The Department of Fun Studies

Let's imagine a Department of Fun Studies. As long as we're imagining it, let's imagine that it's in a well-established university of significant academic standing and accredited stuffiness. Now let's imagine their course offering.

Of course, so to speak, there'd be extensive programs for design students - especially for those who are planning a career in game or toy or theme park design. And programs for people who design for the Internet, because fun is basically what's keeping it going. And for architecture students - after all, if people are in them by choice, buildings need to be as fun as they are functional. And landscape architects, because they plan play spaces and pleasure places. And shopping mall designers, and even hospital designers - because studies have shown the value of looking at a hospital as a healing environment.

And certainly teachers would need to study fun, because they're dealing with kids, and kids tend not to do things unless they are fun, or they are forced to do them. And things that kids are forced to do tend not to stay with them for very long. Curriculum designers, naturally. Parents, too, could use an extended study in fun, for their kids, of course, but for the whole family, themselves, included. And retired people, because when you are old enough fun becomes once again ever so clearly what life is for.

It seems to me that students of the political sciences, government and law enforcement would also want to have a solid background in fun. See, the things people do for fun are not always so wonderful. There's the oddly named "practical joke." There's gambling, drinking, doing drugs, fighting, even killing for fun. There are "powerful" people who exercise their power by abusing the people they have power over, and who, for the most part, are also having great fun doing it. Not "good" fun. Not the kind of fun to which we have so assiduously, whole-heartedly and whole-bodidly have devoted our lives. But fun, nevertheless. And hence of significant enough political relevance to merit a course or several, or lifetime study.

So the idea of a Department of Fun Studies is something to be taken seriously for a variety of highly academically relevant reasons. At its best, it's the secret to a good life. It is the prime motivator - what we do whenever we are allowed to do, or do secretly when we're not. What we do whenever we're not forced to do something else. At it's darkest, it's the cause of so much pain and suffering - what makes us keep hurting ourselves and each other, even when it doesn't pay.

And, now that we're imagining all this, let's imagine that you'd like to submit a course proposal of your own. Here. On this blog. As a comment to this post. For the fun of it.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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"Fun can obviously change behavior for the better" - proof #3

In the latest manifestation of the VW-sponsored Fun Theory project, we are treated to a brief glimpse of the Bottle Bank Arcade experiment. Here we learn that adding arcade-machine-like sounds and scoreboard to a bottle recycling machine "...can obviously change behavior for the better." The experimenters observe that: "Over one evening our Bottle Bank Arcade Machine was used by nearly 100 people. During the same period, the nearby conventional bottle bank was used twice."



Whatever one concludes from these experiments - even if one questions their thoroughness, objectivity, or purpose - there's something significant going on, something encouraging, something that can make one feel that one's faith in fun is not, after all, entirely misplaced.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Football (a.k.a. Soccer) Made in Africa

We have a great deal to learn from Africa, about celebrations, about recycling, about living with little, about the generosity of spirit. One of my favorite resources is a site called Afrigadget where I recently learned about a project called: Football Made in Africa.

By focusing on the game of Soccer (which everyone in the world except here calls "football"), Football Made in Africa gives us a window into the joy of sport and the irrepressibility of the need to play. Under development by a talents group of artists called Take Five, the goal is to create 50, 90-second videos, like this one showing how to make a soccer ball out of a condom and some string, documenting the spirit of Africa through the game of soccer. They explain:
With the 2010 World Cup in South Africa just a year away, it seems only natural to talk about Africa. Not the Africa of poverty, conflicts and capable Africa of Football Made in Africa, or the grassroot portrait of a continent that lives, thrives and enthuses on football!

Every episode offers an original angle on a story, a slice of everyday life, where football is present everywhere. From the production of goals in the outskirts of Maputo to the atmosphere in bars where matches are aired on tiny TV screens, the harvesting of rubber tree waste to make balls or the beaches of Cameroon where fishermen use their nets to play. The films are funny and poetic snapshots that reflect the unique imagination and energy of the African continent.

Football Made in Africa demonstrates all the creativity and dynamism of the peoples obliged to deploy a fair amount of cleverness and resourcefulness on a daily basis to be able to indulge in their passion: football.

