Fun e-Mail Archives


Cooperating and the Bottom Line


Dear Bernie De Koven:  "How do you get people to be more cooperative? I take them on
a retreat to an expensive, full-service natural setting, we talk for a day
and a half about how important it is for us to work together, and fifteen
minutes into the volleyball game people are ready to kill each other."
--Paradigm Shifting CEO

Dear Cooperative Executive: So, don't play volleyball! If you really want to
get people more cooperative, why raise the spirit of competition? If
volleyball's the only game in town, maybe you shouldn't be keeping score.
Then there's Infinity Volleyball, which is a purely cooperative version of
the game, the goal being to make the longest possible volley. If you have to
play with competition, play with it. How about this: every time a side would
ordinarily have to rotate, rotate between sides. This way, the people who
were on one team eventually find themselves on the other team, and
ultimately, everybody's on the same side. But I wouldn't count on one retreat
being that effective in "getting" people to cooperate. Bottom line is that it
has to pay to play together. Business is business. If I can take it to my
bank, you can bank on my cooperation.

The Fun of War


Dear Bernie De Koven: "I am a professional soldier. I really believe in peace. I am
even a vegetarian. And, I like being a soldier. But when I tell my highschool
and college buddies about how much fun I am having in the military, they look
at me as if I just ate one of their puppies. Is it "sick" to enjoy being a
soldier?" --A Peace-loving Patriot.

Dear Defender of the Peace: Since I'm only playing Doctor, I really can't
comment on the state of your mental health. However, since you asked: I
think, in a way, fun is what the military is all about: the fun of belonging,
of being part of a team, of being supported and relied upon. When it's good,
it's positively magnifying! When you compare the military to business,
education and politics, the military is perhaps our most successful
enterprise, and the only one where it's really more fun (and much safer) to
be together than apart. In the book Homo Ludens, philosopher Johann
Huizinga described warfare as another way of playing. The art of strategic
warfare itself is yet another application of game theory. May we never have
to play for real.

Prison Games


Dear Bernie De Koven: I have been incarcerated for three months. When I'm not scared
for my life, I'm very, very  bored. The only game they have around here is
checkers. I am good at checkers. But around here winning all  the time is
definitely not good for your health. And it's even worse when you let the
other guys win."--  Imprisoned in California

Playful Prisoner: You are more or less in luck. Even though they only have
checker sets, there are several  official variations of checkers you can play
using exactly the same board and number of pieces.  For example, there's
"give-away" checkers. In this variation, you are really supposed to lose,
more or less. That  is, the winner is the first player to run out of pieces.
Of course, the rule is that you have to jump. So, the  game becomes one of
trying to force the other player to take your pieces. In a manner of
speaking, the loser  wins. If this doesn't confuse things enough, there's
European checkers, which, as any European knows, is  the only way to play
checkers: each piece moves like a king (one space diagonally backward as well
as  forward). When it gets kinged, it moves like a bishop in chess (many
spaces diagonally). If you still keep  winning, try handicapping the game.
No, don't generously offer to play with fewer checkers, blindfolded.  Such
gestures of personal competence are rarely taken in appropriate spirit.  Try
an automatic handicap, such as: whoever wins a game loses a checker for the
next.  At least you'll eventually find a challenge you  can lose without
anyone losing face or other valued extremity.

Elder Fun


Dear Bernie De Koven: I had to send my mother to a retirement home and would like to
make her life more fun there. They have regular outings and offer a variety
of entertainment programs, but nothing seems to spark any real enthusiasm."
-- A Loving Daughter

Loving Daughter: What gets people in retirement homes most enthused is
getting visited. Instead of worrying about the entertainment program, try
focusing your loving efforts on having more fun during your visits, however
frequent they are.  You've had a life time to learn what kinds of games your
mother likes to play. Now's your chance to exercise your expertise.  Does she
play cards? shoot pool?  Sometimes, the games that are the most fun are those
that have nothing to do with any skill.  Candyland, maybe, Chutes and
Ladders, Dominoes, Uno...

War games teach peace, too.


Dear Bernie De Koven " All my children ever do is play war games. They are always
shooting at each other or blowing each other up. Are there any games that
teach peace?"-- Politically Correct and Anxious

Dear Correct and Anxious -- Please don't take this as a snide response. But I
truly and snidelessly believe that every game teaches peace. At some level
(and I know it can get very hidden), the kids are actually cooperating.
They're figuring out rules. They're not cheating too badly. When they get
"shot" they admit it, and stay dead for a remarkably reasonable amount of
time. If your kids aren't actually shooting each other or in possession of
activated land mines, they are, believe me or not, at some subtle level,
practicing peace. Nobody's really getting hurt. And they are still playing
together, aren't they? If you want to help them learn more about waging
peace, you might want to try Bernie De Koven's Famous 3Play Ploy: Play with three
teams instead of two. "Cops, Robbers and Vigilantes," perhaps, or 3-team
Soccer (three goals, two balls, you loose a point if a ball gets into your
goal, game's over when a team loses five points). Three-sided games can be a
lot of fun, and much more like life: especially when each team realizes that
the only way to win is by cooperating with another team.

Snail Mail Fun with Mom


A good son and letter writer writes: "I write my Mother every week (via
snailmail).  What kind of game could I start that she and I could play by
mail.  I would be willing to send her self-stamped return envelopes and what

Bernie De Koven writes back: A close, and deeply playful friend of mine periodically
sends me envelopes filled with newspaper clippings, slips of paper on which
he has written wry commentaries and poppy conundrums, and an occasional
unclassifiable (swizzle stick, paper clip, cracker jack toy). I never known
when I'm going to get such a packet (some times as often as twice a week),and
I certainly have no idea what's going to be inside. It's always a surprise.
Sometimes there are subtle themes running through a collection of goodies
(everything starts with the letter "G", rhymes, etc.). All of which is to say
that if you want to play with your Mom by mail, you don't even have to play
games.  Then there are puzzles. Crossword puzzles, anagrams, bridge puzzles,
chess puzzles, logic puzzles. You can trade 'em, you can take turns solving
'em, you can make up your own. You can find books of puzzles and send them to
your mom one page at a time.  If it's games you want to play, almost any
"turn-taking" game can be played by mail. Word games like Ghost (add a
letter each time, spelling a word, but not saying the last letter of a word),
Jotto (I'm thinking of a 5 letter word. You guess a 5-letter word. I tell
you how many letters in your word are in mine. You guess another 5 letter
word.) 20 Questions, Hangman, Geography are all word games, can be played
by mail, and require no special forms or club memberships. Almost any
strategy game, from tic tac toe to monopoly, can, of course, be played by
mail. And above all, send the stamped-self addressed envelope. Send a large
one. Do anything you can to encourage your mom to send you back other games,
puzzles, toys, random collections of whatnots. Regardless of what she sends
you back, you will be giving your mom a true gift of fun.

Wrapping Paper


Dear Bernie De Koven: "Opening presents is definitely fun. But, afterwards, there's
always a let down for something else fun to do." -- Mary Maker

Dear Merrymaker: There's an old parlor game that should keep spirits high
even after the main merriments are made. First you need a big candy bar or
bag of goodies. Then you need a small array of cold-weather clothes (hat,
gloves, coat, scarf) (the gloves are essential, you can add or delete other
items of outer clothing depending on the collective delay-gratification
factor of the players). Then you need plenty of wrapping paper and tape.
Finally, a pair or more of dice.

