One day, when I was in second grade, I remember thinking to
myself: "this could be a lot more fun, Bernard." I
mean, really. I remember thinking how even workbooks used to
be more fun than having to sit here, at my desk, still, silent,
with all these kids around me, listening, when we could be mucking
about with some marvelously educational materials, inventing
physics. And I'm pretty sure it was then that I began to devote
myself to the pursuit of what I have decided to call "the
Playful Path." Because the very next thing I remember was
me, Bernard, joking. toying. playing, talking a lot. Even sitting
in the hall, waiting to see the principal, I was always on the
alert, always looking to make it fun, for me, for anyone I could
get to play with.
Teaching and Playing
By the time I finally graduated college, and graduate school,
I was pursuing the Playful Path, professionally, even
though I never called it that. I taught fifth and sixth grade
everything. Reading, math, science, physical
education, whatever. It was me and them. So I began making games
out of everything. No, I began with the fun of whatever it was
that we were supposed to be doing, with the fun of it. We didn't
just read, we played reading games. And we played with reading.
With the sheer fun of reading, o, I don't know, braille, perhaps.
Or morse code. Or chemical symbols perhaps.
And fun was had. And learning was had. And we definitely weren't
had. Except for once. In one class I taught. Sixth grade. And
all of a sudden I learned that the kids were going to be subjected
to a test that would determine whether they would make the academic
track in high school. It was what they call "the little
death." No, wait. That's something else. But it did feel
like something died because of that test. Like, because of that
test, we had to stop working on inventing our own hieroglyphics.
And suddenly the whole thing, even teaching, didn't seem like
very much fun.
The Theater of Children's Games
So we, me and my degree, found our way to an experimental, remodeled-factory,
magnet elementary school called "The Intensive Learning Center,"
and the title of Curriculum Development Specialist, with our
light and audio booth, within which to develop curriculum for
the entire school district, in deed. Me, I had to do something
fun. So I had these 45 minute sessions with kids from all over
the 5th and 6th floor of a factory building in not-so-upscale
Northeast Philadelphia. First grade kids. Fifth grade kids. The
lot. And I decided that me and the kids, we'd reinvent theater
right then and there. True to my understanding of the playful
path, I wanted us to start from scratch, from what we know, from
the collective scraps of the lives we can share with each other.
And the kids taught me their theater. And I played with them.
And we called it "games."
curriculum is what everyone else called it, fortunately. Finally,
the "Interplay Games Catalog." Five
volumes. One thousand games. Coded according to an elaborate
system, so that if the kids liked a particular game, the teacher
could find another they'd probably like as much.
And that was it. That was my theater curriculum. And they didn't
fire me. In fact, they funded research. And I taught it to teachers.
Games. I did these classes with teachers, and all we did was
play kids games, and talk about it all, and it became, well,
deep fun. Sometimes profoundly moving fun.
The Games Preserve and the Playful Path
And then we, me, my wife and kids, moved to the country and
built "The Games
Preserve," a retreat center for the study of play, where
I, and anyone else willing to brave the rural realities of my
25 acres in Northeastern Pennsylvania, could play with an actual
barn full of games - board games, table games, puzzles, flying
rings, a sliding board... And there I began to learn and teach,
not so much games, even though there were thousands, but what
I came to call the Playful Path. And I had my
wife and kids and 25 acres as teachers. And guinea fowl, and
sometimes millions of these bugs.
This is where I explored everything I could about the path I
was on, this Playful one. And where I discovered
that I not only "channel" the Playful Path,
but also that I knew how to teach it. It was easy. It was what
I've been doing all this time. What tool could be better tuned
to the Playful Path than games? Especially the
games I liked to teach, and make up. The Pointless Games.
This is where Dr. Brian Sutton-Smith used to bring his University
of Pennsylvania classes. The Games Preserve. Where we built a
peaceful, profound place for play. In the middle of the country.
