The Well-Played Game

by Bernie DeKoven

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

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The Well-Played Game

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

Read Eric Zimmerman’s Foreword to the Well-Played Game

 


“Hi Bernie – Amazon suggested (your book) to me in the ‘other people who bought what you’re buying also bought this’ category. What I love most is the reminder that the point of the game is the valuing of the other people you share it with. That really broadened my thinking of ‘fun’ out. In my work I teach laughter mainly in terms of its benefits to the individual – but I’m thinking more now about how play teaches us to care about others. And I love it politically – the well-played game is the model for a better world where people take time to help each other enjoy their lives!”

Jo Eadie

“The Well-Played game focuses on a kind of fun that is unfortunately not normally associated with games, and certainly not with sports. I like to think of it as “kindly fun” – like the fun that families share when they are enjoying each other, or the fun that children share with each other when they are feeling safe and free from supervision. The book is remarkable, because it demonstrates that kindly fun is not only something that people experience, but that can be nurtured and extended throughout an entire community.”

Brian Sutton-Smith

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

Celia Pearce

So I’ve finally finished reading The Well-Played Game. Thank you greatly for that book, I enjoyed it a lot and I want to start by telling you again that it has great value for me.

It reached me mostly on a personal level and I won’t be able to tell you my appreciation of the book without going here and there into my current life situation. It is strange that the book has been on my “wish list” for a very long time and that I only got to buy and read it now, in a most appropriate moment.

The good first part of the book is very descriptive of the process of playing and how games and play is perceived by the players. I found that very interesting but then I was surprised by the last few chapters that goes further and really expands the definition and the reality of “play” to encompass life much more largely (maybe you havent slapped yourself hard enough to stay away from the game-life reflections but if that’s the case, I’m glad about it). I now realize how much your book is about Freedom and empowerment, and Freedom is a very recurrring theme in my and my girlfriend’s readings at the moment (The Joy of Not Working – Ernie Zelinsky, The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron, Summerhill School – A. S. Neil, to name a few).

Me and my girlfriend are both very creative minds, we have a 14 months old daugther and soon neither of us will be employed anymore. I’ll be working on building my own Flash Game business but I’m far from being a work slave, and spending time with my family is more important than spending long hours in front of a computer to make a lot money. So we are in the process of regaining our own freedom so we can better preserve our daughter’s freedom, and your book, in this way, is very reassuring (inkling #1 of your non-conclusions). It helps me realize how important play is for children and adults alike and that children are not “merely playing”, that playing is actually a very serious matter! It also validates a lot of my own feelings about play, feelings that have been long repressed by my education which gives too much power to work and social standing.

Professionaly, I don’t know if it will change the games I make (at least it will give me new, additional ways to think about them) but it will certainly change the way I work, so I can find ways to have more fun with what I do for a living. I previously told you that I was considering making a game workshop for children, and I feel more and more that it would be a “right” thing to do, even though I don’t have much of an idea yet about how to do it exactly and what I’m looking to accomplish (any pointers from your own experience are greatly appreciated).

I really love the short chapter about “CoLiberation”. This is something I’ve experienced a few times in my life (through, among others, playing music and having conversations with my girlfriend and dear friends) and that I’ll be seeking more in the future. I’m often playing sports with friends and I think my attitude will slightly change regarding that, to better accomodate the well-played game. I feel I’ll be able to be more attentive to the needs of others and have more tools to accomodate them.

That’s a few of my feelings after reading your book. I hope it’s not too confused. In any way, the one thing that really sticks out for me is the very idea of Freedom.

Thank you very much for this great contribution. :)

- Kevin Trepanier

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

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

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

Michael Gilbert, the NonProfit Online News

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

Stevanne Auerbach, PhD/Dr. Toy

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

Gwen Gordon, Esalen workshop participant

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

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

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

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

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

Don Ardell, The Wellness Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Morris


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

New York Times Acrostic


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