Wrap the goody bag in as much paper and tape as you can find (and have the
patience for). Put the clothes and the prize in a pile in the center of the
living room, and arrange all the family and relatives in a circle around the
pile. Give the dice to someone. When the game starts, the player rolls the
dice. If the player doesn't roll doubles(two or more dice of the same
number), the dice pass to the next player. If the player does roll doubles,
the dice are still passed on to the next player, while the doubles-roller
dives into the clothes pile, puts everything on (especially the gloves) and
starts tearing open the package. Meanwhile, the dice are passed around the
circle from person to person until someone else rolls doubles. At that time,
the player who is raptly unwrapping the prize must stop, take off the extra
clothes, take a place in the circle, and allow the new doubles-roller to
continue the challenge while the rest of the players take turns rolling the
dice. The round continues until someone manages to unwrap the present.

This game is fun, and frustration is definitely part of the fun. If the
frustration is too daunting, add another die or two (so it takes longer for
anyone to roll doubles) or decrease the number of clothes items in the
clothes pile, or have two people (with two sets of clothes) work as
unwrapping partners.

Winter Blues


Dear Bernie De Koven: "Schedules are conflicting, the newspaper is too sodden to
read, relationships are disrupted by misunderstandings, the tax season
overshadows the holiday season, the number of traffic citations approaches
the number of salutations, mutuality is hard to find, even Washington fails
to amuse. Is there something fundamental I could use to change the tune of my
winter blues?" -- Helpless in Los Gatos

Dear Helpless: If nothing else lightens you up, you might as well enjoy your
funk. Write poems to your miseries. Wallow in your woes. Saturate your soul
in sorrow. There's a game called It Could Be Worse where each player has to
think of something awful that "really" happened that was definitely more
awful than anything that anyone else thought of. For example, you say to
yourself: "I think I'm going to lose my job." Then, your self says to you:
"It could be worse, you could have already lost your job." And then you
respond to yourself "It could be worse than that. I could have lost my
self-esteem." To which your self responds "It could have even been worse than
that, you could have discovered that you don't have any self that's
esteem-worthy." Etc. Etc. Some say that this is a variation of the more
classic game: You Think You've Got Troubles?

It's a very funny game. It's funny how funny that game is. You'd think it
would be depressing. But you'd be wrong.

New Games for a Newer Year


Dear Bernie De Koven: "I saw your name in the New Games Book and I thought you might
know which of those "New" games would be especially good for a New Years Eve

Dear Co-celebrant: The fun that New Games can bring to a New Years Eve party
is inversely proportional to the amount of alcohol consumed. New Games (so
named by Stewart Brand, author of the Whole Earth Catalog) are basically
open-ended games. They are like sports except that the goals can be changed,
and so can the rules, and nobody really cares about the score. For
example: Stewart's classic game of Earthball, in which a six-foot diameter
ball, painted like the globe, is pushed around a field by teams of
potentially hundreds. Now, if you're not sober enough, you're likely to find
such a game deeply confusing: The Earthball is out of control. People are
switching sides. Suddenly everyone is on the same side trying to push the
Earthball to the top of the hill. For the chemically-enhanced-disoriented,
this added disorientation quickly reaches beyond confusion into sheer
frustration and sometimes even rage.

On the other hand, if this is a non-alcoholic party, well, then, let me tell
you about one of my favorite contributions to the New Games repertoire,
the game of:


(pronounced "proo-eee")

Clear the dance floor (living room, kitchen, back yard). Get more or less
everyone together. (For any game to be fun, participation has to be
optional). When the mass is about as critical as it will get, everyone closes
their eyes and starts milling around. When people bump into each other, they
shake hands, while saying prui. If the person they encounter is not prui,
they each go off to find someone else. On the other hand (as it were) when
someone bumps into the actual, pre-appointed prui, shakes hands and says
prui, the prui shakes hands, doesn't say anything, and doesn't let go. Now
both people are prui, remaining prui until the end of the game. If either
of them is encountered by anyone else, more people are added to the prui.
The game continues until more or less everyone has become prui. Then they can
open their eyes. There are some exceptionally fun moments as more and more
people feel their way towards pruiness. It gets quieter and quieter. The
plaintive sounds of the unpruied few mingling with the invisibly giggling

This is a light-hearted, and loving game that you can play several times
during the evening, and it will get better each time. This is true of most of
the New Games in the New Games Book, each of which can make your New Years
party feel newer, more whole, more promising. Happy 1995. May we each find the

Designing Games


Dear Bernie De Koven: What courses or college degree route or educational background
is required to become a game designer?  And how is the job outlook for that
particular industry?  Or How is the industry overall? How competitive or
difficult to find a position as a game designer or start a game designing
firm? -- A Playful Entrepreneur

Dear Game Design Entrepreneur: To my knowledge and perpetual astonishment,
there is no such thing as a school of game design in any university or
department in probably the world. In art schools they might teach game making
as a design problem (make a space age chess set).  In education courses they
sometimes (though rarely) have something about game design as a supplemental

What it means to be a game designer depends on who you're talking to. If
you're a computer game designer you're probably a programmer first who came
to game design from playing lots and lots of computer games. This is why
there are so few truly new computer games. There are toy and board game
designers, of course, who work for toy and game companies. I did that for
awhile. It was surprisingly less fun than I was prepared for. Then there are
free-lance designers who, well-represented by agents, sell to toy companies.
I'd recommend you write the Toy Manufacturer's Association in New York and
ask them for a copy of their Toy Inventors'/Designers' Guide. You'll find more
agents and toy companies than you want to know about, and also get a very
good perspective of what toy and game making is all about. There are some
simulation and academic game designers, most of whom do this only part time.
There's one, my wonderful friend Thiagi (Workshops by Thiagi; ph. 812
332-1478), who actually goes around the country teaching courses in
simulation game design for business and education.

To learn how to be a game designer you need to explore your own sense of play
in an environment that lets you experiment and supports you. This is the kind
of environment Thiagi creates in his classes. On your own, you'd best start
with the kinds of games you most like to play. Change them, somehow, to make
them more fun. Make up your own. Build several copies, or even different
versions of the game. Put them where people will find them. See how often
they are used. Play with them, change them, play them again. Game design is
an opportunity to use EVERYTHING you know about your subject matter and the
people you play with. And I truly believe that the best way to design a game
is playfully, with a spirit of genuine and deep fun.

However, the road to commercial success is arduous and generally not playful.
When you show a game concept to commercial investors, people want to see a
finished product, even though you only have a story board to show and have
never really had the chance to try the game out. The game industry is an
entertainment industry which is a fashion industry which is driven primarily
by whim, luck and big bucks. You might want to try your designs in a kinder,
gentler environment first (a classroom or playground, church or community
center), and let the players teach you what you need to know.

Learning by Dying


Dear Bernie De Koven: I bought a computer that I thought would be powerful enough for the
whole family to use. Well, it's powerful enough. Only, I'm not getting to use
it! The kids don't let me near it. Actually, that'd be OK. I'd let them use
it all the time if only they would use the computer to do something
intelligent. All they do, hour after hour, is play computer games. -- Funless
in Palo Alto

Dear Funless:  Since you're not getting to play with your computer, you might
as well play with your kids. Even if you never win, you can be assured that
the kids will eventually take pity on you and teach you everything you need
to do to avoid dying.

It's not going to be so easy. It's hard for most adults to play kids computer
games. We really don't like dying, even when it's only a game. Even in the
abstract, we really don't think of dying as a learning opportunity.