90 minutes from Philadelphia. 2.5 hours from New York. Where
year after year I thought about, played with, explored, studied,
discussed, game after game after game. Kids' games. Family games.
Games for one player. Games for the masses.
Like the approximately 250,000 people who attended the last day
of the Bicentennial celebrations in Philadelphia. Like
the millions of people I reached as co-director of the New
Games Foundation, designer of the New Games Training, an
alternative to competitive sports that now is taught at almost
every elementary school in the world.
our family flourished. And just when we ran out of money, I found
a job in California, as a professional game designer, for a computer games
company called "Automated Simulations." This gave me the chance
to try out my understanding of the Playful Path in a virtually
virgin computer jungle.
I created designs for what we wound
up calling "Mind Toys." Jim Connely
programmed my first game, Ricochet, and Jaron, Mr.Virtual, Lanier
programmed one of my more bizarre games, Alien Garden.
Later, I got to work with Children 's Television Workshop. In fact, Dave Winer, of outlining and RSS fame, helped me develop the prototype for a game I modeled after the children's game of Streets and Alleys. I designed it so that it could be played with one key, hoping to establish some sort of precedent for games that kids with limited mobility could play.
Junk, Thing-a-ma-bots, and New Games, cont'd
The 2004 publication of my book, Junkyard
Sports proved to be just the opportunity I had hoped it would
be - an invitation to the sports and physical education establishments
to come out and play. Based on the tradition of backyard, street,
and sandlot sports, Junkyard Sports are traditional sports, reinvented.
Sports redesigned, where the players make their own equipment out
of whatever they can find, and adapted so they can be
the players happen to be, with whomever happens to be there. In
other words, sports, like new games, get played for fun, for everyone.
all the while I was involved in designing more games for some
more companies. Did I mention Ideal Toys, Children's Computer
Time-Warner. And I worked with Mattel Media. And just this year
my very first commercially produced competitively silly card
than 25 years after the first New Games Tournament, I found myself
on the adjunct faculty of the Multimedia Division
of the USC School of Cinema-Television, teaching the principles
of New Games, watching my students create what had to be the
world's first Giant
Human Card game/event., my book, The Well-Played Game,
now required reading amongst the computer gamerati thanks to excerpts
published in Salen and Zimmerman's Game
Today, through my programs and
publications on this DeepFUN.com website, Majorfun.com and Junkyard
Sports, I do what I can to help people
from all over the world reclaim their playfulness.
Bernie is a lifetime member of The
Association for the Study of Play and the 2006 winner
of the Ifill-Raynolds award from the North American Simulation
and Gaming Society.
from participants in Bernie's programs follow.
Bernie probably knows more of a practical nature about
how to use games in a healthy way with children, adolescents
or adults than anyone I know. -Brian Sutton-Smith
Bernie is one of the most inspiring and ingenious teachers
I know. He is also a master of his subject -- learning
through play. -Herb
Life without fun is not worth much -- as many people
who have achieved success and wealth at the expense
of stress and depression realize. It should be easy
to have fun -- yet most of us have forgotten how to
play, how to invest life with enjoyment. 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. -Mihaly Csikszentmihaly
- "The class I took with you at Esalen got me started back on a more playful and joyful life pathway. I enjoy your newsletters and I've started playing games with people who are taking life way too serious - exoffenders and colleagues. I'm gaining a deeper understanding of happiness and have added play to some of the volunteer work I'm doing to teach others about joy. I am amazed at the huge number of adults who are underplayed! Some didn't grow up playing and haven't found the joy in play, others seem to think work is far more important than play. I've played with people who don't seem to have fun and now that I've begun to understand happiness, I'm playing with people who play and have fun!" Corinne Lambert
- "The pace was gentle and easy. I usually go to workshops
where the work is hard and deep and it is all about learning
through pain, so often. IT was lovely, really just what
I was hoping for, to remember and experience learning that
happens in a loving and laughing way." Magdalena
- "Fun has definitely been restored! It has been a
