Major Fun award-winning Rafael Lozano-Hemmer creates Olympic Light Art

According to Switched The ten, online user-controlled (yes, really, go ahead and try it while you still can) search lights currently installed on each side of Vancouver's English Bay is the work of none other than Major Fun Award-winner Rafael Lozano-Hemmer!

"Ah!" says I, and also "ha!" How satisfying it is to see a Major Fun award-winner earn something closely equivalent to gold medal Olympic recognition for playfulness.

This opportunity has been a long time coming. Lozano-Hemmer debuted his Vectoral Elevation in Mexico, ten years ago!

(Photo from Rick Hamrick who writes: "It works, Bernie! Not only that, when I submitted my design, it was executed in the predawn sky over Vancouver within about 30 seconds. My cool design (ahem) is attached.")

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Bob Gregson - Defender of the Playful

There's a work of art hanging on one of the walls of Bob Gregson's studio. It's a framed letter that Bob had notarized. It reads: "Bob Gregson has never done a work of art in his entire career or anything that remotely resembles one."

With this, he has managed to transform what anyone else would consider to a profound insult into what, oddly enough, is a testimony to the playfulness that he has brought to art - or is it the art he has brought to his playfulness?

In an earlier post, on Deep Fun, I called Bob an "artist of whimsy and delight." Most recently, Bob's nephew produced a short documentary that made me realize I need to write about him again - this time to grant him the much-deserved honor, benefits, and privileges of the title "Defender of the Playful."

The video is just long enough to hint at the depth of his playfulness - a clear enough hint to allow me to demonstrate why I have such a deep appreciation for his work, his lifelong struggle to share it, and his many delightfully provoking accomplishments.

Upon learning of this award, Mr. Gregson responded: "I am humbled at this honor. As you've taught me (and I think you said) 'play is a terribly maligned word.' And it is true – and when you make 'art' (or 'fart' which is 'fun art' as one 13 year old called my work) it is really hard to get people to understand. But then again, if they understood they would be very self-conscious of the subtle decisions that one makes to create a comfortable and safe play-space. But with all that said, it REALLY comes down to my selfish desire to have fun – and the more I can twist the rules around, the more I can get people to play – and thus allow me to play too. This reminds me of a student paper that someone did a few years ago when I was a guest teacher at a 'Creativity Class' (whatever that is!). At any rate, I had college students working in teams to make buildings in which the team could fit. Newspaper was the medium. One student wrote in her report that 'it was clear that Mr. Gregson could hardly restrain himself from participating.' And it's true. I can't help myself. "

Bob Gregson is gift. And here he is, for you to enjoy.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Jesse Schell, conceptual optician

Dear Jesse Schell,

I know, I know, you sent me a copy of your book and your card deck. Me. That was no business card. It was a sizable gift. And by it, I am honored you thought my opinion worth the investment. And I’ve been honored now for maybe a half year and I still have written barely anything about your work. Not about how deep it is, how thorough, how it touches the very same things I would hope to touch upon if I were writing about the art of game design. How it goes further, even, instantiating and substantiating, almost tangibly building the sensibilities that are central to the art of designing for fun.

The Art of Game Design, a Book of Lenses. Exactly. A book of ways to look at games, through different perspectives, through different paradigms, like, for example, fun.

If I hadn’t been so busy with moving and traveling and redefining my pschyo-ecological niche, I’d have told everyone about what you have accomplished here, how even the “game” you made up, with that beautifully rendered deck of cards, each acting as a “lens” (very deep concept here, lens) through which you can see and even judge the nature of the game, as it were. How you actually made an genuine game that can truly be played for fun. And yet, with serious import and surprising value…A game that can be fun to play and still border everso closely on what one would call “serious” – full of purpose and significance and learning objectives and messages, even – fun of a very useful kind.

This in itself is an accomplishment that would send especially me into paroxysms of praise and public cavorting. And yet, until now, I remained silent.

Alas for the exigencies that kept me from this for so long. I embrace thee, Jesse Schell, with gleeful noise, and hereby, for as long as the connection lasts, bestow on you the Defendership itself.

Jesse Schell. Author of the Art of Game Design, a Book of Lenses. Designer of The Art of Game Design: a Deck of Lenses. Industry veteran. Leader of a "highly talented group of artists, programmers, and game designers." Defender of the Playful.
from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Garry Shirts - Defender of the Playful

I've known Garry Shirts for at least 35 years. I first became familiar with his presence in my particular universe when I was running the Games Preserve and writing for a rather esoteric publication called Simulation/Gaming/News.

When I was early in the process of gathering a rich enough collection of games to give people a direct experience of the scope of all things gameful, Garry was kind enough to send me two of his simulation games: BaFa' BaFa' and Star Power. These games added a playfully profound dimension to the entire collection and purpose of the Games Preserve. I and the people who came to play with me learned so much from experiencing each of these games - not only about a very important genre of games (now known as Serious Games), but also about the depth and truths that can be revealed in a well-designed invitation to reflective fun. So Garry became a valued resource and friend. And later, when I moved to California, even more valued.

Very recently, Garry happened to be in Indianapolis. He was here as part of a multi-leg tour, teaching his Ba'Fa Ba'Fa game to help people understand a little more about the underlying dynamics of diversity. He invited us (my wife and myself) to breakfast, and our meeting was delicious in every sense. I brought him a copy of Junkyard Sports, as a gift, a token, a tribute to our long-standing friendship. He thumbed through it for a few minutes, and then looked at me with such love and understanding, and said: "You know, Bernie, the person who learns the most from a game is the designer." And in that one sentence summed up pretty much everything I've been teaching about games and play for the last 40 years.