But in kids computer games every little death brings a little more
information. For kids on the virtual playground, death is temporary, and
reincarnation is guaranteed. The trick is not to die the same way twice. To
die, to be reborn to a longer life, to die again. In the most successful of
the "Nintendo" games (like Sonic the Hedgehog, though Sonic was designed for
a completely different game machine), death is a way of life. In fact, you
usually start out with a guaranteed number of lives (and an unspecified
number of implicitly guaranteed deaths).

To get a longer life, you have to remember exactly what you did that led to
your death last time. You have to have actually LEARNED something. Maybe
something not directly related to social or intellectual growth, but
something, definitely something.

In fact, learning is what kids computer games are all about: learning by
observation and recall, by controlled experimentation and conceptual mapping.
Which, by the way, is probably the way we learn most things about using the
computer. By trial and error. By intuition and observation. Fearlessly.

Adult computer games are really different. The learning process is the same,
but dying is no longer seen as having any entertainment value. Take, for
example, Myst (Broderbund software). Myst is currently the most successful
CD-ROM computer game for people over 13. Like most games of this genre, it's
a fantasy adventure into labyrinthine worlds. Unlike kids' adventure games,
Myst takes you into a world in which you never die. There are puzzles to
solve, mazes to learn, but there are no threats to virtual life or conceptual
limb. The same adult perspective can be found in games like the SimCity
series and the CD-ROM game 7th Guest. Lots of game play, no dying.

Trying to restrict your kids from a learning opportunity is not going to make
anybody happy. Instead of looking for a way to lock your kids out of the
computer, look for a game that you can play together.

Toy Horses


I'm sitting here, typing away on my computer, feeling very purposeful,
focused, productive...

And suddenly I remember myself having exactly the same feeling, 45 years ago,
playing with my electric horseracing set. The racetrack was on a metal board.
Attached to the board was a little motor that made the whole racetrack
vibrate. Each horsey stood on a little metal boatish thing, housing two metal
flaps. By bending and twisting these two metal flaps ever so slightly, one
could actually "program" the behavior of the horseys. There were infinite
combinations of metal flappery one could explore, and one of them would
transform the horse into an almost sure thing. I learned that I could make
the horses run in circles, and that if I put them all in just the right
position, they would run in intersecting circles, until they bumped into each
other. I became a choreographer of horse races.

I remember twisting and bending those flaps with the same seriousness of
intention, the same sense of intellectual rigor and fascination that I am
exercising now, as I wrestle my thoughts into ASCII.  Cutting and pasting
from an infinity of possibilities into the one most meaningful, I am still
the solitary player, betting on myself, my vision, my deepening understanding
of the ways of toy horse racing.

And in the light of this sudden trans-temporal connection, I see myself and
my computer more clearly. I see the nature of childhood and toys more
vividly. Self-wise, I haven't grown away from my love to play. Still with the
same sense of purpose and delight. With all the intensity of childhood, I
surround myself with toys that are really tools, and I use them to build
myself worlds of infinite potential. A set of tinker-toys, a toy truck, a
doll...power tools for building my virtual reality.

Re. me and my computer: As much as possible, I use my computer to play. I
play with data, words, symbols, images, messages, information. I play with
friends, relatives, teachers, colleagues, strangers.  My computer, like a
good toy, is something I want to play THROUGH, not WITH. It's my personal
transmogrifier. It brings me into worlds that are just beyond my imagination,
filled with promises of power, playgrounds of palpable fantasies, intimations
of infinity. I don't really like playing WITH my computer, if you know what I
mean. I'm not as interested in configuring my modem as I am in configuring my
virtual world.

For a while after the motor broke, I used to put marbles on the race track
and then roll them around into the horses and see if I could make one horsey
get to the finish line first. But it wasn't as much fun. It was too hard to
control. The horseys would fall over too easily. The racetrack would bend
under pressure. I couldn't find anyone who wanted to play with me with it.

Fun and Games on the Virtual Playground


Everybody knows that fun is ultimately the best reason for doing anything.
Love is good. Power is nice. But fun? What good is it to have love or power
if it's not fun?

Fun is easy. If we can't find fun, we can make fun. We all know how. With a
game or a joke or even a well-timed cheat, we can lighten even the most
somber of intentions. And yet. And yet, for most of us, most of the time, fun
is definitely not what we are having.

Most of us spend most of our time making ourselves and each other miserable.
When we teach children, or run meetings, or care for each other's very
health, it's as if fun were the farthest thing from our minds. Our places of
business are places of boredom and depersonalization, anxiety and isolation:
Classrooms. Boardrooms. Hallways. Offices. The majority of our daily games
are either boring or intimidating. The games, the places we play them in, the
audiences we are playing to, even the people we play with...

Like love and power, fun is something we're ready to risk our very lives for.
Hang gliding. Bungee jumping. Rock climbing. And yet, when it comes to our
day-to-day existence, we pretend that fun has nothing to do with it.

Here's the good news: we really ARE only pretending. We know, in our heart of
hearts, that fun has EVERYTHING to do with it. We're like a bunch of kids
pretending to be grown-up, pretending to be mommy and daddy, teacher and
preacher, taking ourselves so, so seriously.

And here's even better news: At this very moment, we are meeting on a new
playground, a virtual playground where we can play something else all
together. We can pretend away the walls between school and playground,
between learning and fun, between student and teacher, between work and play,
child and adult. We can help each other and heal each other for the fun of
it. We can play for profit and work for fun.

Here's the not-so good news: No matter how fun and co-liberating our virtual
playground, ultimately, it's the world of the flesh that is funniest. Neither
toy nor tool can be as fun as we are. We can have better games and better
meetings, but face-to-face and hand-to-hand we must make them so.

Drinking Games: Playing to Lose


Losing, in general, is not a GOOD thing. You're not supposed to WANT to lose
or ENJOY losing. But there are some games that you really DON'T want to win.
If winning Hide and Seek means, for example, that you never get found.

Most games you don't want to win ALL the time. They stop being fun .Because
there's no one left to give you a good game but yourself. Which, of course,
was true all the time. Of all opponents you have, who is as cunning, as
masterful? Who is as hidden and who as found as you?

There are some games that you don't really mind losing. Drinking games, for
example. The kind where every time you lose you have to take a drink. Like
Thumper. Everybody sits in a circle around bottles of the drink in
question. In simultaneous sobriety they beat on the floor, chanting "THE NAME
OF THE GAME IS....THUMPER!!!! At which time one player makes a gesture.
Immediately, another player makes yet a different gesture. A third player
makes the same gesture that the first player made. The second player then
makes yet a different gesture. And yet a fifth player makes yet a different
gesture. And on and on for quite some time, players taking turns gesturing at
each other, until, suddenly, they all point at one player who evidently made
the WRONG gesture. Amidst laughter of various shades of derision, the losing
player gets to take a drink. Here, losing is not necessarily to be avoided
anyway. Especially if you really want a drink.

At Play in the Virtual Playground


Dear Bernie De Koven: I absolutely agree with you that face-to-face and hand-to-hand
is the MOST important. 20 years ago I tried to drown my loneliness in the
opiate of computer programming. It never quite worked, but I kept trying to
make it work for about 7 or 8 years. Eventually the chronic headache it
gave me (metaphorical) helped me give it up. Now I'm an ex-computerholic
(even though I still have to earn my living as a programmer...). So my
agreement with you comes from painful experience failing at trying to live
without real human contact.