little over a week since I have returned from Bernie's
seminar and I have found that fun, just as we suspected
in class, is contagious, infectious and unlike a virus
a spontaneous utterance of the joyful heart. When I finally
returned to work last Tues, my boss said that I looked
radiant, like a school girl were his words. On Wed he said
that it was good to have me back, where upon I assured
him that even though I would be showing up to work on time
and doing my job, my head and my heart were still at Esalen,
with Bernie and our amazingly playful group. On Thursday
he said that my laughter and fun were infectious and that
everyone around me was happy. On Friday when I left work
he said whatever Esalen was, I could have time off to go
there as often as I wanted, because he was so happy to
have the old Janet with her smiles and laughter back. (In
all honesty my life for the last year had been very tough
and I cried more than I laughed.) I assured him that my
Esalen experience with Bernie was here pointing to my heart,
but that I would take him up on the offer and assured him
that the Janet he remembered was back to stay. " Janet
- The biggest thing for me and that I still keep remembering
is the people are more important ( the Play Community)
than the game....That as you know is lost in our society
and that is the unique gift I felt you gave the group
and can give the world!! SO let people know that this
really is BEYOND games, it is about life!! It is
about how to bring more happiness into daily life. Elizabeth
- One of the greatest take away's for me was totally personal
but touching and that was connecting with a group of likeminded
people who really supported each other and you created
the atmosphere of safety for each one to come out and be
played with. I cried as I drove away. Lynne
- I've been trying to put my / our experience into some
sort of description since we returned. I get as far as
a trusting, safe, non competitive, loving atmosphere in
which we do silly and very profound things. Which require
all of the above to succeed. (except of course for Estray
Bonjour) .What stays with me is the feeling of family,
warmth, and as I said the day we parted "a whole new
group of friends" built out of the above and your
guidance...the experience is the warmth and caring that
developed amongst us. When I've found myself getting uptight
and too serious about things I've reminded myself that
it doesn't have to be that way. Actually the words "Estray
Bonjour" could be printed onto a card and flashed
before me several times a day to prevent anything to serious
or bleak from lodging in my mind. The other side of the
card could have a photo of your smiling, adorable face.
You have created something wonderful that should be shared
and spread. It's so hard to explain or define what actually
took place .I love you for it .Gwen
- Lovely and affirming quotes, aren't they? What did you
expect, dearie??? Certainly no smidge of venom after our
hilarity and connection at Esalen.I too had a great time.
Being one who already has oodles of fun in my daily life,
I sometimes feel a bit apart from the rest of humanity.
Our experience together with you encouraged me in the conviction
that even those of us who have horrendous events in our
pasts and even not-so-lighthearted temperaments to begin
with can make a Play Community come alive. Thank you, Bernie! Cody
- We speak often and lovingly about you and the group.
We gained much more than just fun and games. It would be
nice some day to sit and philosophize with you. Feels like
we have known you a long time. Lee appreciates your kindness
and all the space you gave her. It will help her do the
same for others. Lessons come in odd ways. Lee
and Marvin Silverstein
- Great! Such fun! An exquisite blend of joy, celebration,
looniness, community, etc. Delicious and soul opening. Al
- It was outstanding in every way - the teacher, the group,
and Esalen. Bernie took us on a Shamanic journey into the
world of fun .Bob
- Thanks Bernie! I think the whole RLF group enjoyed and
learned from your presentation... We are all so busy these
days that it is a luxury to step back and learn how to incorporate
fun back into our work environment and get into the "FLOW".
We now have point in time we can all relate back to on how "Jack,
Bernie or other RLF members" called the meeting! Thanks again
for a great presentation and a few moments of laughter. Life
is so short we need to take a moment to enjoy each other
as people, too! - Edmund Gee, Deputy Forest Supervisor, Lake
Tahoe Basin Management Unit Office
- Bernie's work is subtle, gentle and effective. He made
me feel special and included me from the first night. I
will recommend him and his work to others. I am glad I
took his workshop.