This insight and understanding suddenly coalesced for me. I was able to put all those years of knowing him together, and give his remarkable presence in my life a title. Garry has been, and is, in every sense, a Defender of the Playful.  He plays from the heart. He teaches from the heart. He is as wise as he is loving. His games have taught and touched the hearts of thousands of students and teachers and business leaders - vividly, playfully. His presence is a gift to all who receive it.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Brian Sutton-Smith - Defender of the Playful

Brian Sutton-Smith (shown here with a passel of his playful progeny) - the same guy who said: "The opposite of play is not work, it's depression" - has been a friend of mine for 35-some years. I first came across his name in a book called The Study of Games that he and Elliot Avedon had co-authored. I was at the time working on my Interplay Games Curriculum, and was in the heat of searching for everything I could find out about games and the study thereof, and this particular book turned out to be a godsend. The next godsend occurred a few years later when I discovered that he was teaching at the University of Pennsylvania. I don't remember exactly what the next steps were, but for several years he brought his classes to my play study retreat center, the Games Preserve, and he, his students and I shared some wonderfully deep play together.

Dr. Brian Sutton Smith, author of The Ambiguity of Play, Professor Emeritus of the University of Pennsylvania where he taught in the Graduate School of Education and the Program of Folklore and Folklife, had this to say about himself:
"first of all I don't consider myself just an academic. I have reached that point in life where my initial pretenses of being a scholar and of being impersonal no longer serve as a convincing dis guise for myself. I've come to believe that a central issue in understanding life or social science or gaining wis dom about anything that is significant is to determine the way in which one's own internal narrative interacts with their personal scholarship. In New Zealand where I was born, I was deeply influenced by my aggressive and physically active older brother into considering play largely as a matter of power. My father was the Wellington chief postmaster who longed to be a university professor and was active as a storyteller and amateur actor. From him I got my academic interests in drama and in stories. These individuals certainly have influenced much of my life. I wish it was sufficient simply to announce that I have been persistently interested in play and that I think it's important." (from an interview with Dr Stuart Brown).
Dr. Brian Sutton-Smith, "...persistently interested in play and...its importan(ce)," Defender of the Playful.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Rabbi of Playfulness

I met Zalman more than 30 years ago. We have been friends ever since that first meeting. Deep friends. Sharing with each other our most profound insights, and our equally profound laughter.

Of all the people I've known who have had a positive influence on religion - any religion - Reb Zalman has been one of very few who has been a voice for playfulness as much as a voice for spirituality. With Zalman, there really is no difference. His playfulness has helped thousands of people to reclaim their spirituality, renew their connection with religion, and redefine both. He has gone far beyond Judaism, making connections between spiritual disciplines of every religion he can touch. And his touch is as light as it is enlightening. He brings love and laughter to all those who hear him. When he leads people in prayer, he also leads them in dance and song and an ever-deepening joy.

It is not an easy path he has chosen for himself. Zalman is widely known as a champion of silliness. Religious people tend to take things very seriously. So, for many, he is seen as a threat. Virtually unsupported by the establishment, he has found his own support. His laughter draws followers. His faith sustains them. His playfulness heals them. Instead of denying the forces that have denied him, he affirms those very traditions, and goes at least one step further. He embraces the best in all traditions, he celebrates the deep fun of each, and the deeper delight that exists between them.

Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Defender of the Playful.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Improv Everywhere - Defenders of the Playful

If you've been watching any of the many well-documented, pervasive play antics of Improv Everywhere, you'll understand why they are being presented with the coveted title of Defender of the Playful. You may even, given such spectacular displays of in-your-face playfulness as in the Frozen Grand Central and Food Court Musical events, wonder why it took us so long to acknowledge their contribution to playfulness anywhere. Clearly, they are breaking boundaries, bringing play where no play has dared to go. And their MP3 Experiments are as least as fun and surprising and play-engendering for the participants as they are enticingly puzzling for their unsuspecting audiences.

But for me, it wasn't until their most recent mission, the Surprise Wedding Reception, that Improv Everywhere demonstrated the kind of playfulness that the award was created for. Take a look at one of their most celebrated, and closely related events, called "The Best Game Ever." This, too, was a surprise, and it most definitely led to the delight of everyone involved, players and performers. But unlike The Best Game Ever, the couple who served as the focus of the Surprise Wedding Reception were not so much surprised as they were invited to play. Though the host wasn't above the minor subterfuge of passing himself as a representative of the Mayor's Office, and describing the event as a "free wedding reception," this enlightened willingness to include everyone, the receivers as well as the givers of the performance, led to something that seemed to me much more inclusive, and, because of that, much more of an accomplishment for all playkind.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Grass Stain Guru - Defender of the Playful

Read, for example, this blog post describing 10 More Can't Miss Childhood Moments. Here, in case you are so reclined, the first five from the first ten:
  1. Toasting a marshmallow on a stick, anxiously awaiting the sweet goo that is to come. Learning to master the perfect toasty brown color — equal parts art and science, in my book.
  2. Wading in a creek – toes wriggling in the light current, knee-deep in fun. Looking under rocks for critters and sailing boats made of sticks.
  3. Climbing a tree! The world has never been as beautiful as it looks from a perch in a glorious (and sturdy!) tree.
  4. Catching fireflies on a warm summer night. Pure magic awaits! (Of course, be sure to let them go.)
  5. Building a fort. Somewhere special, just for the kids. No kit houses required — just some sticks, bushes, maybe a tarp — and a lot of imagination.
Then read the Ode to Dirty Sneakers. And then Kids Choice: Self-Directed Play. Then go on to read this entire gem of a blog. Then you'll understand ever so incontrovertibly clearly why Bruce Williamson nominated Bethe Almeras to join the much-honored ranks of Defenders of the Playful.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Alexander Calder - Defender of the Playful

Sculptor, inventor of the mobile, Alexander Calder, receives our first posthumous Defender of the Playful award.