Dear Computerholic Anonymous:  I think maybe the fun (involvement,
engagement, enlivenment) you discovered in the virtual playground (computer
programming) has a lot to do with the fun you're discovering in your return
to the joys of fleshland. Everybody knows that programming, when it's fun,
is just as fun as hang gliding. There is real challenge. Real pay off. And at
times your very sense of self is at risk. Life and death on the virtual world
may not be as physical, but a crash is a crash is a crash. And maybe while
you were in the flow of it all, timeless, fully focused, juggling variables
like chainsaws while unicycling on a web of surprisingly shaky logic, you
became the very hero you needed to be, the one that you could lead you back
to pheremonic fun. Perhaps this conversation, this actual act of virtual
communication in which we are virtually engaging, is yet another on-ramp to
the face-to-face and eye-to-eye. I've been told that now that businesses are
using all these meeting-avoidance technologies (e-mail, voice mail,
videoconferencing, groupware) there are more meetings than ever. Go figure.



You call this fun? Are we playing yet? Is this a game? How do you quit? Is it
a real game? Is it the kind of game that has winners? How do you cheat? Is it
good to be a winner?

These are but a few of the profound and yet frivolous questions that face
playground designers in the virtual play community.

But wait, I get ahead of myself.

The play community: When people and most other mammals play in "public"; the
players, and those in the more or less immediate vicinity, create a temporary
community. In this special community the normal rules of communication and
social standing are suspended. A couple of the kids start play/fighting, and
suddenly the whole family becomes a play community, cheering and tickling and
mockedly snarling. And then the entire tribe, and then the nation, and then
species, and planet.

The virtual community: The uncensored, voluntary and potentially anonymous
exchange of ideas and images available through this very electronic medium,
and all the related media, promotes the formation of virtual play
communities. Again, the normal rules of communication and social standing are
suspended. But in the virtual community, we also suspend the rules of space
and time and body.

Virtual playgrounds: Like of course the World Wide Web. And even e-mail. And
bulletin board systems. And of course newsgroups. Each a playground for
virtual play communities. A playground of playgrounds.

Virtual playground designers: There are sadly only few architects who are
making any kind of living designing stuff for our virtual playgrounds.
Playground design was never a major profession in the hard world. This is
unfortunate. In the virtual world, good playground design is a virtual
necessity. The virtual community is a play community. And only those who have
been able to invite play and players have been truly successful in attracting
a virtual community. The few who have been successful have indeed created
virtual playgrounds that are so much fun to play in that have attracted a
global community. Take, for example, the World Wide Monkey Bars.

So, as I was saying, we are still a long way from sandboxes and see saws. It
is wonderful that we can meet here in the cybernow. I am delighted to be
given this opportunity to manifest myself to you, but, well, it would be even
better if we could be comparing notes about fun and games while were actually
having fun together, building, for example, castles in the virtual sand, with
working drawbridges and everything.

Fun and Work


Ever since my first game session for adults, I have been haunted by the same
question. First, people discover that they can in deed re-create the playful
abandon of childhood. Next, they realize that, as adults, they can even make
it more fun. And, then, inevitably, they want to know how they can have the
same experience at work.

Twenty-five years later, I still don't like my answers. I definitely don't
like anybody else's answers, either. I still don't know why work isn't as fun
as it could so very easily be. I have the same problem figuring out why games
aren't as fun, why playing isn't as fun, why fun isn't as fun.

All right, there are a lot of very cute things you can do to make work more
fun. All it takes is a little well-timed playfulness, here and there. Hang
crossword puzzles up on the coffeeroom walls, for example, with pencils, so
that anybody can fill in an answer or two. Make an anonymous puzzle wall. You
can bring in stuffed animals and squeezey things and miniature golf courses.
You can get a pop corn machine and throw hat-dropping parties. You can make
your presentation on a computer and use almost endlessly entertaining
effects. You can play corporate croquet on all 12 floors, but, frankly, I
don't think it'll make work fun.

Because, to make fun work at work, you're going to have to work at it, if you
know what I mean. You're going to have to get other workers to work with you.
And while you're all working at it, you're going to have to make it even less
fun, especially for yourself, because the very way you're working at fun is
the way you're working when you're not having fun at work. Believe me.

Getting Paid to Play


Along  with the realization that fun is what it is and has been all about,
I've also discovered that more fun is really what I am here to bring into
this world, with everyone: the people I live with and the people who pay me
enough to live on.

I am a professionally playful person. Old enough to know better, and yet,
whenever possible, young enough to remember why. I believe in enjoying
myself, with people who are enjoying me, with all of us enjoying what we do
together and especially enjoying each other. I am even a genuine team player.
I definitely believe in how our combined abilities can create something new
beyond my presently wildest imaginings.

I even more definitely believe in getting paid to play. Which is why, from
time to time, I am excessively puzzled to find myself at play, getting paid,
and having something significantly less than fun.

Here we are, play/creating along with the fortunate few who have also managed
to be paid to play, making brilliance in the depths of conference rooms and
kiosks, and it's not fun! We may be involved, heart, soul and might, in the
depths of play and the heights of creativity, we may even have exceeded our
wildest dreams, but, any attempts to share our ecstasy with our benevolent
patrons result in our being further patronized. The fact is, we are being
paid to play by the very people who are being paid not to. We must bless our
patrons as they bless us, for they derive their joy elsewhere. Though we
delightedly sweat buckets of brilliance into the daily pale of commerce, our
patrons are off playing a truly different game where fun is measured profit
and the promise of a plenitude of plenty. It will always be a lot less fun
than we want it to be, a lot less fun than it could be if we were all being
paid to play. Is this a basic lesson in client relations? Or what?

Good Fun


I definitely do not like knowing that there is such a thing as "bad" fun. I had so hoped that I could just have any old fun I wanted, as long as I was really having fun. I still find it extremely puzzling that there are people who actually have fun doing bad things. And it still stretches more than my imagination to realize that the bad things they are having so much fun doing are so vividly hurtful to everything they get to play with, including me.

Which is why I've decided to narrow the focus of this fun/work meditation to good fun. Bad schmad. Good fun and good work. Which means that, au fond, I do perforce display an advocacy, a leaning, a life long practice.

In fact, I must admit that much of the purpose of my Fun 101 campaign seems to be coming just that: to give people a hands-on experience of good, clean, healthy, mature fun. To share and examine the experience of fun at its living loving best.

A focus which, coincidentally, is deliciously depicted in an e-message sent in response to Bernie De Koven #17 which I quote at length:

Having fun - it seems to me (from what I already knew, from what I learned in Fun 101, and what I believe by conviction) - is not so much dependent upon what I am doing as it is upon my attitude.  Yet, it's difficult to maintain the attitude of having fun when certain conditions exist: 1) I perceive that people around me are expecting me to produce more than I think I can produce, or something other than what I want to produce (too much challenge?);  2) I perceive that people around me don't like me;  3)  I'm sick of doing the same old thing (no challenge);  4) I'm in pain (emotional or physical) 5) etc. (there are lots)

It seems to me that the challenge is to look at every situation as a game. I've talked of playing the Mother Teresa Game.  It involves seeing how much you can do without, how much you can give away, and how much you can truly empathize with others.   Now that's a game few people think of as fun. But I'm guessing that Mother Teresa plays it very well, enjoys it very much, and has chosen that game because it gives her what she needs.  She's not the first to have played it, but she's the one right now who seems to get the  gold medal for our time.
On a different level, if I'm facing a job which is high stress or drudgery, I can (though I seldom do) put some pretends into it, or make up a point system, or tackle it like I would a card game, and it just might turn into fun.

If I'm with people who are unpleasant to me, I can play the game of returning good for evil - like every time I feel a cold prickly, deliver a warm fuzzy. On the few occasions when I've been able to pull it off it's had very fun consequences - at first in me, but then in my "opponents."  I think it's a positive and fun game even if it runs the risks of becoming deceptive and of creating phoniness.  Avoiding those risks is part of the game.  If confronted by someone who is being ugly to me I could even be open about the game.  I wouldn't want to be dishonest, and there's a fine line between treating someone with kindness and just being two-faced.  But if it were too easy,it wouldn't be as fun.
Have fun.

