate adding a fifth column to the proverbial tableau. A panoply, a conceptual cornucopia of what one might call "alternative rules" if one had lost cognizance of the fact that: a) the game was already lost, and 2) one was in fact cheating.

Odd, though, now that we think of it, how much more there is to play with when cheating becomes an option.

Which brings me to the text of today's sermon - the text of which can be found in Chapter 4 of The Well-Played Game, pages 30-32, which is just now conveniently and freely available to you, my personal public, in this PDF file.
We found that there was a kind of cheating which — even though it can be considered unfair, even though it helps somebody win or keeps somebody from losing — was good, was right, which led us all to a game we could play well together.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Art of Gibberish

Alex Sternik "Mentor and Enterprenuer, Initiator of Laughter Yoga Clubs in Israel" (site is in Hebrew, Google translation here) is, among many other things, a master of the art of gibberish. Last year, he was invited by Laughter Yoga Leaders and Participants in Berlin, Frankfurt and Amsterdam to train and share his knowledge of Gibberish Improvisation in his "Playing with the Nonsense" workshops.He is hoping to make his mastery available to laughter yoga practitioners in the States. To learn more about Alex and his theories, start with this article from the Jerusalem Post. Then watch his interview for Dutch TV (it's in Dutch, a little in English, but it's also in gibberish, and even if you can't tell the difference, you'll get a good idea of Alex and his gifts of laughter. If that's not fun enough, here's Alex explaining "gibberish therapy," in gibberish and English. And here's is Alex (click on all the pictures to reveal the video) in Germany.

Last year, during our Laughter Games Workshop, Alex gave a most impressive demonstration of how it is more or less possible to teach an entirely new game, completely in gibberish - a challenge I recommend only to my most advanced students.

As to the rationale for learning the art of gibberish, one would do well to explore its impact on brain development. Perhaps no one can explain it more cogently than John Cleese in the appended clip (via Boing Boing)

See also the "See Also" section of this Wikipedia article, and, of course, Estray Bonajour.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Drawing together

Rick Hamrick sends us a cooperative drawing game of his invention. Actually, he sent it to me, and I asked if he'd mind sharing it with all you very deep funsters. I took the liberty of giving it a name. He took the time to give us the game:

The game is simple: start with a blank piece of paper on a flat surface and two people on opposite sides of the paper. Each is given a pen and instructed to start drawing a picture on the half of the page closest to them. Each person is to draw only on their side. The challenge is to adjust the image you are seeking to create so that it is complemented somehow by the image the other person is creating on the other half of the piece of paper.

So, of course, each player is seeking to incorporate the others art even as it is being created. A moving target!

Only one rule: no talking about the art in progress. Conversation is welcome, but it cannot be about the game or what each is drawing.

When one of the two players decides that the work is done, the other person has a brief time to complete the bit they are drawing, then the game concludes with each person describing their work. An added twist would be for each to guess what the other had in mind prior to the person describing it. Emphasis is on how they incorporated the other person's work into their own and telling a good story about it.

No winner or loser, only time spent in a cooperative task where cooperation is made a challenge because you cannot talk about it. And, the story-telling part at the end can be outrageous and laughter-inducing.
I see many implications. Many applications. Many variations. Three people? Online perhaps? O, the fun, the drawing together.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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One-handed half frog

One-handed half-frog

Originated by Julie DeKoven, the one-handed half-frog (frogus-hemi-enlightenupmentus) allows those of us with two hands to engage in the frequently entertaining and rarely profound two half-frog dialog.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


When people are new

He was at the counter waiting for his order, making a game out of chasing his 4 year old granddaughter back and forth, making faces with her. And it sent me to a place of wonder....

When people are new, little, we play with them—tickling, hiding and seeking, inventing fun things to do. Strange we do not think to do so when they are new but adult-sized. We think the little ones bright and wanting to engage with us, and our attention attractive to them...

- Douglas D. Germann, Sr.

And with people our size? Is it that we are afraid to impose? to be thought strange? to disturb or appear disturbed? Or is that where the fun is?

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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