People Pass

by Bernard De Koven on September 27, 2012

There’s yet another kind of cooperative game, typified by the iconic New Game of People Pass, in which a group of people work together to transport each other, one at a time, from the beginning to the end of a line. This is one of a large collection of what became known as trust games – often for a very good reason. These games were most often developed by people involved in what was called T-Groups or “sensitivity training,” the objectives of which were often a little more hidden from the participants than they might wish.

Played for fun, these games can be wonderful, as I hinted at, “transporting” experiences of caring and being cared for, of support and supporting, of somewhat intimately sensuous sensitivity – all for the sheer joy of it. Played for other purposes, like teaching people about their “true nature” and stuff, these same games can take on a bit too much intimacy.

To keep these games fun, you have to focus heavily on individual safety, and the freedom to quit without consequences, and with impunity. If it’s your turn to get carried over everyone’s head, and you aren’t sure you really want to, it’s just fine. It doesn’t say anything about you. It doesn’t mean anything about your character or caring or feeling about the group or sense of responsibility to the group or who you really are. Would you mind, however, staying in line and helping to pass other people overhead?

People Pass, properly facilitated, is great fun, for everyone. Players start out in two lines. From then on, the people in front, one at a time, are carried to the back of the line, where they position themselves so they will be ready to carry the next person. Facilitators usually station themselves at the front and back of the lines, to help the people being passed on and off. It’s good to have a third facilitator, especially in large groups, to walk the proverbial line with the person being passed, just to keep things comfortable and safe.

To keep the people who are doing the passing sensitive to the person being passed (sometimes, they get carried away, so to speak), you might want to ask them to hum or chant or whisper sweet nothings. The passee, aside from worrying about being dropped, might also spend a lot of her time worrying, more rightfully, about being touched, as they say, “inappropriately.” Again, to keep the game fun for everyone, you might need to spend some time focusing the passers’ attention on how to keep the game fun, and help the passee feel safe.

There are many ways to play the game. You can play standing up (as in the picture on the top of this post) or lying down (as in the photo on the bottom). Lying down feels safer for everyone. And, since the passee knows that if the passers aren’t taking appropriate care, she may very well land on their faces, there is an added sense of safety – at least for the person who most needs it.

You can pass big people, little people, people with disabilities, and they all get to feel loved, and so do you. All in all, at its best, an experience of deep fun.

Sensing and sensitivity are key to this kind of cooperation. They form the background assumptions for all cooperative games, but in games of the People Pass ilk they are more self-evident. For these games to be fun, players need to be sensitive to each other, and, especially when playing with strangers and/or teens, the people who are facilitating the game have to help make sure that that sensitivity is maintained throughout the game.

As, not necessarily, but often manifestly contrasted with crowdsurfing.


A Playful Path photoA playful path is the shortest road to happiness.
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