 Dr. Soulsearch


It seems we are talking about GOOD (healthy, healing, engaging, flow-producing) fun. We acknowledged, and decided to put aside the contemplations of other kinds of fun for a while.

So now, we can make yet more discriminations and definitions. We can now invent KINDS of good fun. For example, there is a kind of very good fun to be had playing by yourself. And there is another kind of really very good fun to  be had that can only be had with other people.

I have invented a word for yet another kind of this latter kind of good fun.  Because, it turns out that it's this kind of good fun I've been talking about all along.


Not just playing together, but playing to free each other from the constraints of roles and rank, from self- and community imposed limitations. So that we can better play the game that we are playing now, here. Together. This is how we sometimes played when we were young enough to be allowed to make up our own rules.

You'd play mommy and I'd play baby, and in between the spaces of the game we'd teach each other how to play better at both.

CoLiberation. Not just working together, but working to free each other from the constraints of roles and rank, from self- and institutionally imposed limitations. So that we can better do the work that we are doing now, here.

This is how we sometimes work when we are privileged enough to be allowed to make up our own rules. You play boss and I play employee, and in between the spaces of our job descriptions we teach each other how to be better at both.

CoLiberation. A relationship of mutual support: each helping the other to be free from untested assumptions, imagined obstacles, unfounded fears.

CoLiberation: Beyond cooperation and collaboration. The very opposite of co-dependence. The basis of the learning organization. The grounds of co-creation. Group-actualization. Mutual-self-esteem. CoLiberation.

This is what I mean by good fun.

Oaqui* Ball(tm)-


It is by no accident that April Fools Day coincides with the beginning of the
most solemn of all the celebrations of the Oaqui, Rosh Ha-Oaqui, the Oaqui New
Year, the beginning of the High Oaquidays.

While you and your readers devote an entire day to getting fooled, being
foolish, and fooling around, we/I Oaqui devote our/myselves to inner
reflection, the making of binding promises, and the playing of Conceptual
Oaqui Ball. April Fools is to us/me so delightfully Shadow Oaqui. If
there weren't an April Fools Day, the laws of irony would demand that such a
day be invented, just so it could coincide with the one day on which the true
Oaqui simply do/es not fool around.

On Rosh Ha-Oaqui, the Oaqui devotes him/her/themself/ves totally to the
pursuit of the truth as found in Conceptual Oaqui Ball. Be that as it may
(or, in this case, April), we/I am/are not fooling. Here it is. Right here in
your virtual window, the actual game itself, Conceptual Oaqui Ball, as played
by the Oaqui on Rosh Ha-O-aqui day, revealed.

After you have sufficiently focused and centered and stuff, you try to
conceptualize a playable, plausible, but not necessarily actual game, that
effectively and playworthily combines two or more actual, but not necessarily
playful sports. I/We for example take the first turn, and consequently open
with a mere third level synthesis:

VolleyFootBasketball. I/We posit the existence of a football field. At the 50
yard line, a volleyball net, strung to goal-post height. Where there were
goal posts at either end of the field, baskets. Where there was a football, a
basketball. There are (two, three) teams and baskets, (one, two) ball(s).
When the whistle blows, team (A and/or B and/or C or not C) begin(s) to
dribble the ball towards the net at the 50-yard line, until ready to kick the
ball over the net towards the opposing team (')(s) basket. If the kicking
team manages to get the ball into the opposing team(')(s) basket, that team,
naturally, (loses, gains) (1, 2, 7) point(s).

The player with the ball is the only player that can legally be tackled,
though illegal tackling is allowed once the ball-bouncer crosses the
50-yardline. The ball can not of course be dribbled, passed or carried under
the net. If a team scores twice in a row, players must rotate positions so
that there are new quarterbacks, etc.  Every time there is a new scoring
team, teams rotate quarterbacks, the quarterback from team A now becoming the
quarterback for team B, etc. There are four quarters. At the end of the
fourth quarter, the team with at least one more point (wins, changes the
rules).And if you, Mr. major, and your entirely virtual
network also want to play, it is up to you to (continue, take the next turn)
in Virtual Oaqui Ball. I/We have had ours/mine. No fooling. And, by the Oaay,
happy April, if you know what we/I mean, Fools Day.

Your friend and mine/ours,
The Oaqui

Company Games


Dear Bernie De Koven, I hope you can help me with a slight challenge I've
encountered. It has to do with having fun with my group of colleagues here at
work.  Here's the history:

In our company, it is recommended that each quarter, each department hold an
"offsite" event.  The purpose of this event is to build teamwork and have
fun, in a setting away from the office. These events are planned by a group
of volunteers, and the planners are different for every event. The
traditional formula for these events is:  go away from the office, eat food,
divide into arbitrary teams, build something, and compete against the other
teams to see whose is best.  I'm on the planning committee this quarter, and
I'd really like to do something a little different.  Something that involves
all of us playing together, rather than against each other.  Even though I
attended your workshop at the Healing Power of Laughter and Play
conference, I am still a little fuzzy about how to go about getting this
together. Here is where I'm looking for a little advice or guidance from you.
And I must tell you right away, we are expected to do this on no budget, so I
must depend on your charitable nature for any guidance you choose to give.
The particulars are:  we have been given a date and a time (11 a.m. to 5
p.m.)  During that time we can go anywhere and do anything so long as it's
safe and legal, and we keep the cost to less that $20 per person, which must
include their lunch as well. We have the use of company vans for
transportation.  Our managers will be with us and presumably will be
participating in the activities. Our department consists of 35 people, who
are divided into four groups by job function.  We have technical writers,
technical illustrators, project managers, and marketing folks.  We work
together frequently, but mostly we each have our own projects to do and
there's not a huge amount of interaction.  Some of us are more physically fit
than others, and some are much more enthusiastic about life in general.
Pleasing everyone has become an assumed impossibility, but we always try.  So
far the committee (myself and three others) are thinking along the lines of
"go to the beach, eat something, and then play."  That's where we fall apart.
How can we play in a relatively small group of people, that know each other
somewhat well, get along OK most of the time, and have widely disparate
interests?  I personally am a proponent of building a huge sandcastle village
on the beach, but I'm sure open to any other suggestions. Please and thank

Bernie De Koven responds: The first thing you want to do when you find yourself in
charge of a fun event is to make everybody else responsible. Because it is
really the goal here to transcend competition rather than generate it in the
name of teamwork, you are rightly concerned about creating a contest, even if
it's just for fun. If it has been the tradition that people break up in
teams, build something together, and then determine who did it best, let's
honor the tradition fully. Break them up into teams. Make each team
responsible for making something. Only, instead of having them create a
THING, have them PLAN THE REST OF THE EVENT for each other! Why should you
and your overworked cohorts have to take the responsibility when everyone
could have more fun sharing it, creating a game, ritual, celebration,
something for the whole group to take part in?

As logical as this all is, you will probably need to help them experience the
clarity of this conclusion. Perhaps you might devote part of the morning on
the beach to playing a Oaqui game or two all 35 of you, just as warm up, then
let the teams go off together to plan their game and prepare their part of
the lunch. There are many ways people can go about creating a Oaqui Game
together. A couple of my favorites: 1) take a two-team sport and change it so
three teams can play it, and 2) take two different sports and try to combine
them or play them at the same time. 3-Team games are, at times, so complex,
or so silly, that no-one takes them seriously enough to get worried about.