Football Made in Africa is a canvas on which African society is painted. The different episodes are the colours, applied one by one, that produce a diversified picture of today's Africa.
And, of course, the insights go way beyond Africa, far further than country or continent, exploring the geography of the human soul.


from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Designed Play - the culture of games

Designed Play is a course in games, taught by Stephanie Rothenberg at The University of Buffalo - The State University of New York. I'm still not sure how I found my way to the site, but once I did, I knew why. Just reading about the course was enough for me. And the more I read about it, the more my faith was rekindled - in the future of games and the future of education, and the future of work, even.

I quote, exemplarilly, from the description page
"From early amusement parks to the ‘80’s video arcade craze to the current phenomena of portable entertainment gadgets and mega-leisure-malls, the design of “play” and its seamless integration into daily routine has become increasingly more prevalent in our everyday experiences. Play is being used for corporate team building, retail and museum design and edu-tainment. Advertisers have transformed game logic into a new marketing device. Computer electronics feature not only the latest business software but the hottest new digital games. In the current zeitgeist of ludic behavior, how do we delineate between what is work and what is play? As both consumers and cultural producers, is it important that we still maintain these boundaries? And why?"
There's lots more about what Dr. Rothenberg calls "the cultural use of game-based models" on this site. Scroll through the class schedule for more details and inspiration. Explore the various readings, scroll down to see the class responses. You might even learn something.


from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Exploring the Wisdom of Games

Once I learned to see the connections between theater and children's games, I began to understand the wisdom contained in their playful dramas.

Once I started sharing this wisdom with adults, it became the thing I liked to do best - more, even, than designing games or reviewing games or writing about games and fun and stuff. I first discovered this when I was leading a workshop for teachers at the Durham Child Development Center in Philadelphia, and rediscovered my joy in ths at the Games Preserve and at the Esalen Institute.

I play with grown-ups, especially playful grown-ups. We play a kids' game together. I talk a little about the theater of the game - the play and interplay of roles. And then everyone talks about the "drama" of the game, as if the game were really some kind of theater piece - especially about the drama they experienced, personally. Not so much about their own, personal drama, but about about the drama of the game itself, about relationships, about the way of things in gameland.

I like what happens as we play and talk, play and talk - some kind of healing, playful, loving wisdom starts manifesting itself. Because we are grown-ups playing these games. Because of the growing honesty and openness and depth of sharing we are capable of, just the act of playing each game reveals to us a depth, a drama more profound, more personal, a truth more mutual, more freeing.

"I have learned to see children's games as scripts," I write, "for a kind of children's cultural theater. I see them as collective dreams in which certain themes are being toyed with - investigated and manipulated for the sake of sheer catharsis or some future reintegration into a world view. They are reconstructions of relationships - simulations - (myths) - which are guided by individual players, instituted by the groups in which they are played or abstracted by the traditions of generations of children."

I like to do this best. Teach people to see this. The artistry, the clarity, the wisdom of games.

And frankly, I'm hoping that by telling you about it, I'll get to do this more.



from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Frugal Fun

"It appears that spending time relaxing is the secret to a happy life. Cost-free pleasures are the ones that make the difference — even when you can afford anything that you want."
This common sense, obvious, and, (given the commercial pressures of our modern economy) remarkably difficult to believe observation comes to us courtesy of genuinely scientific research from the fortunate few at the University of Nottingham.
"The research [by Dr Richard Tunney of the University’s School of Psychology] found that happy people — whether lottery jackpot winners or not — liked long baths, going swimming, playing games and enjoying their hobby. Those who described themselves as less happy didn’t choose the cost-free indulgences. They rewarded themselves with CDs, cheap DVDs and inexpensive meals out instead."
Which reminds me how my father, the Rabbi, would spend his Sabbath afternoons, lying in the tub, balancing a chess set on his tummy, afloat in the well-earned wonders of Shabbos peace.

link via One Good Move.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Adventures in Hopscotch

Anu Visel's research into "The Traditional and the Recent in Modern Schoolchildren's Games" in Estonian Folklore" is the very kind of treasure of play scholarship that inspired me to write the Interplay Games Catalog for the School District of Philadelphia, because it presents concrete, scholarly descriptions of games that actual kids actually play. Take for example this wonderful image of a girl playing some kind of hopscotch. But what kind of hopscotch looks like that?

