The Well-Played Game

" This book has enormous value for anyone whose job involves helping people have fun together, whether in work, or play, or in that ideal place where there is no difference"

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The Well-Played Game

Understanding how to play well is a path towards understanding how to live well. With this understanding, every game you play becomes an opportunity to develop your skills at living well. Every game. This is how the search for the Well-Played Game becomes a path to wholeness. A playful path, filled with things like fun and community, spontaneity and creativity, agility and light-heartedness.

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well-played game ebook

A Player's Guide to Community

updated Feb. 2010

"This is one of the most brilliant and overlooked books on games to-date. Drawing on practical experience "in the field", this self-made game designer/philosopher/educator/ethnographer does an in-depth analysis of the socio-psychological dynamics of (pre-digital) gameplay that is better than almost anything generated in the rapidly expanding academic field of Game Studies. For anyone interested in playing, studying, designing, or writing about games, this should be a perennial and oft-referenced bookshelf companion."

Celia Pearce


"The Well Played Game is about a lot more than fun and games. It's a handbook for any leader who wants to create a productive, innovative organization that maximizes human capital."

Robert Kriegel, author, If it Ain't Broke, Break It!


"Bernie DeKoven's The Well Played Game is subtitled "A Playful Path to Wholeness." I'm not a big believer in competitive games (quite possibly because I can get very sucked into the competition), but Bernie turned a lot of that on its head for me. This book has enormous value for anyone whose job involves helping people have fun together, whether in work, or play, or in that ideal place where there is no difference."

Michael Gilbert, the NonProfit Online News


"Bernie DeKoven's Well Played Game is happily available in the third edition. A highly valued book that well defines and supports everyone who wants more fun and understanding of the importance of games. He discusses both winning and losing and how to play for keeps. That is after all what playing is all about. Highly recommended!"

Stevanne Auerbach, PhD/Dr. Toy


"...a helpful dive deep into the workings of playing, so clearly and delightfully written."

Gwen Gordon, Esalen participant


"I wrote about wellness as a game in the first day or chapter of 14 Days To Wellness ("Learn the Rules of the Wellness Game"), but DeKoven takes the idea much farther than I did. His notion of a game Well-Played is clever and sensible, and the drills, principles, exercises and varied applications of this concept may help a lot of folks in long-term effective self-management.

"The Well-Played Game blends concepts of play and game to yield "the experience and expression of excellence." DeKoven targets the book to those who "care more about fun than winning and who want to make themselves, their friends, in fact, the whole world more fun." Who would not be interested in that?

"The bottom line and focus of the book, however, are the connections made between games well-played and the four questions posed above. DeKoven describes (and prescribes) a community of people who care more about fun than winning, who play well together, want to keep fun happening, prolong it, and find it repeatedly with other games and varied players. He writes about cheating and fairness, keeping score, time outs, coaches, changing old games, making up new games and more.

"DeKoven's Well-Played Game is designed to increase your ability to accept challenges and look for more challenges. In the author's words, "What connects games with reality is that they are lifelike. What separates them is that they are not for real. What unites them with the totality of experience is not just their metaphorical quality but the manner in which they are played." But games, the fun kind played properly, do not result in separation, the norm in the extant world. "Separation divides us into winners and losers, or those who have achieved and those who have failed." Better, DeKoven writes, that victory be viewed not so much as who won, but the quality of play that people managed to create together. While some of this may seem fine in theory but impractical or otherwise unlikely, his examples may lead most reader to conclude otherwise.

"Trust, familiarity and new conventions (or norms) must all be attended and redesigned to establish the needed intentions to play well together - and DeKoven outlines many ways to do just that in a wide range of settings. Bernie DeKoven has spent a good part of 30 years developing and implementing events involving the cooperation of groups of all ages and sizes, from couples and families to schools and communities. His conviction that "life without fun is not worth much" is expressed repeatedly in this creative work. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote, "Bernie is the only person I know who not only knows about play, but knows how to teach it. May his efforts prosper, for they help us all." I agree! "

Don Ardell, The Wellness Report


This is an updated version of a book DeKoven wrote many years ago (1978). Its title could also be "The Well-Lived Life."

Those who have read his Connected Executives already know how much importance he gives to enjoyable as well as productive human activity.

Throughout human history, playing all manner of games has been and continues to be one of the human race's defining characteristics. For whatever reasons, some people view "games" as being merely recreational while others view them as trivial.

DeKoven takes "games" very seriously because he seems to believe, and I agree, that in our contemporary society, there is a great deal of pleasure but very little joy. Unabashedly, DeKoven celebrates the playing of games well for the joy it can provide.

Those of us who have been associated with the Special Olympics can attest to the great importance of participation for its own sake, rather than for any awards to be won. There are no "losers" among the participants in Special Olympics. In the games which really matter, there never are. In his Preface, DeKoven refers to a "unique and profound synthesis" whenever a game has been well-played. Having explored the meaning and implications of this synthesis, DeKoven concludes that having fun is much more important than winning. The greatest competitors (in athletics, politics, business, whatever) manifest the "synthesis" which informs and directs DeKoven's observations throughout the book. That is to say, an athlete such as Michael Jordan, a politician such as Theodore Roosevelt, and a business executive such as Jack Welch ultimately compete only with themselves. They are literally obsessed with playing the given "game" to the absolute limit of their capabilities. They hate to lose, of course, but what they hate even more is to lose because of insufficient preparation, concentration, and engagement. There can never be any joy for them in a less-than-best effort.

The well-played game is a celebration of their potential fulfilled...whatever the final "score" may prove to be. If I understand DeKoven correctly, his fundamental thesis in this book is that all "games" should be well-played within a framework of "rules" agreed upon by participants. Even in the absence of such agreement, each of us must still be guided by both passion and delight in the playing of them as well as we can. Such "games" range from marriage and parenthood to career and citizenship. What we must do, DeKoven seems to suggest, is to validate the playing of games for the fun of it, whatever the eventual result may be; also, in so doing, to affirm excellence of effort (both our own and others') and thereby extend and enrich a sense of shared community; finally, by playing each game well "we might be able to raise the stakes infinitely."

DeKoven encourages me to wonder: What if we called "Time Out!" on verbal and physical violence in all forms throughout the world? What if we agreed to have a global picnic to which everyone is invited? In addition to an abundance of delicious food, there would be lively music, hot air balloons, pony rides, and group activities which include all manner of games plus kite flying, square dancing, and a karaoke contest. (Heads of state would participate in mudwrestling competition.) And why not have everyone wear one of those Dr. Seuss hats? Of course, such a global picnic will never happen but wouldn't it be fun? If national armies and allied forces can fight well together, surely they and their opponents can also play well together.

DeKoven has almost unlimited faith in what the human race can accomplish if the "games" played celebrate both competence and joy...and are played well.

Robert Morris


In the mean time, here's an Acrostic Puzzle that appeared in the New York Times Magazine a little more than a year after the Well-Played Game was originally published. (Click to enlarge.)

New York Times Acrostic