Watch the video to find out why.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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"Leisure Play is Important for Human Collaboration" - download the entire paper

In a previous post, I cited an article by Dr. Peter Gray, who writes a blog called Freedom to Learn, published by Psychology Today. After a brief, friendly exchange of emails, Dr. Gray agreed to share his entire paper Leisure Play is Important for Human Collaboration with us. You can download it here.

Coincidentally, his blog currently features an article of similar noteworthiness called "Social Play and the Genesis of Democracy," in which he writes:
"Children cannot acquire democratic values through activities run autocratically by adults. They can and do, however, experience and acquire such values in free play with other children. That is a setting where they are treated as equals, where they must have a say in what goes on, and where they must respect the rights of others if they wish to be included."
Clearly we have found yet another Defender of the Playful.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


The A-Z of Playfulness

This cow is brought to you courtesy of It lives on a page devoted to the A to Z of Playfulness. Here is a taste of this significantly playful pith:
angels, n. ordinary people
creativity, n. being yourself
danger, n. boredom, blind habit, addiction, workaholism
happiness, n. gratitude for being alive
laughter, n. the noise of a person fully alive
magic, n. reality
This most playworthy site is written by David.

"David is a part-time student, part-time freelance writer, part-time peace activist, and full-time play maker.

"He is married to a beautiful lady called Siona, hasn’t eaten meat for three years (except for one minor disaster in a kebab shop), and rides a folding bicycle.

"David can be followed on Twitter, Stumbled on Stumbleupon, Dugg on Digg, and photographed on Flickr."

David is also hereby and forthwith granted the right to be known as: "Defender of the Playful"

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Danna Bananas, Defender of the Playful

She calls herself Danna Bananas. Clicking through her online store, also called Danna Bananas, is an adventure in whimsy. She has assembled a collection of some of the most novel novelties I've ever encountered on one site - page after page of wacky, funny, laugh-provoking, and often genuinely playworthy tchotchkes.

Take, for example, Airfork One, "made of sleek stainless steel encased in food-grade, dishwasher-safe silicone. Just the thing to bring those mashed potatoes and peas in for a safe landing...Packed in a recyclable clear PET box." It's a fun thing. It's a functional thing. It is sensitive to the realities of child-rearing - embodying a game that hundreds of thousands of parents have played with their babies as they often desperately try to get them to finish their food.

It is for these reasons, and others manifesting themselves throughout her website, that Ms. Bananas joins the ranks of the select few, to be known now and forever more (or less) as a Defender of the Playful.

Danna Bananas, DotP, has managed to share with us her gift of playfulness. She offers us and the rest of the known universe access to silly, sometimes remarkably inexpensive (c.f. Finger Twister), sometimes the semi-miraculous (c.f. the bouncing-on-water Waboba Ball), and often the actually somewhat practical (c. also f. the Banana Handle. Again I quote: "...very appealing non-slip handle grip! You’ve never seen a chimpanzee burn himself on a hot pan, have you? Of course not! That's because Banana Handle's heat-resistant silicone construction protects hands, both human and primate. Slide the ripe yellow peel onto any pan handle and you are fully protected, hands down.") - inviting laughter, paving the way for play. And US residents don't pay tax! What more, I ask you, could you ask?

Tweet her on Twitter.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Play and Game Communities

There are at least two different communities that form in support of playing together - one is what you might call a "game community," the other a "play community."

Every game and sport that becomes a cultural institution forms a community, a game community, and members of that community have only one thing in common, but very much in common – the particular game being played.

When you are part of a game community that comes together for a poker night, a game with the girls, or a cockfight, to some clear degree, it’s the mastery of that game that keeps you involved. At some point, your proficiency at the game, or at what you do in support of the game, determines your place in the game community. Winning is good. Winning a lot is better. In other words, to some clear degree, it’s the game that determines if you’re good enough to be part of that community.

In a play community, it’s the players, you and everyone you’re playing with, who determine whether the game is good enough. If it’s not, you change it. You change something about the rules, or you discover a hitherto unknown variation, or you play something entirely else. It’s you who determines if the game is good enough.

Most informal games - street games, pick-up games, playground games – are played by a play community. Most formal games, like Little League and Lawn Bowling, are played by a game community.

Commercial and historical forces tend to embrace game communities, and vice versa. Little League and Lawn Bowling are not just games, they are cultural events, they are sports.

Ultimately, the majority of people aren’t good enough to participate in the kinds of games played by game communities, especially when compared to the skills of the masters and grandmasters of the game.

Ultimately in the play community, everyone is good enough. Because it’s not any particular game that people have come together to play. Because the reason they have come together is to play, not necessarily to win, or even to keep score, but to play together, and be part of an event in which anyone can play, in which everyone is a master.

In the play community it’s mystery, not mastery that draws people together – it’s the mystery of shared imagination, of spontaneity and synergy, of generalized laughter and much mutual admiration, of shared fun.

When children are young, they first form play communities, and usually, if they can avoid formal intervention, they’ll continue expanding and diversifying the play communities they support and that support them well into adulthood.

It is no coincidence that the Internet, though it serves both kinds of community (play and game), is so easily characterized as a play community, dependent on openness and trust shared by its players, succeeding to the degree in which it can respond to their constantly evolving, individual and collective interests.

Most often, game communities share characteristics with play communities, and vice versa. In both, members show mutual respect for play - for supporting fantasy, keeping rules, observing boundaries…

People who come together for a "friendly game" - the weekly mahj game with the girls - are not about winning. What, you can win maybe $2.00. They’re about being with other people who know the game just about as well as they do, well-enough not to take it too seriously.