Number Beds.

"It probably arrived in Estonia in mid- or late 1960s," writes Visel, "and in 1972-73 Number Beds was a well-known game (RKM II 306). The figure represents a square or a rectangle that is divided into 9, 12 or 24 compartments. Often an additional square ('foot') is joined to the middle square of the front or back row. The numbering system varies, but usually the neighbouring beds are not marked by successive numbers. Here hopping is the only activity: the player is to traverse the figure precisely in the order of the numbers.15 Only the manner of hopping varies: 1) feet together, 2) on the right foot, 3) on the left foot, 4) backwards. Depending on how inventive the players happen to be the game may be prolonged and diversified further (e.g. the figure may have to be traversed in the opposite order, or blindfolded etc.). Every class consists of as many rounds as there are squares. For "one" all beds have to be taken, for "two" all except the first, etc. Rest beds or "rest homes" may also be involved, sometimes even lending their name puhkekodud to the whole game."

"Jumping games," Visel observes, "are one of the games group that has changed the most during the last 60 years. Jumping games have, in most cases, been adopted from other nations. Such games have come to life quite lately and they represent the quickly changing international town folklore. In Estonia, too, they are mostly girls' games. Though it seems that Hopscotch was popular already in the 1930s, it must have been a relatively new game at that time. During the post-war years popularity of the game grew, some new hopscotch schemes appeared, favourite games changed, jumping sessions or classes became more detailed. It has been overdominated by twist (Elastic Skipping) - though girls knew several kinds of Hopscotch in 1992, they hardly ever used them. Totally new local developments (One Leg, Two Legs; Class: Strawberry, etc.) can be found only in some periphery (e.g. Kihnu Island). Compared to the earlier period the number of Hopscotch played without stones and elements (or boxes) in the schemes and the usage of a private bed (or "home") had increased."

Yet another new adventure in Hopscotch, another way to play, another principle of play to apply to another group of games, to create yet more games, to give kids yet more options, yet more ways to invite each other into play in evermore rapidly changing times.



from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Internet Movie Archive - free stuff, free play

Did you know that there's a veritably amazing collection of movies, online, free, courtesy of the voluminously virtual virtues of the Internet Archives? Well, did you?

What does this have to do with fun and games, you might ask. Search, and you will find. For example, this one, part of their Open Source Movie collections, is from Don Ratcliff's study of children's free play in a hallway and on a playground. He explains "Video recorded on an elementary school playground, for comparison with video data in the same school's hallway, conducted for my dissertation research. To access a similar video clip of the hallway, go to http://www.archive.org/details/playground1. Four other video clips of the hallway are available by changing the last digit in the address to a 2, 3, 4, or 5."

Ratcliff's complete dissertation can be found here.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Rough and Tumble Play, with love

Don Ratcliffe writes:
"As part of my doctoral dissertation work I spent several hours on a school playground observing children. I had previously studied the rough and tumble play of boys in my classes, and was well aware of the increasing gender differences in relation to affection (boys becoming much less affectionate than girls as they get older, as affection is often considered 'gay' by boys). It struck me as I observed the children playing that rough and tumble play could be considered a masculinized affection--and thus considered appropriate by the boys--because outwardly it looks like fighting, but in actuality it is a way for boys to touch one another--indirectly showing affection--without receiving charges of being "gay." This section of (the) video portrays the differences in displays of affection, the accusation of a boy when two others are 'too affectionate,' and the development of rough and tumble play between the two boys subsequent to this accusation. When I show this, I sometimes like to play an excerpt from 'All You Need is Love' by the Beatles. Unfortunately, that would be a copyright violation here, but of course you can play a copy of the song as you watch the video. To see my complete dissertation, as well as other links to the Internet Archive with dissertation video data of mine, see this."
As any teacher or recreation worker can tell you, allowing children to engage in rough and tumble play is fraught with parental perpetrated perils. Until I saw this particular video, the only person I knew who dared to champion this kind of play was my friend and co-mentor Brian Sutton-Smith. But it appears that his influence has spread far and wide. For a brief synopsis, try this and, for a more in-depth discussion, this.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Online Dictionary of Playground Slang

The Online Dictionary of Playground Slang is, perhaps, not something you would share with your children. But it is most definitely something you'd want to share with your inner child.