- Bernie has a deep and important message - the power of
fun. He is a creative and wise leader and this is a workshop
that should be repeated time and again. Not only is is
a fun week, it is also deeply enriching.
- Bernie helped us form a play / Play Community within the
group. His passion, dedication and knowledge of fun and
community-building, as well as his acceptance of all made
these five days outstanding for me.
- The class was well-presented, educational, fun and funny.
A forum that felt safe as well as gave permission to step
out of certain activities. I had more fun than I have had
in years - as well as created a space that was very loving.
I learned to take away activities I can share with others.
- Fantastic! Bernie is a loving, warm (and very funny)man
who not only taught us multiple fun games so that we had
a ball, but to grow close to each other and learn how to
go back home and create new communities of fun.
- Excellent! I have never laughed so much and had as much
fun. Absolutely an incredible workshop. Bernie was a very
good leader!! We had such a wonderful community of fun
and learned at least 40-50 silly games.
- I found the workshop light and it was all right.
I would do it again and again and again....
- Fabulous! I was able to open my life and enjoy my playfulness,
spontaneity, innocence of childhood. And, at the same time,
we were able to relate it to how these qualities can be
used to restore fun in daily life.
- Wonderful! Very supportive atmosphere. A safe space to
explore fun and flow.
- Great! Inspiring! !informative! Well led!
- Bernie is a great teacher. I had a lot of fun and laughter.
It also helped me to understand why I've never liked games
- as an adult - and what I can do to make playing enjoyable
and safe for me.
- Wonderful! I wish I had taken this before now. Highly
recommended class, especially for business people. Well
- "I wanted to tell you that I sent your note about
safe play to many of my friends. We all needed to believe
that the world is still a place were we can play. Even
if we have to just pretend. I also wanted to thank you
for the wonderful weekend. I continue to work through many
of the ideas that you introduced and reintroduced to me.
I came home so relaxed that it took me days to get back
to my desk. Even now I continue to be able to reenter that
peaceful state. Thank you. Jay
Beckwith (see Jay's article on "Complexification")
- "This weekend's laughter, learnings about flow,
fun, alone & together, & growing sense of community
will reverberate in my life for a long time. Bernie is
a master at silliness as a path to Oneness." Nancy
- "DeepFUN takes
me to a place where I can describe myself as 'plays well
with others.'" Nan
- "Just a reminder about how much I love what you
are doing. Probably the most
profound for me is your unequivocal shaping of the positive side. For
years I have been telling friends that I am looking for the guru who sees me
as whole and helps me extend my joy, beauty and "fun" instead of
way around. So guess you could say I've found my guru, though you need not
take it to heart because I actually don't believe in guru's". - Marah
- "An uplifting, joyful experience. We learned how
to better our lives through enhanced 'fun.' Bernie gave
us a set of tools to make our lives more enjoyable and
how to bring this gift to others. This program is a 'must'
as a mainstay at Esalen. - Cal
- "I found the games so much fun. Bernie...was so
caring and sensitive to the group. I had an outstanding
experience." - Marilyn
- "Surprising, bouncing, laughing, listening, discovery,
learning, connection, play, freedom, balance, peace & new
- "A time for silly, giddy giggles in a safe, supportive
cocoon. It was an incredibly joyous, connecting experience
with a group of open and warm friends. Bernie made me laugh
and let go of inhibitions and play with such fun - he's
a special person who promotes safety and fun." Bettina
- "You need to know about the flow. Bernie shows you
where to go." Michael
- "Bernie , yes it was fun! Can't tell you how great
it was to get out of our "heady" routines. Its amazing
how we lose the ability to play. Your workshop gave us
that moment in time to capture that feeling of joy. We
have missed it since we returned to Texas and our new home
(jobs -work) and volunteer commitments. But those moments
of frolicking on the floor are alive in our memories and
we both want to encourage it in our family and friends
gatherings. We loved not using any equipment that weekend.