Once you've identified the principle members of a game community, it becomes more and more like a play community. Even to the point of changing rules. It’s not about the game any more. We’re all good enough.

The same is true at chess clubs and bridge clubs. Those community members who are good enough get together to play for fun.

The rewards of participation in a game community are often highly tangible – statues and money even. Those for a play community are the experience of community itself, of affinity, membership, acceptance, mutuality, respect, appreciation.

Christopher Alan Raynolds (paraphrasing Huizinga) writes: "The sense in a play community…(is) so powerful that the community outlasts the game."

Florence M. Hetzle and Austin H. Kutscher, in their book, get this, "Philosophical Aspects of Thanatology," write: "the primary interest of a person in a play community is in each other as persons; they are concerned to affirm each other in the uniqueness of one’s existence."

See also Patricia Anne Masters, "The Philadelphia Mummers: Building Community through Play," Temple University Press, 2007

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Adventures on the the Playful Path - with Gary Berlind, Gambaist

Gary Berlind is a friend of mine. About 25 years ago, he helped me develop PR materials for my Technography initiative (see, for example, this archived page from my Coworking website). I asked him to share some of his story with us, because he clearly understands what I mean by following a Playful Path. Here's his response (click here and let Gary complement his story with a background music - Gary performing a Couranto from Simon Ives):
"Theoretically, I’ve been trying to have fun ever since I can remember. Usually, however, what fun I was able to muster would muster itself somewhere else, and then, feeling that I had been punished by the Universe for the "sin" of pursuing fun, I would try more conservative endeavors. Eventually, whatever tidbits of fun may have been lurking in those reasonably conservative endeavors dissolved mostly into nothingness, the pain became intolerable, and then I usually chucked it all and embarked on fun again.

"My life was therefore, in hindsight, mostly a fun/not-fun checkerboard. Back and forth, back and forth, until I was 61 years old. That’s a lot of checkerboarding. And come to think of it, a checkerboard has only 64 squares on it. It was looking to me like I had already used most of them up.

"So, in the beginning of 2002, when I was just turning sixty-one and a half, I left Berkeley California wherein I had hatched many shards of checkerboards, and moved myself to Istanbul, Turkey.

"In my last black square, (please forgive the continued use of the metaphor, but it seems to fit), I had been a hi-tech public relations consultant in the Silicon Valley. This square had lasted for a full 16 years. Itself, it was checkered: sometimes fun (Bernie DeKoven had been a client of mine in the early days), and sometimes not fun (I won’t name names). But mostly not fun. Coming to Istanbul made practicing public relations impossible, which was what I sorely needed.

"In 2002 I was convinced I didn’t want to sell out to the non-fun face of the world anymore. Maybe only two squares left. What could I do?

"Almost immediately I realized that my music career, which I had left in despair and sadness back in the late 1960s, might be a path. I wasn’t sure, but a few years teaching music at an Istanbul university made me realize that music was fun. Glorious fun. Playing music, I mean. Not so much teaching it to the unteachables, but going back to basics and playing. Making wonderful sounds. Expressing myself, digging deeper into myself to squeeze out ever more music from wood and gut. Burrowing more deeply into the musical minds of fun-thinking composers who had been dead for more than 300 years. Learning to learn. Learning to play. Learning to have fun.

"It’s been seven years now, and I’ve had lots of fun doing this. Purpose, meaning, fulfillment, have all been there, along with considerable amounts of hard work, deep introspection, and not a small amount of frustration and impatience. But ALL OF IT has been fun.

"It’s what I really wanted to do when I was playing on the home-rows of the checkerboard of my life, back in my teens and early twenties. Music was fun then, although I eventually ran into obstacles and limitations that seemed insurmountable at the time. And they WERE insurmountable to me back then, given the realities that imploded on me every time I attempted to keep the fun in music. My own limitations, and the vicissitudes of my circumstances.

"But a new country, a new instrument (actually an old instrument!), a new Gary, and a lifetime of experience that constantly shouted at me to avoid the black squares, worked. I kept my head down and practiced a lot. Learned a lot. For seven wonderful years.

"And now I’m in South Turkey, in a small resort village on the Aegean called Gümüşlük. Turkey is my playground. I’m playing the viola da gamba and it is a constant joy for me. Whether I’m playing for myself, for friends, or for audiences, more and more of my checkers are getting "kinged."

"It took a long time. And, hopefully, the experience is not over yet. I think often that I could have done this many years ago, theoretically. But in reality I couldn’t, and that’s that.

"When the player is ready, the fun will come. Not before."

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Homemade Games Guru

Luanga Nuwame, the Homemade Games Guru, has dedicated considerable effort to teaching people how to make their own home made games. A professional game designer himself, Lue has produced a series of instructional videos on the design and production of personalized toys and games using only household materials. For example, a homemade beanbag toss, and, for another example, a set of magnetic refrigerator checkers.

For Lue, the making at home part of the homemade game, regardless of what game gets made or whether or not it's actually made at home, is key. Because, he explains, if you make a game, you can make it your own. You can embed pictures of family members or photos of last summer's vacation, making the game into a unique expression of the people for whom it is designed. The people at home. Yourself. Your extended family and friends.

Lue believes that making a personalized game helps people create something meaningful for them, personally. The "deep" fun part of it all, comes from people making the game together, for each other, and from the experience of seeing each other play a game that really reflects their lives together - experiences, favorite things, silly memories.

Making a game together helps create a closer family, explains Lue. "The fun of it lies in the interaction, conversation, contact with everyone. At the same time, making a game that allows you to express "you," means that every time you play the game, you are the star. Having something unique, that expresses me, uniquely, is deeply fun."