Take, for example, 3-Team Soccer. You need THREE goals and TWO balls. EACH
team has ITS OWN goal to defend, and LOSES a point every time a ball goes
into their goal net. The game stops when ONE team has LOST FIVE points.
(Rules that are subject to the most interesting changes are in CAPITAL
letters).Combining two games or sports, in whole or part, can lead in like
manner to the creation of a game that one would be proud to call Oaqui.
Beach games like VolleyFrisbee and KiteBall are among Oaqui favorites, as are
the perennials, ScrabbleOminoes and CanasTag.

To be sure that all levels of skills are appropriately challenged, you might
set some guidelines to that effect, asking teams to come up with games that
include everyone and promote varying levels of participation. Perhaps one
team should be assigned to come up with a game that can be played, for
example, lying down on the sand in the sun while drinking pina coladas, or
another requiring various degrees of collaborative frisking in the waves. To
fire the mutual imagination, you might want to bring "objects du play" like
cards, scrabble sets, frisbees, tennis rackets., and throw in a very large
ball or two (like those 5-foot diameter exercise balls) and perhaps a small
flock of shuttlecocks. As long as you're playing in the sand, don't forget
Toe games.

Yet more games to play with your co-workers, when playing is what you're
actually doing:

Elbow Tag

Have everyone break-up into pairs and have the two stand next to each other
with their elbows connected. Place all the pairs scattered about in a large
area but not too far a part. One person is "IT" and there is another person
who is not hooked onto someone as of yet and is avoiding the tag. This game
can be played at a fast walk rather than a run. Actually, it is more fun if
you do not run. The person avoiding the tag can connect elbows with one of
the pairs, then the person on the other side of the pair is now avoiding the
tag and must scurry about to connect elbows with another person before
getting tagged. This game is so much fun as a result of the element of
surprise, not seeing the person at times connected with your partner on the
other side. It truly is great fun!

Hug Tag

Elbow tag, except you have to be hugging another person in order to be safe.
Which can lead quite inevitably to three person Hug Tag or perhaps four
person Hug Tag with two ITs, or two person Hug Tag, two Its, but you have to
hold your breath while hugging.

Beach Scrabble

I have heard (from Matt Weinstein of Playfair) of a beach game wherein
massive quantities of tennis balls have the letters of the alphabet scrolled
onto them by magic markers, and then are hurled into the ocean. Players run
into the ocean and retrieve the tennis balls and then assemble them in
scrabble-like fashion to make words with their teammates help. Hence: beach
scrabble. If this adventure is taking place in Northern California, perhaps
some wet suits might be in order, or else massive relays of teammates in
bathing suits, so as not to encounter hypothermia. Anyway, an idea that could
be Oaquified perhaps, so please pass it on to your inquirist.

Long Knives and the Big Plate Special

You know the Jewish story about the difference between heaven and hell? The
Rabbi goes down to Hell, and what does he see? the damned, standing in front
of a great banquet table, each standing with a fork in one hand and a knife
in the other and their arms tied to a long stick so they can't bend them
enough to get the food to their mouths. "This is a helluva place" thinks the
Rabbi. So he goes to heaven. And what does he see? The saved, standing in
front of a great banquet table, each standing with a fork in one hand and a
knife in the other and their arms tied to a long stick so they can't bend
them enough to get the food to their mouths, feeding each other!

Does this suggest a game to you? What would it be like if you made it the
rule that during lunch you could only feed each other and couldn't feed
yourself? Would it be heaven? Or what?

Oaqui Pong(TM)


Dear Bernie De Koven, I/we am/re pleased to inform you that your description of your
game of Ping Pong (as found in your book, The Well-Played Game) has led to
much delicious grazing in the infofields of earthly folklore here at Oaqui U.
I/we are once again struck by how many similarities, and yet, how many subtle
differences I/we find in this, albeit the first of your games to undergo such
scrutiny, your so-called game of Table Tennis. For it is so very much like
that of the original game of Oaqui Pong, and so very different, that
conclusions inevitably had to be drawn.

Here, therefore, is my/our brief summary of my/our findings.

As you would expect, where there should be your Oaqui Pong Table(TM), your
Oaqui Pong Paddles(TM), your O-aqui Pong Net(TM), and your Oaqui Pong
Ball(TM), your game Tennis Tennis (a.k.a. Ping Pong) only provides a pale and
far too-self-important echo of the Oaqui Oaay.

The actual, or Oaqui Pong Net, is, of course, as you would know from your
familiarity with the Oaqui Bar(TM) and all that it stands for, diagonal. One
end is considerably higher than the other. In fact, should we so wish, we
could even make the net come to a point on one end and be a couple feet off
the table on the other, and why wouldn't we? The TT/PP Net, is absurdly
horizontal. Too low for a ball to go under, and not high enough to make a
ceiling shot worth trying.

The TT/PP Paddle is of only one kind, and is supposed to be exactly the same
for both players and remain the same throughout the game. To add
play-spiritual insult to play-spiritual injury, players of TT/PP are not
allowed to use body parts as supplementary paddles.

Oddly enough TT/PP manages to incorporate a pale and bizarre half-truth when
it comes to its definition of the TT/PPB Table Tennis/Ping Pong Ball).
(That's correct, BALL, singular!. Where there are of course at least two
Oaqui Pong Balls used in the original master game of Oaqui Pong, each of its
unique color and proper properties!)

Then it comes to the Table Tennis (Ping Pong) Table. The TT(PP)T is for some
reason positioned so that it must remain isolated, unsupported, in open
space, alone, instead of secure and connected, butting against a wall, or
against another Table Tennis Table, which is butting against a wall, etc.
Oddest of all, whilst in Oaqui Pong the OPT (Oaqui Pong Table) changes
butting arrangements from time to time, during the whole game of TT/PP, the
TT/PPT butts nothing.

Which makes it impossible, as well as illegal, for players of TT/PP to play
"off the wall," as it were. Whilst we of the Oaqui have hangings, pictures
and other brac as well as bric that adorn the "lean wall" and must take
skilled and deeply challenging care to make sure that all wall things remain
undisturbed throughout the game, or at least until all balls are out of play
or destroyed.

Then, when we arrive at the idea of the Serve, well, TT, bound as it to its
OneBalledness, begins as a game in which one player has to Serve to the
other, trying, can you imagine, not only to get the ball over the net and hit
the other side of the table, but to make the other player MISS! It's beyond
odd, when you think about it, that a game would arise in which one player, in
the name of SERVING, would try to make the other player lose! These are the
consequences of UniBallistic thinking: SERVING each other by trying to make
each other LOSE!

Which, of course, leads inevitably to the way they keep score. Here, TT,
merely because of its MonoSpherical premise, makes the oddest of all leaps.
Where as you, being sensitized to the Oaay of the Oaqui, would think BOTH
players would LOSE a point every time the ball goes out of play, well, need
I/we say more?

There is a great lesson to be learned here. Merely by playing a game like
Table Tennis/Ping Pong, and then contrasting that experience to the original,
and far truer game of Oaqui Pong, much can be understood about why the
non-Oaqui find it so difficult to laugh when they are playing.

Perhaps that it is why it is all the more remarkable that those who are
ignorant of the Oaay ever have any fun at all. My/our personal/collective
congratulations to you and your readers.

Your friend and mine/ours,

The Oaqui

Is Fun a Four-Letter Word?


