Not-so-Crazy Eights

Crazy Eights is one of those card games that almost begs you to come up with new rules. It's so simple to play that a five-year-old can learn it in a few minutes. And its principle so elegant (match either color or number, be the first to get rid of all your cards), that it can support a near infinite amount of rule additions and changes. (The Card Games Website has an excellent page on Crazy Eights and its variations.)

This makes it a perfect tool for nurturing the development of a fun community. Since it's so easy to invent and explore new rules, the game can be made to match almost any mood or combination of skill levels the players wish to explore. Since it's a quiet, table game, it is especially powerful as a tool for bringing the healing power of fun to the whole community.

However, change for the sake of change is only one part of the dynamic of a Play Community. The art, and learning, and healing, and deep, shared fun comes in only when the purpose of the change is to make the game more fun, for everyone.

Crazy Eights is the kind of game where sooner or later somebody does something not very nice, or not very helpful, to someone else. Sometimes the thing they do could even be interpreted as "mean" - except for several very important things:

One, Crazy Eights is just a game, and no matter what people do to each other, it's all for fun, and whether you win or lose has really nothing to do with how good or loved or valued you are as a person.

Two, sometimes when you do that "mean" thing, you don't really mean to be mean, if you know what I mean. You have no choice. The only card you can play is an eight. And when you play it, the player next to you isn't going to be happy. Even though it's your sacred parent or cherished spouse or valued sibling or delightful child who falls victim to your unavoidable discard, what else can you do? It's not your intention or your fault. You have to play.

And finally, the fact is, and everybody knows it, no matter how strategic you try to be, how cunning or caring or kind, winning or losing are really more a result of luck than skill. That's why Crazy Eights becomes such a perfect community fame. It's fun. It's easy to learn. But especially because it gives people a chance to play with behaviors which, under normal circumstances, would be considered "not nice."

No matter how wonderful a community is, no matter how loving or supportive or caring or compassionate, there are times when people do things to each other that really aren't very nice. Times when people are just too busy, or something happens that really has nothing to do with anyone in the community, but still makes people angry or impatient or inconsiderate. And for a community that tries to be kind and caring and compassionate all the time, these relatively minor upsets can throw everybody off balance. For a community to become truly healthy, people need to develop the understanding and strength to deal with each other when things aren't so nice - when passions and tempers, discomforts and fears get the better of the best of us.

So as long as Crazy Eights is fun for everyone, then those aspects of the game that we might consider to become negative, actually become a source of healing - of extending the repertoire of behaviors and emotions that can be safely expressed. There are many things that people can do in a game of Crazy Eights to try outdo or undo each other. When you use a wild card, you have the opportunity to change to a color that the next player might not have, and consequently force that player to draw another card. And, as other people get close to winning, these opportunities become necessities.

There are a couple of key ideas that make all these hard things fun.

One is that we are playing the game for fun, because we want everyone to be having fun.

The other is, we are all only playing, and even though we're playing with behaviors that really aren't very helpful or "nice," because we're playing with it, and because we are all having fun with each other, we can be of great help to each other in learning how to deal with these behaviors in "real life."

Ultimately, if we're really going to play with these unhelpful behaviors, we're going to want to go beyond the rules of the game. Because playing with a behavior means that we have to try different things. We have to toy with it. We have to learn what happens when we change this aspect of the game, this rule or consequence. We have to let the game become a laboratory that allows us to experiment, observe, draw conclusions.

At the same time, we have to keep it fun, because only as long as it's fun for everyone can the game be a healing, joyful experience. As soon as it stops being fun, the negative aspects become just too negative to play with. One of the most remarkable assets of Crazy Eights is not the rules, but how many ways there are to change them. There are so many things you can do to make the game meaner or sillier, faster or funnier, easier or gentler. Ultimately, the more ways you play Crazy Eights, the more positive the experience becomes.

It becomes a better game, not because of the particular rules that you're playing it by, but because you've played it so many different ways that Crazy Eights time becomes a celebration of a growing bond between each and all members of the community. As the community becomes more proficient in changing rules and devising new rules, the community members also develop what might be called a kind of "Social Literacy." Understanding how a new rule could affect the game and the relationships and the experience of each player is a very complex and sophisticated social skill. It is a skill that is essential to leadership, effective parenting, facilitation, teaching, to developing and maintaining healthy relationships, to personal and social empowerment.

And because Crazy Eights is such a flexible game, so easy to change and explore, Crazy Eights time becomes a perfect opportunity for both personal and social development. An opportunity to learn together. An opportunity to grow together. All for the sake of play. All in the name of fun.

Below is a sample of rule changes that impact three different aspects of the social experience: competition, cooperation and engagement.

Decreasing Competition

Increasing Collaboration

Increasing Involvement