As a designer and instructor, Lue sees himself as being able to give families something that is really up to them to interpret, to personalize. He focuses on giving families the basics, knowing that with this kind of clarity, families and friends will provide their own content and ensuring it reflects their own selves. And therein, in the playful and personal connection between parent and child, friend and family, explains Lue, lies the fun.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Grand Theft Childhood: Who's Stealing What from Whom?

In the first chapter of Grand Theft Childhood, authors Dr. Lawrence Kutner and Dr. Cheryl Olson make the remarkably common-sense observation that:
"...the 'big fears' bandied about in the press -- that violent video games make children significantly more violent in the real world; that children will engage in the illegal, immoral, sexist and violent acts they see in some of these games -- are not supported by the current research, at least in such a simplistic form. That should make sense to anyone who thinks about it. After all, millions of children and adults play these games, yet the world has not been reduced to chaos and anarchy."
Tom Hanson, in his excellent Open Education blog, has been following issues surrounding "Shoot 'em Up Video Games" for a while. In his most recent post, he interviews Dr. Kutner about some of the public reactions Grand Theft Childhood has generated. I was particularly struck by Dr. Kutner's response to Susan Estrich's review of the most recent release of Grand Theft Auto IV:
She also engages in hyperbole in her attacks, stating that kids 'spend more time with [video games] than with real life.' Think about that for a second. It’s a dramatic statement, but is it true? Our study found that only 13 percent of boys and 2 percent of girls spent 15 or more hours per week playing video games. Assuming 8 hours/night for sleep, a child would have to spend more than 56 hours per week playing video games to meet her criterion. We’ve only seen that among an extremely small group of gamers not in our study whose serious emotional problems were manifest in other ways—it’s certainly not the norm!"
Such careful research and open minds marks them as true Defenders of the Playful. We are fortunate in having people like Drs. Olsen, Kutner, and Hanson to help us gain a mature perspective over mature games, and regain our trust in play, and in our kids.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Mystic Ball - the movie

When I first wrote about the Myanmar game of Chinlone, I really only had minor intimations of how important that game was to become to me. It wasn't until I watched Greg Hamilton's movie, Mystic Ball, that I understood not only his profound passion for Chinlone, but my passion for The Well-Played Game.

When I wrote The Well-Played Game, I described a pivotal experience I had, during a game of Ping Pong. Later, I found a wonderful story by Bill Russell, in which he describes an experience of genuine transcendence, similar to mine, but in the highly competitive game of professional basketball. But in all these years of teaching, Mystic Ball, the movie, was the first time I've found the Well-Played game expressed so purely, understood so deeply, documented so thoroughly - in a game totally devoted to sharing that particular experience.

The film opens with the following Myanmar proverb: "The spirit of give and take that breeds happiness is the foundation on which the game of Chinlone rests." We are then transported into an astonishingly ornate building, festooned with bare electric bulbs and intricate carvings covered in gold paint. On the inside, we see a kind of theater-in-the-round. On stage, 6 people playing with a rattan ball. Hamilton comments: "Getting to play with this team that I just played with is like playing with Michael Jordan and Baryshnikov and Fred Astaire and Bruce Lee and Muhammed Ali and all the most beautiful movement people and sports people I could ever imagine...It's surely the most fun, beautiful, mystical feeling...This is like my religion and my love and my heart. Chinlone is just all about love and happiness."

The film progresses from scene to scene of beauty, passion, grace and skill. We observe the art of making a Chinlone ball. We see the game played everywhere throughout Myanmar, by men and women, children and elders, on the street, in practice courts, in dedicated arenas. We follow the highest practitioners of the art. Director and author Greg Hamilton explains what he has discovered in the game of Chinlone with a clarity and intensity that characterizes every scene of this remarkable film.

"The most amazing thing about Chinlone, Hamilton comments, "is that it's not competitive. There's no opposing team, no scoring, and no winners or losers. The team tries to keep the ball up as long as possible. But that's not enough. The real goal is to do the most difficult and beautiful moves they can."

"Watching them play was a revelation. What really stuck out was just how playful they were. They weren't arguing or fighting, like always happens in competitive sports. These guys were just having...a good time. It really made me think about how most sports are not playful."

His background is in martial arts. He says: "I used to think of myself as a warrior. But deep down, I never really liked hurting people." In Chinlone, however, he discovered that he could "do something as if my life depended on it, but without having to defeat anyone."

Near the end of the film, he takes us to his favorite Chinlone practice court. He comments: "There's so much beauty inside this circle - the flow of the ball between us, and the 'tic toc' sound the ball makes as we support each other."

I was fortunate enough to get to talk to Greg about this beautiful film, and to get a personal experience of his deep passion for the game. Basically, I just wanted to convey my excitement and gratitude for what he has brought to us - and to me, especially, in his being able to capture and convey what I have devoted my life to teaching. Greg commented: "I didn't really want to be in the film in the first place." He just wanted to show us the game itself. But he was as much a part of the story as the game was, and he couldn't avoid it. What he wanted most to share with us was that: "Something as serious as Chinlone could be so playful." What he most wanted us to perceive was that "above all, Chinlone is a way of loving."

Later, I sent Greg a draft of this post, asking for further comment. Here's part of his reply:
The interaction between the ball and the players and the players with each other is sensuous, I can't think of a better way to put it. In my opinion, and I've asked some of men players about this and they agree - Chinlone it is strangely similar to making love. Because of a certain modesty with the the women in Myanmar, I've not been able to ask women players some of these kind of questions. It's like the essence of what making love is - not the rubbing together of body parts, but the intense, immediate connection and playing together of spirits. It really is play isn't it? This is one of the unique and breathtaking things I've found in Chinlone. And you can do it for hours at time with 1,2,3,4,5, or even more other people! When I see dogs playing and frolicking together - it's making love through play, and that is the feeling I've always wanted my life to be full of. There is always love and the sensual inside real play.

