For me, the beginning of his book is the most revelatory part. This is where he not only makes his assertion that animals do, in fact, play; but, furthermore, that play is actually good for them. "Their play is for exercise, gaining strength," writes Bekoff, "and developing muscles for when they grow older, so they can travel long distances and run fast. They are the prey and must run away to avoid being a meal. Or they are the predators, trying to catch their meals. Playing is also a time for learning. Learning how to fight, hunt and mate - social skills they need when they become adults. In their games, young animals learn the rules of the group - and how to communicate or 'talk' with each other. They learn to cooperate and play fair. Life in the wild is tough. It's even tougher when you're alone, so play helps to create bonds and a sense of community." And then he goes on to make an observation which effectively bridges the empathy gap between child and animal: "And," he writes, "...playing is fun!"
That's exactly why kids play, why we all play. Not because it's good for us. But because it's fun. And that's also why we play together - adults, children, animals - because we have more fun together, with each other. And therein lies the profundity and importance of the wisdom contained in this lovely little book.
"Animals," notes Bekoff, "even follow rules!" He exemplifies:
1. Everyone has to want to play. 2. Everyone has to cooperate - they work together - to keep the game from becoming fighting. 3. Everyone needs to communicate and pay attention to each other's movements, sounds, and smells.
As for rule number 2, he observes: "Animals also become very excited when they play. Sometimes they don't realize how strong they are compared to their friends. A nip turns into a painful bite. Shoving becomes ramming, knocking a smaller friend over onto his back. What do they do? They apologize, of course, just like you!"
He takes this observation even further: "If you have little sisters, brothers, or cousins, you know how to play with them. In a race, you don't run too fast. When playing catch, you don't throw too hard. During a board game, you help your younger sister take her turn....When grown up red-necked wallabies - cousins of kangaroos - box with younger wallabies, they punch gently or just slightly touch. They don't push hard or move too quickly. The older wallabies make playtime last longer by not frightening or hurting the little ones."
So much wisdom. So many lessons. So clearly, compassionately written. So accessible. Such a loving gift for our children, for our species.
Children's games are social fantasies. They are shared dreams in which certain themes are being toyed with - investigated and manipulated for the sake of some future reintegration into a world view. They are reconstructions of relationships - simulations - which are guided by individual players, instituted by the groups in which they are played or abstracted by the traditions of generations of children.
In "Hot Bread and Butter" you gain power through risk and luck - not through direct confrontation - but only once the power has already been abdicated. As a child grows towards adulthood, he is approaching the time in which adult power is left to him - if he can take it. It is the opportunity that he must seize, not the person that he must confront. The power of the adult cannot be taken from an adult, it must be discovered within the person of the child.
Most children who play "Hot Bread and Butter" are between the ages of nine and fourteen. When I tried to play it with younger children, the equilibrium was lost. Many children didn't leave the base. Those who found the belt either hit too hard or spent the round trying to keep the belt for themselves. I had to teach the game I had to control. I had a lousy time, and so did most of the children. "Hide and Seek" however, which is related in structure to "Hot Bread and Butter." was a total success.
In other words, when children chose to play a particular game - when they establish a contract for what they are going to play with - they do so because the game is related to other experiences, because it provides them with a platform upon which they can create and explore a model which helps them define their relationship to other experiences, experiences which they are beginning to perceive as themes in their daily lives. They call this pursuit "Fun."
The cartoon that illustrates this little story is by Donald Jefferes. It's one of several he made for the Streetplay website, in an online slideshow called Extreme Streetplay. Take a look. It might remind you what some kinds of fun are for.
It's an advertisement. You probably won't understand the words or be especially interested in what is being advertised. It probably won't make you happy. But, in all likelihood, it will make you laugh, which is clearly the next best thing.
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.
You know how they say "Children laugh 400 times a day, while adults laugh only 15"? Apparently, that started with Norman Cousins, whose book, Anatomy of an Illness was a most convincing journey into the healing powers of laughter and play.
According to Allen Klein, widely recognized humor maven, maybe the child's daily laugh count is not actually400 times a day. But it's still a lot more than adults. Which is why we have people who are professionally helping us to laugh more. Even when we don't particularly feel like it. Even when we can't really find anything to laugh about. Just because it's healthy.
After much serious contemplation, I've come up with yet another irreverently relevant observation. Not only do children laugh more than adults, they also cry more.
So I'm postulating here that maybe the implications for a healthier adulthood are not just that it's better for us to laugh more, but also maybe even to cry more. Surely we can make ourselves cry almost as easily as we can make ourselves laugh. And, as long as we're the only one's that are making ourselves do it, maybe it's just as healing, making ourselves cry more, as it is making ourselves laugh more.
I don't know. I'm more of a postulator than a researcher. But I have personally and repeatedly observed that sometimes crying, like at the movies, or with someone I love, feels kind of delicious. Kind of healing. Kind of, even, fun.