Just want you to know we were frayed and fragmented when
we came to your workshop but when we left, we had feelings
of joy which we hopefully can keep sharing with others.
Thanks for the memories. Lynne
- "Bernie's level of teaching, attention to individual
needs and efficient planning of classes were astounding."
- "I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of this workshop.
This was truly deep fun."
- "The synergy of the group was incredible, the exercises/games
really made that so."
- "Bernie is very humorous and approachable. It was
nice to have some theory mixed in too."
- "Enjoyed it immensely. Bernie allowed/showed us
how to gain enjoyment from virtually everything we do,
while still maintaining our responsibilities."
Bernie's programs and retreats are explorations
into the deeper reaches of play. For professional players (artists,
actors, writers, athletes), they are invitations to the fun
that their lives are centered in. For the rest of us, they
are invitations to a life that is centered in fun.
Thirty-five years ago, while developing a curriculum
in theater for elementary school kids, Bernie made two discoveries
that changed his life and some small but significant parts
of the world:
Bernie eventually discovered that there was a direct connection
between the experience of alienation, and the amount of fun
people were having - that the more alienated people were, the
less fun. Realizing he could help people make anything more
fun - their jobs, their relationships, the things they make
and do - Bernie set about creating his scheduled and private DeepFUN training
Playing and reflecting participants learn how to bring a new
level of vitality to themselves and each other, to their significant
others and all they signify, to those they care for and care
for them. They learn:
- about the art and science of FUN.
- how to make things FUN together.
- how to make each other laugh the kind of laughter that creates
wholeness, individually and collectively.
Bernie teaches about:
Learn many Pointless Games,
in depth, for the fun of it. Pointless Games are games
that are literally pointless. No score. No particular goal
other than to have fun. Which, of course, turns out to
be very pointworthy, in deed.
Discover how creating a FUN Community helps:
- extend your playfulness and
- celebrate those who bring FUN to
Explore the experiences of CoLiberation and
its impact on the FUN community.
Learn how to extend the gift of FUN to
- community of healers
Build an imaginary swingset. Let Serious discover how
much fun Silly can be. Learn how to create a "Recess
for the Soul."
I was just taking some little bits and pieces of
papers out of my journal and I found the following
hard-copy of something your brother-in-law wrote to
you: "I find many if not most people today are not
in a particularly "fun-seeking" mood. They are preoccupied
with finances, war, the economy and personal problems.
Fun, however, is a vital therapy no matter the circumstances.
The release of life's anxieties cannot have too many
channels, in my view. I....have a need to communicate
via Fun to people. I may not want to enter that Fun
because I cannot overcome the 'troubles of the day'
without major incentives to do so. Fun may be good
for me but I can't seem to allow myself to enter in
anyway. Perhaps I don't see fun as the solution but
rather as an escape from solving the problem(s). Funny,
when people most need the releases, they are less apt
to seek them."
I am touched again by his honesty and his insight.
I too feel unable to enter into Fun when so much feels
wrong and sad and overwhelming in the world today,
everyday. I forget your teaching, so to speak, that
Fun IS part of the solution and not just a form of
denial, an escape, a narcissistic indulgence at the
expense of others who are not as fortunate as I am.
Just thoughts, which bring me back to the mindfulness
practice that DeepFun is for me. It is the practice
of Little Fun all the time,
despite the trying external circumstances on this beautiful
and fragile earth I love and despite the woe I see.
And as I practice this path, I want to change my paradigm
and begin to really believe that having fun, living
fun, teaching fun, being fun, can transform this world,
that it is part of the solution to the distress. IF
not the world at large, it may have the power to transform
MY little world, my circle of influence, I hope. And
that is a step in the right direction.
- Finding Fun - further, deeper,
more detailed reflections from retreat participants