"All I want to do is have some fun
"And I've got the feeling I'm not the only one"

-- from "All I Want to Do" by Sheryl Crow

So, I'm driving with Dave (friend, webmaster, the actual Davenet Dave) on our
way to an early dinner at Bucks, and he's playing this song, over and over
again, and again over. "All I want to do," goes the song, "is have some fun.
And I've got the feeling I'm not the only one."

I like the song, a lot. It's infectious, brain-wavingly rhythmic. And Sheryl
Crow sings it with studied abandon. Delicious. But the message of this
actually number one song provokes me into at least 57 varieties of

First, of course, I think about FUN 101. In case it's somehow escaped your
notice, let me notify you once again. I have this presentation I do. I call
it "Fun 101." It consists of about 45 minutes to a couple days of
multimediated pith and multipersonal play. It's a live, face-to-face, big
screen computer show filled with cunningly animated charts and graphs that
describe just about everything I've learned about fun and how to make it.
And, to make sure that we get to practice the preachment, we even play a
couple genuinely Pointless Games from the great Oaqui

Now, honestly, and without bias, I am not ashamed to admit that Fun 101 is a
truly good, rich, verifiably fun-enabling presentation. And candidly,
frankly, and with certifiable puzzlement, I observe that I am definitely less
than overwhelmed with bookings. Here I am, offering 25 years of my collected
wisdom in 45 or more provocatively entertaining minutes, and there most
people are, somewhere else!

I mean, if all people want to do is have some fun, and if people are actually
aware that they might not be the only ones, why haven't they, merely upon
reading the title of my presentation, massively flocked? After offering Fun
101 in churches and schools, conference rooms and retreat centers, and even
in a nudist colony, with such deeply shared delight, you would think there
would be major flockage. And yet, still, there's hardly any flocking going
on, Fun 101wards.

So, I took my puzzlement to the one person I knew who knows more about fun
than even the major him/myself: Dr. Mihaly ("just call me
Mike") Csikszentmihalyi, research psychologist at the University of Chicago,
pioneering researcher into the nature of enjoyment, author of the
best-selling book *Flow*. And I speak unto him, saying, "Mike, what is this
crap? Don't people want to know about fun? If not, why are they singing about
it? If so, why aren't they getting the flock over to my presentations?" And
Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi responds: "I've got the same trouble. Here I am,
30, what, 5 years into this study, one of the few psychologists who has ever
actually researched anything other than pain and misery, and when I write for
a grant, you think I can mention the word "flow" or "fun" or "happiness?" Not
if I want the grant I can't." Can you believe it? The actual and only Dr.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, pioneer of the psychology of Flow, and he still has
to write for grants? And he still can't talk about Fun?

So this is why I'm concluding that maybe FUN is mis-spelled. Maybe it should
be PHUN instead. Because with that spelling, it can take its place as the
four-letter word our culture seems to think it is.

Maybe it's not just our culture. Maybe there's something about fun that makes
it impossible for us take it seriously long enough to do anything about it.
Maybe that's why it's so hard to market a book or class or presentation with
the word "fun". Even if we genuinely know how to help people make their lives
and their actual world a little more fun. Maybe that's why we have to write
songs about how desperately we want to have fun.

On the other hand, here YOU are. And you're actually reading this. Because
you know about fun. You know how important fun is to you, to the world.

So, here, for your personal validation and sanity is my gift, my passing on
to you of the gift Mentor Mike gave me:

It IS important to have fun. It is a true, and priceless gift of heart and
spirit to teach other people how to have more fun. And if you find it
difficult for you to share that gift, just remember: you aren't the only one.

Serious & Silly Find God

Date: 95-06-26 00:18:34 EDT
From: the major
To: The Oaqui

(for Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi)

Of all the players on my inner playground, Serious and Silly are the best
known. They've played together for years. They understand each other
intimately. They can play the most complicated games you can imagine. And,
from time to time, they can really play beautifully together.

There's one particular game that they can never play particularly well. Yet
they play it almost all the time, and seem to really enjoy it. It's a
variation of hide-and-seek and peek-a-boo and achieving enlightenment.

Typically, Silly suggests the game. Serious always wants to be Seeker. This,
actually, is a good arrangement. Serious is an expert at keeping rules and
being fair and defining what's off limits. Silly, on the other hand, is
remarkably good at being the Hider.

Next they decide on Home Base. The inner playground is full of potential
home bases and hiding places, from Toe to Tongue, Throat to Lung. Silly
usually picks the Nose.

Silly will play Hider, and Serious, as we already predicted, will play
Seeker. Serious focuses all attention on being the breather, the nostril,
the sensor of the air. And then begins to count (backwards, by primes, from

Silly is supposed to be hiding by the time Serious reaches zero. Despite
years of practice, Serious just can't ignore Silly for the whole count. So,
as usual, Serious has to start over again several times before Silly is
really ready to hide.

Finally, Serious completes the count. At last, the moment of truth. Serious,
in a blink of the inner eye, reaches the unavoidable conclusion that Silly
is definitely hiding.

At this point, the game almost always breaks down. It's just too much for
both of them. For Silly, hiding is fun, but only for a little while. And for
Serious, just the thought of being all alone, leaving Home, without's almost too frightening. Even Serious doesn't want to have to be
that serious.

Fortunately, both Serious and Silly have had a lifetime to play. All it
takes to get Silly out of hiding is someone to say "Allee Allee Oxen Free."

I don't know why they keep on playing Hide and Seek. Tag is a much better
game for both of them. They'd never have to be apart. And, together, they
could even find other players to play with. I tried to ask them once, when I
thought they were between games. And they started running after me, yelling
"You're IT."

The Politics of Phun

So, I find myself thinking more and more about "phun," the four-letter-word
variety of fun, the kind of fun that isn't really quite acceptable in our
adult world. No, not the x-rated kind of fun. That's the kind of fun that
adults don't accept for children. In fact, when I say "adult fun," that sexy
sort of fun is just the sort of fun we adults have in mind.

This reminds me about a time when I was running my Games Preserve out in the
hills of Eastern Pennsylvania. I had turned a farm into a semi-retreat center
for the study of "Advanced Play." I had an actual barn full of games: board
games, table games, electronic games, puzzles, darts, the most level pool
table that side of the Mississippi, flying rings, even a sliding board. The
whole purpose of the place was to give adults an environment that was so
profoundly and obviously permitting us to play that for once we could take
play, well, seriously. We had some truly profound times there. I could write
a book about it. So I did. I called it "The Well-Played Game."

One day I picked up a hitch-hiker. We had a long way to go, so, unavoidably,
I found myself trying to explain the Games Preserve to this temporarily
intimate stranger. "Oh,'' he said, with a knowing twinkle, "games! I know
what kind of games you're talking about." "Oh, no," I responded, "not those
kind of games. I mean fun games." "Fun games!" he chortled, "I know what kind
of fun you're talking about." "Oh no, no, not those kinds of games, not that
kind of fun at all." And, for the remaining 20 miles of our journey, no
matter what synonym or metaphor I came up with, this guy was sure I was
talking about, well, you know: adult fun. As in "not for kids." As in

Phun, on the other hand, is something else. Phun is what happens when, as
adults, and, with all the mature, responsible powers of adulthood, in full
recognition of the best and worst of our human nature, we are blatantly,
publicly playful.

Phun is not about the sexual act. Phun is a political act.

In the May/June '93 issue of Mother Jones, Molly Ivins writes: "A recent Ku
Klux Klan rally in Austin produced an eccentric counterdemonstration. When
the 50 Klansmen appeared (they were bused in from Waco) in front of the state
capitol, they were greeted by five thousand locals who had turned out for a
"Moon the Klan" rally. Citizens dropped trousers, both singly and in groups,
occasionally producing a splendid wave effect. It was a swell do."