So many things that I didn't say or bring up in the film, for various reasons. One being that I didn't want to come across preachy, and of course there is only so much you can fit into 83 minutes. There are lots and lots of other things to share about Chinlone.

I think Chinlone is a feminine sport. One is nurtured and embraced in this game. It's not about power or dominance. There is a gentleness, an inclusiveness and a loving feeling that is always there – even between the audience and the players. Men and women play together, old folks and young ones play together. At the first Chinlone festival I saw, there was a team that had a 72 year old (in fact it was Wei Za Than, the one with the beautiful wife!) and a 9 year old on the same team - I was blown away!

All of the play in Chinlone is an end in itself. There are no arbitrary rules, just a certain etiquette and a lot of intuition inside the circle. I love that. There is a struggle with gravity, that as skill develops, becomes an elemental dance of pure flow.

So many things that I love about Chinlone - it is so hard that everyone, even the greatest players end up looking foolish fairly often - nothing to do but laugh about it, and 5 or 10 minutes into a game everyone is laughing for sure. You didn't see a lot of this in the film because I focused on the festival plays and because there is an audience, the players are a little more serious than usual. It's a very, very funny game.

Here we are on this giant spinning ball - in orbit. I feel a connection between the way Chinlone is played and the orbiting of planets. I'm still working on this one and trying to find clear ways of talking about it.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Gwen Gordon

Last November I wrote about Gwen Gordon, and her remarkable article "Play, the Movement of Love." Today, I am pleased to share her new website with you.

Gwen is a remarkable spirit, who has brought her profoundly play vision to as many people as she can touch, and there are many, all over the world. You can read and witness more of he work here. Download her videos, her essays, her stories. You will be inspired. And maybe even a little bit transformed. There is so much there. I leave you with a small taste, from her essay "Laughter for No Reason," in which I am anonymously present, hence, deeply drawn to:
"I notice that whenever I lose my sense of humor, it’s a sure sign that I’ve lost my perspective. As a friend of mine likes to say, 'the truth shall make you laugh!' No matter how difficult and heavy the facts might be, facing them makes us lighter. The truth makes us laugh because, after all, it sets us free and when we’re free, we’re free to laugh. With every joyful breath, we assert our freedom, reminding us that even ordinary life rests inside a bigger enchanted game, a larger truth in which all things hold meaning."

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Patty Wooten - Compassionate Humor

Nancy Nurse is one of the three clowns developed by one of the few people I know who has mastered the art of compassionate humor, Patty Wooten. Patty becomes this particular clown as part of her effort to lighten the often overwhelmed hearts of the nursing profession. Nancy Nurse, explains Patty, "is a wild, red-headed clown, armed with a combat belt of weapons; such as, bedpans, urinals, enema buckets, and over-sized syringes used to fight disease.. Her stethoscope is made from a garden hose and a toilet plunger which is great to use on those big-hearted patients... it can also be used to relieve constipation!"

Several years ago, Patty came down to one of my seminars at the Esalen Institute. She made us laugh so hard, and so deeply, and with such a loving purpose that, for many of us, fun became even more functional, even more central to our reasons for being.

Patty's attempt to bring a little joy to those who so desperately need it, has been a constant struggle for her. Bottom-line priorities, twelve-hour days, scant appreciation for their dedication and skills have all but overwhelmed the caregiving professions. And yet, Patty continues, when- and wherever she can, to heal with humor, to soothe with silliness.

Patty Wooten, Defender of the Playful.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Working with Wonder

Read this:
REJUVENILE (made) a brief appearance this (Monday) morning in the first hour of ABC's "Good Morning America" in a story about play at the workplace. News flash: work is boring. A few office monkeys are fighting back with inter-department playground slides, break room foos-ball tables and other goofy innovations. Cue remark from yours truly on the importance of play and fun in the workplace and how these changes reflect the larger rejuvenile phenom.

One remark is unlikely to make the cut -- too often, the merry chattering bosses who institute "playful" reforms are putting window dressing on salt mines. There is little more infuriating than having a Wacky Fun Day hosted by an employer who skimps on health insurnace or restricts family leave. I don't think there's any doubt a genuinely playful attitude toward work can benefit both worker and the bottom line, but it's not about climbing walls or bobbleheads. It's about doing our work with the same wonder and imagination and sense of fun that too many workers ditch in the name of professionalism.
Christopher Noxon, you, too, have earned the full panoply of rights and privileges due to a "Defender of the Playful"

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Moschen: The mathematics of juggling, the art of play

Michael Moschen is another artist who, like Greg Kennedy, has been able to elevate juggling into the realm of high play. He is also one of the few artist/performers to have made the connection between juggling and mathematics.

According to his bio, he is
"deeply involved in understanding and sharing the physical and mathematical principles that underlie his work, and is a sought-after public speaker. He presented the Keynote Address for the National Conference of Teachers of Mathematics in 1996, and in 1998 for the Association of New York Teachers of Mathematics. He has lectured on innovation and creativity at such prestigious institutions as Carnegie Mellon, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Lincoln Center Education Program."
A playfully profound performer, who, as you can so plainly see here, is fun, very much fun.

Michael Moschen is hereby officially entitled to all appreciations and honorifics due to a "Defender of the Playful."