Here are some of the dictionaries contained therein:
Buzzwords: The 'honey on the language vine.' (beyond the playground)
Dictionary of Playground Slang (Online)
Ghastly Games (my favorite)
Hymns and Arias (well ok - Dirty Ditties, Rugby Songs and Chants)
It's time, it's time, it's time for a Nursery Rhyme!
Limericks - The Poetry of the People
Seedy Songs and Rotten Rhymes - the poetry of the playground.
Wriggly Wigglies (tongue twisters)
There is much to be learned and appreciated here: Memories to be spurred. Childhood to be relived. And especially the yeoman-like devotion of its editor, Chris Lewis, and his minions. But, for me, as your local funsmith, the Online Dictionary of Playground Slang is rich reminder of broad reaches, and sometimes harder realities of the playful path.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Main Gasing - spinning tops in Malaysia

Montague Blister, in his playful weblog "Strange Games," recently wrote about "Main Gasing," the game/sport/ritual of top-spinning as practiced in Malaysia. In his article, he writes that "Teams, consisting of up to 40 people (throwers, makers, catchers), set their tops spinning at the same time and it is the longest spin that wins. A good length spin is a staggering one and a half hours. An excellent spin lasts an almost unbelievable 2 hours long."

Two hours long!? A single spin of a single top?! This immediately set me Googling. It seemed to me that any body of people, watching a top spin for two hours, has got to achieve a state of significantly deep fun.

I eventually clicked my way to this video showing a top of proportions significant enough to redefine my entire understanding of tops and the spinning thereof.

I also found an excellent article, of almost anthropological clarity, in which Eric Hansen describes a Main Gasing event. The article, called "White Bean vs Tiger Cub," notes the rituals, the socializing, the trade, and the celebration of community surrounding the event. I was especially moved by the Hansen's description of the players themselves. "The art of top-spinning," he explains, (is) "part dance, part discus throw, requires physical strength as well as finesse. With a reasonable amount of practice, most people can get one of these tops to spin, but real skill comes only after years of experience. Thus, though competitors vary in age, a tukang gasing, or 'master of the top,' is usually middle-aged, and when one of them prepares to throw, people fall silent to watch the performance."

To read about a thing we know as a toy, elevated to a work of art and display of mastery, is to find oneself on the border of understanding the mystery of deep fun.


from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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50 Ways to Use Your (Pool) Noodle

There's something inherently funny about saying the words "Pool Noodle." Go ahead. Give it a try. Say: pool noodle, pool noodle, pool noodle. See what I mean? Even thinking about a pool noodle, a noodle in a pool, a pool full of pool noodles is kind of fun. And playing with a pool noodle, in a pool, of course, sitting on one, lying on one, lying on several...fun, all fun.

Well, what Chris Cavert and Sam Sikes tell you what you can do with pool noodles, on the land, even, is every bit as fun, and even more inventive than that. They've written two noodle books, as a matter of fact: 50 Ways to Use Your Noodle and 50 More Ways to Use Your Noodle.

Now, before I go any further, I want to warn you. Page through these books, and you're going to want to invest heavily in pool noodles. At about $3/noodle, we're not talking junk. Though you could purchase Tubular Polyethylene Foam Pipe Insulation, Pre-Slit, 3/8" Wall Thickness, For Use On 1/2" Copper Pipe Or 1/4" Iron Pipe, for maybe $3 for 4 3-foot sections. Which is more junk-like, but not much cheaper. Not only are you going to want to buy many, many pool noodles (at least one for each player), but you're going to want to (dare I mention this? yes, yes, I must) cut some of your noodles into 3-foot "Midaronis," 3-inch "Minironis," and 1-1/4-inch "Meatballs."

OK, by now you get a good sense of the tone of the whole thing: fun, funny, creative, inventive. So you're ready for at least one game. Like, for example, Balloon Volleyball, played with Midaronis. Do I need to explain this any more? Everyone with their own Midaroni. Trying to hit a large balloon over a volleyball net. Do you need me to tell you what fun this can be? Or how about the baseball-like "Bustin Burgers" game - where one player sails pool noodle Meatballs to the Midaroni-swinging batter?