In the same article, Ivins describes conversation with the ailing Joe Rauh, a
famous civil rights lawyer of the McCarthy era. "So there was Rauh," she
writes, "lyin' there sick as a dog, thinkin' back on all those bad, ugly,
angry times -- the destroyed careers, the wrecked lives -- and he said, 'Tell
'em how much fun it was. Tell 'em how much fun it was.'"

Phun and Prophecy

Dear major and all the Fun Folk, wherever you are,

The Oaqui has/ve for no reason in particular decided to reveal in Five Transmissions to you and only you the Nine plus One Prophecies supposedly given to the followers of the Oaqui Oaay somewhere in Peru or maybe Pittsburgh.  Please take it as seriously as necessary. Guard it with your life at least.

The First Definition:

Phun (n) -- Grown-up fun. The fun of being an adult doing grown-up things. The fun making believe a better world, and getting to for-real it.

The First Observation:

We're all just a bunch of phun-loving kinda folk.

The First Prophecy:

Once enough of us realize that phun is really the only reason why any of us ever do whatever we do in the first place, we'll be able to take care of things like hunger and poverty.

Once it's really clear that that phun is all that anyone ever wants out of life, we'll have figured out how to deal with things like cruelty and suffering and other injustices that are clearly not phun.

Then we'll finally be able to make real an economy where life is recognized as the one true wealth, and the wealthy are those who bring phun to it.

The Next Observation:

Life is very much like a Game, except that the rules change, and everyone ultimately loses.

The Next Prophecy:

As more of us become aware of the Gamelikeness of it all, more and more of us will start playing just for the phun of it. No one will confuse winning or losing with the reason for playing the Game, because in the Game, as everyone will understand, winning is not an alternative.

More and more of us will grow up playing games which are only played so that we can be more aware of the phun of it; where there aren't any rules or roles more important than any of us. Our children will play in metaphysical playgrounds, where computer-supported versions of Hide and Seek lead them to the divine mortality of each other's unique presence.

And then the phun will really start.

In the mean time, here are some more of those enlighteningly lifelike games where you play basically to lose:

Any drinking games.

The Lap Game, that old New Game, for example, where everyone gets in a circle and tries to sit in everyone's lap, where it's so much fun just to be able to accomplish such a ridiculous task with out falling, that the next thing you want to do is fall down.

Hahaha, where you lie on each other's tummy's and take turns adding one more resounding HA, until someone laughs first.

Your friend and mine/ours

The Oaqui

Waiting Games

Many of the best Pointless Games are designed to be played only while people are waiting for something else to happen. In fact, according to Oaqui lore, boredom is widely respected as the source of some of the most profoundly Oaqui of all the Pointless Games. Not that the Oaqui is/are particularly enamored of boredom. But rather that the Oaqui recognize(s) that when people are sufficiently bored, even the Oaquiest of Pointless Games become welcome. Even pointless, silly, strange, ridiculous games. Anything, anything at all that might possibly lead to signs of mental life... Hence the genre: "Oaqui Waiting Games."

There are, or course, several species of Oaqui Waiting Game genre. We begin our exploration with one such specie, the Oaqui Waiting Games To Be Played While Waiting In A Restaurant, or: the Waiter-Waiting Games.

Perhaps the most exemplary, and challenging of all the Waiter-Waiting Games is the game variously called "Found Object scrabble." It is played thusly:

As you sit in positions of elegant patience, sumptuously sipping water and slowly exhausting conversational alternatives, look around for small objects of which there are more than two: forks, spoons, sugar packets. Set aside singletons and doubletons (glasses, napkins, ketchup bottles, etc.), and create a large, de-cluttered space for the game board.

Now, think of the remaining tableware as blank tiles, functioning in the same manner as blank tiles in the game of Scrabble. That is to say, so to speak, that a fork could stand for any letter at all. In like manner, a spoon, for example, would also be like a blank tile, and could also stand for any letter, except that it must stand for a DIFFERENT letter. So, a pattern of tableware such as: (spoon)(fork)(fork)(spoon) could represent any four-letter word that began and ended with the same letter, and had a different double-letter in the middle, e.g.: NOON, DEED, ELLE, but not BOON, FEET, or ELBE. Tableware can be added vertically or horizontally, the only rule being that when you are challenged, you must be able to fill in all the blanks, as it were, in exactly the same pattern as the objects.

In the following example:

found object crosswords

the two horizontal words are both three-letters long. The letters symbolized by the packages of Splenda are different, depending on the orientation of the package. So, the third letter of the word beginning with the fork is the same as the second letter of the word beginning with the napkin.

There are three vertical words. You get the picture, no? Want a hint? The last vertical word is TEA.

Challenging? You bet! Boredom dispelling, yes, but definitely not one of your entry-level conundra. It is even more challenging if you and your partner are sitting opposite each other, because you are each looking at a different array. I, myself, in partnership with some of the most puzzling people I know, have never been able to create a pattern that goes beyond ond place setting, some napkinds, and an assortment of sugar packets.

(This Oaqui* game is in memory of Burton Naiditch)

 Limits of Playfulness

After I more or less concluded one of my Fun 101 lessons, a colleague of
mine, who, in fact, sponsored my presentation in the first place, began to
aid me in packing up.

And here, a thing happened that was odd enough to merit genuine scrutiny.

"No," I said, "I don't want help. In fact," I added, "please don't help."

"Why are you so uptight," says my colleague, continuing to pull out plugs and
wrap up cords, "we're all playing, and this is just another toy."

"No," I find myself responding with sudden suddenness, "WE are not and this
is not."

"You see," I attempt to explain, as he closes in on a vital switch, "if I
don't put everything away myself, then I have to think about where everything
is next time I use it. And, yes, in fact, now, for real, stop touching the
equipment, please thank you."

I decided to let this lesson to him be a lesson for me, and maybe for you,

Here I am, calling myself "Major Fun" and so how can I blame you for thinking
there should be no limits to my playfulness? Why would I take anything
seriously if I were in deed such a Bernie De Koven?

First of all, let me say that you are right to ask. I am, in fact, not a
master player, and limited is definitely what my playfulness is.
If I were a master player, we would all be having a lot more fun right now,
and I mean a lot more and I mean all of us, believe me.

I am Major Fun primarily because this is my way of making my life moreso.
So you are right to call my mastery into question. Even though we know that
most master players have things that they really don't want other people to
play around with, whether they are players of bagpipes or chess; if I were a
master player, I wouldn't be so limited in my playfulness. So what if the
equipment is on loan and worth $12,000 and I need it tomorrow?

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if a good part of most master players
mastery is based on that mutual respect they have, not only for the fragility
of eachother's toys, but also for the limits of eachother's playfulness. But,
the fact is, I am not a master player, and I am still not playful enough to
let you toy with my tools.

When I am doing a Fun 101 class, I want to feel truly at play, in a community
of players, in the freeest of most expert of my improvisational spontaneity.
So, I am so careful to make sure that nobody every feels OBLIGED to play.
"Quit," I always say, "even if you just want to see what it feels like to
quit. But please, don't keep on playing if you don't want to." Even a
groundrule as basic as that has to be publicly unearthed before we can begin
to play as fully as we are here to...

So thank you, my friend and colleague, for helping me see so clearly that
there is yet another rule and permission I must establish in my fun lessons,
a rule that I have to make as clearly engraved as the rule that says playing
is voluntary.

And from now on, please consider the following rule a permanent part of our

When someone, anyone for any reason, calls "time out," you have to stop