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Certificate of the Right to Play

This is a picture of Bruce Williamson, at 2 years of age, on his way to becoming author of The Certificate of the Right to Play. With this certificate, you, too, can become "A lifetime member in good standing of the Society of Childlike Grownups." It is a delightful thing, this significantly silly certificate, demonstrating a keen, honest, heartfelt understanding of what it should mean to be a grown-up.

It comes from a fellow named Bruce Williamson, whose remarkably mature understanding of the nature of childlike grownuphood is reflected with clarity and a certain hard-won innocence on his Society of Childlike Grownups chock-full-of-resources website. Devoted to teaching us how to become Childlike Grownups, the Kaleidoscope is a spare little website, and yet it presents a rare depth of playful wisdom which is evident just from the titles of its main pages:
Remember the Child you Are
Save the World
Let Your Music Play
Take Good Care of Yourself
Come out and Play
Make Stuff Up
See Things Differently
Wonder Around
Color Outside the Lines
Laugh for the Health of It
Restory Yourself
Pick Up Your Toys
Look on the Bright Side
Amazed that I hadn't encountered Bruce before, I called him up, only to discover that we had met at the Games Preserve more than 25 years ago. Though we haven't crossed paths again until now, Bruce is clearly a fellow traveler, and a gift to all of us who follow the Playful Path.

Which explains why you will now find a picture of Bruce's inner child on People section of the Major FUN Hall of Fame.


Ferry Halim - Defender of the Playful

The world of compter games, and, consequently, of computer game players, can get very harsh. Despite the endless possibilities of faster processor and more graphic glories and completely surrounding sound, most of our games are given over, as we are, to violence. Not that violence can't be fun. Not that there's anything wrong with violent games. Just that there are far too few respites. Ferry Halim is one of the few. A true respite.

Ferry Hallim demonstrates that all it takes to make something as interesting to play with as violence is a little applied whimsy.

Whimsy. Hallim is a master of it. His games are true diversions, invitations to worlds that simply don't take themselves very seriously. He is the creator of light-hearted games that are bouyant enough to lighten-up even the dark of desire and the heavy of heart - at least for a few minutes. Like the game Summer Walk, where you make three bird-like things hop into the good floating things, to the tune of the pleasant guitar. Or A Cupid's Day where you, as Cupid, shoot arrows into clouds.

Whimsy. What a powerful concept.

Ferry Hallim is the newest inductee to the Major FUN Hall of Fame.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Ze Frank: Prolific Player

Ze Frank receives the Major FUN Award for being perhaps one of the most prolifically playful presences on the web.

There are so many examples of his work that he is sharing, virtually for free, that it is difficult to select any as truly exemplary. Let's begin with this rather straightforward collection of virtual matchstick puzzles. Why? Because it's what you'd expect from a collection of virtual matchstick puzzles: clear, challenging, easy to use, fun to solve. Not particularly playful, but respectful of play and the needs of players. Now let's try just one more game-like experience. It's a Memory Game. All right, it's Concentration. But notice how each image is animated? Now it's truly a virtual game, not just translating a card game into the electronic medium, but transforming it.

Now take a look at Ze's Animated Snowflake. Not a game at all, but a unique bit of interactive delight. Technologically sophisticated. Easy to understand. Lovely to behold.

And here's one more, well, maybe two more examples of yet another gift of Ze's playfulness. It's called "Blow." It's an invitation. People are asked to send in a picture of themselves, blowing. Ze adds their picture to a growing blowing collage. It's, well, silly. It's also an invitation to fun and sharing and community. And here's one more: My Cat Annie. It's a statement, is what it is, of the further reaches of Ze's playfulness. And, for those of us who wonder whether this world can be made more fun, it's a reason for hope.

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There's a lot of reminiscing going on about how kids used to play back in the days when kids were kids. It's a good kind of reminiscing, a sweet nostalgia for the inventiveness and irrepressible, undeniable spirit of play. Unfortunately, we almost always follow those moments of wistful wonder with the conclusion that kids nowadays just don't do those kind of things.

Streetplay is a faith-restoring site - restoring our faith both in our memories of childhood, and in childhood itself. Streetplay's collections of photographs documenting actual kids in actual play, here, and around the world, yesterday, and today, provides us with incontrovertible evidence of the preeminence of the playful spirit.

Then again, there's the nostalgia part. Surely you didn't forget those long summer afternoons playing Stickball? And who could forget Halfball? Or, for that matter, Skully? Reading about those games, seeing the photos and film clips, even if you never played them, is a journey into the past, present, and future of fun. It not only documents what we used to do, it reminds us that we can still do those things, that we have a heritage to pass on to our children and children's children. And our children, and children's children have a heritage to pass on back to us.

This is a remarkable site. Rich in depth and detail, preserving and nurturing a wealth of rock solid invitations to play. It is free. You can help support the site by purchasing cool stuff from their store. There are no advertisements. A genuine gift to us all.

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The Varieties of the Balloon Hat Experience

You wouldn't think that making balloon hats could evolve into a spiritual path. Unless you happened to stumble across a website called "The Varieties of the Balloon Hat Experience." As the authors explain:

In 1996, Addi Somekh and Charlie Eckert began traveling to different places in the world to make balloon hats for people and take photos of them. The goal was to show people all over the world laughing and having fun, and to emphasize the fact that all human beings are born with the ability to experience joy. In total, they visited 34 countries and have over 10,000 pictures.

I am amazed at what a rich, luscious, thoughtful, inspiring, and profoundly gift this Balloon Hat Experience proves to be: the amazing gallery of Balloon Hatting around the world, the gallery of Threes - depicting stories of love and balloon-hatted glory in series of three images.

I found this on their What is Laughing page.

"In the Navajo tradition we have what we call Chi Dlo Dil, or a Laughing Party, for a newborn. The Laughing Party is the first laugh you hear from a child. It's usually around six weeks. It's the baby's first expression to the world, saying 'I'm ready to interact.'