You might not expect the more creative activities, like the semi-self-explanatory "Noodle Doodles." And in all likelihood, you wouldn't have begun to anticipate the group team-building, problem-solving aspect of the whole thing, with exercises like seeing how many Meatballs or Minironis two people can hold between them. And yes, in the 50 More Ways book you'll even find pool noodle games you can play in the - can you believe it - pool.

Together, the Noodle books are a treasure of creative, playful, problem-solving fun that should prove an invaluable resource to any youth leader, team builder, or provocateur of playfulness.


RE: Noodle Economics

Chris comments: "we found that the foam pipe insulation is okay for some of the noodle book activities, however, it doesn't have the rigidity for most games. Also, you lose the "visual" pull the colors have. Even though you might pay $3.50 (or so) for a noodle, you'll cut the long ones in half - thus cutting your cost in half. And, as long as the participants don't pick on or chew the noodles they last a very long time - the return on investment is great. Bonus: if you buy in the fall they are really cheap - stores don’t like to warehouse them because they take up so much space (some stores give them away to educational programs just to get rid of them before the winter months)."




from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Winning is Incompatible with Almost Everything

In his article, Winning is Incompatible with Almost Everything, game maven Yehuda writes:
The point is that designating one person as a "winner" is purely a form of virtual reward. In fact, it is a reward that is based on artificial scarcity. In order for winner to mean anything, there have to be losers.

In fact, even when there is fierce competition in games, there is no absolute need for this.
This is a remarkable, and much-needed contribution to our understanding of play and games, this distinction between the idea of the "winner" from the idea "achievement." Yehuda continues:
You can easily give out the label "winner" to all people who achieve any sort of success, without sullying the word. You still don't give it to people who haven't achieved anything; effort and achievement still count. Competition still counts. You just change the nature of "winner" from one that requires all others to fail to one that measures personal achievement regardless of the success of others.
There are powerful and clearly r/evolutionary consequences for those who follow Yehuda's redefinition of winning. The same thoughts that led me to writing The Well-Played Game almost 30 years ago. And Yehuda carries them forward with the kind of depth and insight that might very well inspire us, ultimately, to remove the artificial separation between winners and losers, cooperation and competition, and to view the field of play for what it is - an opportunity for us to exercise and celebrate our powers.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Near Myths

Today's Funcast is about games as "myths" - cultural narratives that embody social truths. Listen to it with care. It might make you think.

You can read along here. It begins:
Ever since I discovered the power of games, I've suspected that they are more powerful than I guessed. I'm beginning to think that they may be, in their playful way, the kind of archetypes that Jung describes as "primordial images and symbols found in the collective unconscious, which - in contrast to the personal unconscious - gathers together and passes on the experiences of previous generations, preserving traces of humanity's evolutionary development over time. " I've come to see them as mythical metaphors, as Joseph Campbell has come to understand myth and metaphor. They are a theater without dialogue, a literature without words, each one revealing its wisdom in play.



from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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A Master Class in Fun

Following the success of my presentations and class at USC, and the increasing recognition of the relevance of community-centered games (New Games, Funny Games, and the concept of The Fun Community) I am everso vastly delighted to announce my new offering - a three-day program designed to give New Media designers an opportunity to develop clear, and firmly-rooted understanding of the social and psychological dynamics of fun. It takes place on campus, during a weekend, hopefully not too close to exams, where students and faculty can devote about 6 hours a day to the pursuit of fun.

I call it a "Master Class in Fun." I elaborate as follows:
Ultimately, each participant must arrive at his or her own personal definition of fun. In navigating the New Media waters, they will be called upon to redefine fun, many times. But there are basic notions of fun, derived from anthropological, psychological, and historical sources, that are fundamental, if you forgive the expression

For the New Media designer, perhaps the most useful of all resources stems from the experiential and historical perspective that embodies the New Games Movement. I get to embody some of that history myself, given my past involvement with the Foundation and the work I did to develop the New Games Training program. The experience of New Games, of playing together in a play community where the focus is not on whether or not the players are good enough to play, but whether the game is good enough for the players, is a powerful framework for understanding the dynamics of the virtual play community, like those that form in chat rooms and email chess games, Second Life and EverQuest. The goal of the proposed Master Class in Fun is to do just that - first, to reexamine the New Games movement and methods, explore it's political and historical context relative to the Viet Nam protests, and then to apply these methods to the creation of meaningful play in virtual and real-world spaces given today's political climate.




from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Making a game out of Katrina

I have the very good fortune to be working with Tracy Fullerton, teaching a class at USC, in the Interactive Division of the School of Cinema Television. Last Thursday, we were exploring the game of Pachisi and its many manifestations (see my article). I mentioned that we could use the same basic dynamics to build a game that expressed some of the issues surrounding hurricane Katrina. Reflecting on all this, one of our students, Jess Rosenblatt, wrote a blog entry that was moving and provocative, and touches on the life of anyone who has ever designed or played a game that has anything to do with reality.

She begins:
"So the question came up in class last night as to whether it was appropriate to design a game based on New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, since this had been an example given by Bernie of a possible life lesson around which to mod Pachisi.

"My answer is not now, not for a long time.

"Certainly games can deal with serious subjects, and certainly there are games that deal with traumatic events. However, I believe that it is only after a respectful mourning and acceptance period following such an event that such a game is appropriate. It is certainly not appropriate while the event is still going on, when effort should be spent on helping those who are there rather than imagining "what would I do if I were there?" Because we're not there, and it is disrespectful to pretend we are.

"How long a wait is long enough? When does something stop being a recent event and become history? How many people have to have come to grips with a tragedy before it is appropriate to subject it to cold objectivity? I don't know."
Her thoughts, and those of fellow students responding to her, are sensitive, profound, illuminating, and most worth your careful consideration. To these, I added the following:

During recess at a pre-school, there was some kind of accident that took place in plain view of the kids. It was between a car and a motorcycle. The cyclist fell off his bike and was lying on the street, unconscious and bleeding. Soon after, an ambulance came. By this time, everyone in the playground was watching. The paramedics lifted the motorcyclist onto the stretcher, wheeled him into the ambulance and drove away. The kids were abnormally quiet. Finally, the caregivers escorted the kids back into school.

The next day, a few kids started playing "motorcycle." One kid would drive around on a pretend motorcycle while another would drive a pretend car. They'd crash. The "motorcyclist" would lie still on the ground. Other kids would then try to lift (or drag) the motorcyclist around the playground, while sounding their pretend sirens.

This "game" continued for a couple weeks, and slowly dissolved into a game of tag.

This is a true story, captured by an anthropologist and recorded in the annals of The Association for the Study of Play.

For the kids, the game served an important purpose. It was an invitation to integrate, through play, the various factors that led to an overwhelmingly powerful event. It turned out to be a "good game" - good enough to be repeated for a couple of weeks. Because it was fun and built from a truth.

I think the same thing holds true here, even for something as disproportionately painful as the events surrounding Katrina. I also think that the people in our class are in a uniquely qualified position to capture whatever they understand about the dynamics of the event, and express it in game form - and yes, a game that is fun to play.

I brought up the Katrina event because we were at the time studying a game of chance and strategy. All right, not very much strategy, even with Backgammon as the archetype. To illustrate how powerful a role chance can play in games and life, how the source of dice and spinners comes from the same source that confronts the gods. They call it "divination," don't they?

All of which is to say, I am delighted by the sensitivity and concern that is being expressed in this dialogue, and honored to have played some role in its genesis.

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Where have all the players gone

Dr. Olga Jarrett, president of The Association for the Study of Play, has a lot of important things to say about the state of child's play. You'll find them summarized in this article. In the mean time, let me give you a sample:
Many of the schools in at least 10 states have abolished recess, causing children to spend many six hour days without exercise or down time. Even kindergarten is affected. A recent survey of Georgia schools suggests that 25% of the kindergarten children do not get daily recess. They are indoors all day. Children without recess miss an opportunity to chase each other, make up their own games, decide what is fair and who is “it” and hone their physical skills and imagination on playground equipment. The pressure to increase test scores has caused many school systems to opt for "uninterrupted instructional time."