...At the party everybody sits around the baby and has a big meal and plays with the baby. The person who makes the baby laugh first plays an important role in the child's life."

Nancy Evans, Shiprock, NM (Navajo Nation)

And this piece of poetic anthropology about the meaning of hats from Mary Holmes is Professor Emerita of Art at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

The head has always been a battlefield. We think of ourselves as livingin our head. Our most important acts aren't performed by our hands or our legs. We think and speak with our head. So the head becomes sacred. It has meaning. Which is why there came to be so much meaning attached to hair and headdresses, to what they look like. And it has enough meaning that it¹s worth fighting about ...I have great faith that hats will come back, because they have been important to humans for millennia. And the balloon hats give people, at least momentarily, a return of that experience of dressing the head. I think that's why it evokes that bubbly, giggly, happy response. People feel that at last they have the recognition they deserve.

I give you a Major FUN Award, o Balloon Hatters of the heart.

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Dr. Toy

Today's Major FUN Award goes to Dr. Toy (aka Stevanne Auerbach) for her lifetime, one-woman campaign to help people make the connection between good toys and effective parenting.

I've known Dr. Toy for maybe 20 years and consistently been impressed by her good heart, her commitment to children, her dedication and fortitude. She had at one time created an amazing resource for kids and parents - a toy library and museum - a "Games Preserve" for toys and teaching the wisdom of play. Money was never her prime objective, and, sadly, when her museum was affected by the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 and forced to close she was never able to amass the resources to rebuild. In 1986 she lost everything in a five alarm fire in her home and office in SF (fortunately her book The Toy Chest had already gone to the publisher and was printed. Limited copies are available from Dr. Toy.)

She resumed evaluating toys and consulting to rebuild her life. Her web site was the first site on the internet devoted to toy information. The San Francisco International Toy Museum opened in 1986 at The Cannery in Fisherman's Wharf and served over 50,000 children until it was forced to close. Dr. Toy is working with a dedicated group to relaunch a new toy museum in Oakland.

Her spirit is clearly indomitable. Her Dr. Toy award is recognized throughout the industry.

She is the author of two new books: Dr. Toy's Smart Play: How to Raise a Child with a High PQ, and FAO Schwarz: Toys for a Lifetime: Enhancing Childhood Through Play.

Her website is a rich resource of toy reviews and articles about play. She is the kind of person who makes the Major Fun award worth the effort.

Play on, Dr. Toy!


Discover games at

If you like games enough to want to expand your repertoire beyond the offerings of commercial conglomerates, or if you are an independent game producer hoping to get the word out, could prove to be a major find.

Founder Mary Couzins explains:

I have been through the process having invented and produced five games myself including one licensing/consulting agreement with University Games. I started to help other game inventors. There is strength in numbers. That was obvious the first time we went to Toy Fair as I had been there previously under Game Geste with my games. Many industry people (retailers, licensors, manufacturers) walk past your booth if you are a 1 or 2 game booth. As we were jammed with people the last 5 years. In addition we receive over 250,000 page views per month. Hasbro, F X Schmidt, Mattel, University, as well as European and Australian game companies and many others all visit. They search for new product at our site because it is the only place Independents
can get together. Several of our members have received licensing agreements (both here and abroad) due to our services (including myself).

We do not review product. All games are welcome. We are here to help you promote your product by taking it to Toy Fair (the biggest industry show) in New York, in September your game would go to The Toy and Game Inventor Forum pn Las Vegas (where we are not only exhibitors, but I am a speaker on the Inventor Success Story Panel), in the summer possibly GenCon and Origins, promoting your game on our site, we do emailing to over 7,200 people in the industry, and you would be eligible to participate in our postal mailings to catalog (March), retail people (August) and our press release mailing in the summer/fall. Members also have available to them many industry lists, retailers who will carry their product, tips for saving money and have access to the private member bulletin board. In addition, I give out my home number and will try to help you in any way I can.

We are also working with game companies (Hasbro on down to our independents) to put on a huge consumer show set for Labor Day weekend on Chicago's Navy Pier next year. This type of show has been popular in Europe for some time. We think it is time it be done in the U.S. There will be life size games, game shows on the Skyline Stage, dockside inventor signings and much more. As I am sure you know, there are no game shows aimed to the family in the states (GenCon and Origins are a different segment of the game world). In Europe such shows are very popular.

I want people to rediscover game playing. Get to know your kids in a non-confrontational way. It is a good excuse to get together with your neighbors (or anyone).

For the huge collection of independent games, for the innovative, modestly priced service to independent game producers, for the vision, fortitude, and heart needed to produce a game show aimed at the family, gets a Major FUN Award.


Humor Fusion

I announced Major FUN Award to the DeepFUN group, and was delighted to hear that Roz Trieber has announced her candidacy:

At this time of my life I switched from bugs to people that means changing from a medical technologist to a health educator turned humorist. I have branded myself "silly" by wearing a "beanie" hat (like Cecil and Beanie) covered with silly buttons. I wear this hat everywhere including business and social functions.

I am involved in many business and civic organizations. People laugh, chortle, guffaw and point their finger. We laugh and I observe more people change a frown to a smile and say "you made my day."

I'm silly, funny, and include laughter and the unexpected in all of my presentations. Publicly, I'm the lady with the beanie hat on. I actually have several hats that go with different outfits. Talk about coordination!

He deserves paradise who makes his companions laugh. --The Koran

Roz calls herself "The Naturally Funny Lady who wears a "beanie hat" all of the time"

Here's an article from Roz: "When Things Get Tough, Take Yourself Lightly".