And another:
Children whose parents have the time and money to involve them in lessons, organizations, and sports often lead very structured lives, as they spend after school hours, Saturdays, and summers in one program after another. They don’t have much time for free play. On the other hand, latchkey children generally don’t have much opportunity to play either. They are expected to stay at home and not have friends over to play.


It is to provoke thought. And hopefully, action. Thank you, Dr. Jarrett.

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Super Mario in the Playground

For me, one of the biggest rewards of belonging to The Association for the Study of Play is the discovery of stories like the following, from John Darwin Dorst, author of The Written Suburb: "In this game, he says, "the participants devoted much recess time to moving around the playground and acting out the sort of encounters and events that characterize the video game Super Mario Brothers, then the most popular electronic game among these boys. In their roving play they encountered and surmounted obstacles and barriers, fought a variety of dangerous creatures, acquired 'artifacts' that gave them enhanced powers, entered 'Warp Zones' that allowed them special movement and traversed boundaries from one imagined world to another. Though the ultimate object of the actual Nintendo game is to rescue a princess, the playground game was not particularly goal oriented. The point seems to have been the imaginative, improvisatory elaboration of the videogame structure itself. And that means in their play the boys included such things as putting themselves 'On Pause,' freezing the action as one can do with a button on the electronic control. This allowed for trips to the bathroom and other diversions. Also, they would devise theme melodies for the various 'worlds' they created, humming the appropriate tune as they moved about the imagined space of 'Ice World,' for instance."

Brian Sutton-Smith alerted me to this story. He is a founding member of TASP, long-time friend and mentor, and author of the oft-quoted: "The opposite of play is not work. It is depression."

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Cootie Catchers

Cootie Catcher, Cootie Catcher, where did you come from? And why?

According to this site (which features an instructional video on Cootie Catcher fabrication), Cootie Catchers came from Japan and have been around for at least four centuries.

"Earliest reference...appears during the beginning of the Edo period (early 1600s) in Japan, when mass-produced, low-priced paper became available and the art of paper folding became widespread. There is earlier reference to similar ceremonial and functional origami pieces - in one instance used to serve dried spices. First mention of this folded amusement in European history also occurs in the early 17th century, although it remains unclear whether this particular piece was introduced from Japan, or arose spontaneously from within the European folded paper craft movement."

As to why? My guess is that it has something to do with fun, and magic. The magic part is an example of what one might call "Praeternatural Play." For some reason, we take great pleasure in fortune telling games. We know they're games. So we don't really believe them. And yet, we kinda really do. This is what Colin Campbell calls "Half Belief."

Whether you belief is half, whole, or not at all, knowing how to make a Cootie Catcher can only be a good thing. Here, therefore, are animated instructions with a downloadable print and fold template.

If your Cootie Catcher question is urgent, here's a virtual cootie catcher for your immediate, and clearly questionable gratification.

Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Association for the Study of Play

It's called "The Association for the Study of Play." It's a "multidisciplinary organization" because the study of play impinges on "anthropology, education, psychology, sociology, recreation and leisure studies, history, folklore, dance, communication, the arts, kinesiology, philosophy, cultural studies, and musicology."

To get a better understanding of what these people are about, take a glance at the presentations and presenters from February's conference. Here are a few exemplary titles:

"A Serio-Ludic Rhetoric of Electronic Discourse," "Embodied Ethnography: Seeing, Feeling and Knowledge among Bodybuilders," "Children's Museums: Learning Through Play or Edutainment?" "Next Time, we are Going to Clean up Transcultural Participation in Aboriginal Sports at the Arctic Winter Games."

The diversity of interests, combined with the rigors of academic discipline, have led to the creation of a unique organization - one that, despite its history and heavily-credentialed officers, has been struggling, ever since its inception, to gain recognition and support. There's something about play that makes it almost impossible to take seriously. And yet, the stalwart members of this organization (of which I am a lifetime member) find a way to gather together every year to share their serious learnings and even more serious playfulness along with mass quantities of wine and cheese.

If you can't make it to next year's conference, TASP has produced a significant passel of publications reflecting both the spirit and the brilliance of its contributors. The most recent edition of TASP's "Play and Culture Studies" focuses on "Play and Educational Theory and Practice."

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