It's been a long time since I sat down with a deck of cards and played solitaire. So used to the well-ordered clarity and immediacy of computer solitaire games have I become that I had almost completely forgotten about the many charms and "affordances" of a physical deck of actual playing cards. Aside from the sensuous tactility of the cards, their perfected flexibility and functional stiffness, the elegance and visual clarity of their design, the autonomic joys of shuffling and laying out a new game, there's the compelling opportunity to engage in what one might call "the inner-dialogue surrounding the pros and cons of," well, "cheating."
You can't really cheat at computerized solitaire. And it's a shame.
The almost lost art of cheating at solitaire, I rediscovered, can lead one to a self-exploration of the highest order and deepest discovery. So you're playing, say, Canfield, and you've dutifully gone through the "stock," three cards at a time, and have reached that soul-encountering point that accompanies the realization that you have lost the game. So you go through the stock one, nay, two more times, and everso clearly reached the point at which the only thing left to acknowledge is defeat.
You now have two choices: 1) admit defeat, shuffle, and start the game over, or 2) explore, just for the sheer educational value, what would happen if you, say, put the top card of the stock on the bottom. In fact, now that you think about it, there could be a veritable voyage of discovery awaiting you. You could investigate the impact of turning over every two cards instead of every three, or perhaps arbitrarily selecting a card from the middle of the deck and placing it on the bottom, or even contemplate adding a fifth column to the proverbial tableau. A panoply, a conceptual cornucopia of what one might call "alternative rules" if one had lost cognizance of the fact that: a) the game was already lost, and 2) one was in fact cheating.
Odd, though, now that we think of it, how much more there is to play with when cheating becomes an option.
Which brings me to the text of today's sermon - the text of which can be found in Chapter 4 of The Well-Played Game, pages 30-32, which is just now conveniently and freely available to you, my personal public, in this PDF file.
We found that there was a kind of cheating which — even though it can be considered unfair, even though it helps somebody win or keeps somebody from losing — was good, was right, which led us all to a game we could play well together.
Alex Sternik "Mentor and Enterprenuer, Initiator of Laughter Yoga Clubs in Israel" (site is in Hebrew, Google translation here) is, among many other things, a master of the art of gibberish. Last year, he was invited by Laughter Yoga Leaders and Participants in Berlin, Frankfurt and Amsterdam to train and share his knowledge of Gibberish Improvisation in his "Playing with the Nonsense" workshops.He is hoping to make his mastery available to laughter yoga practitioners in the States. To learn more about Alex and his theories, start with this article from the Jerusalem Post. Then watch his interview for Dutch TV (it's in Dutch, a little in English, but it's also in gibberish, and even if you can't tell the difference, you'll get a good idea of Alex and his gifts of laughter. If that's not fun enough, here's Alex explaining "gibberish therapy," in gibberish and English. And here's is Alex (click on all the pictures to reveal the video) in Germany.
Last year, during our Laughter Games Workshop, Alex gave a most impressive demonstration of how it is more or less possible to teach an entirely new game, completely in gibberish - a challenge I recommend only to my most advanced students.
As to the rationale for learning the art of gibberish, one would do well to explore its impact on brain development. Perhaps no one can explain it more cogently than John Cleese in the appended clip (via Boing Boing)
He was at the counter waiting for his order, making a game out of chasing his 4 year old granddaughter back and forth, making faces with her. And it sent me to a place of wonder....
When people are new, little, we play with them—tickling, hiding and seeking, inventing fun things to do. Strange we do not think to do so when they are new but adult-sized. We think the little ones bright and wanting to engage with us, and our attention attractive to them...
- Douglas D. Germann, Sr.
And with people our size? Is it that we are afraid to impose? to be thought strange? to disturb or appear disturbed? Or is that where the fun is?
Most children will stop an activity WELL before they achieve this level of mastery. Most kids at some point will bang things together and show an interest in making noise and yet have no desire to sit at a drum set. But you can tell by watching this kid that he truly enjoyed every moment of his time on the drums. Heck, most adults just don't even try new things. An adult's "expert" mind rationalizes the time commitment of gaining a new desired skill, and they decide no, without even giving it a chance.
So, why shouldn't we consider FUN a critical part of the learning process?
If the learning experience is not purely joyful and fun, then the pain associated with the learning process forces the child to quit and the adult to not even start. But let's also remember that does NOT mean the learning must come easily. No, in fact, the joy comes from overcoming a difficult complex challenge. The joy of learning comes from the DOING...over, and over, and over, until you get it right. During the over, and over, and over part you are certainly frustrated at times and even angry, but it IS still joyful because you are hopeful that knowing soon you will have overcome the challenge and success is right around the corner. And THAT feeling ROCKS!
Surely you all remember Panther, Person, Porcupine? Well, today I am pleased to share with you the game of Bear, Hunter, Princess as reported by the Strange Gamester himself, Montague Blister. Not that Bear, Hunter, Princess is a team game (as is Panther, Person, Porcupine), but rather that it's an alternate, whole-body version of your basic, two-player game of Rock-Scissors Paper, as also is Panther, Person, Porcupine.
Though I personally consider Panther, Person, Porcupine to be, quantumly-speaking, a much more significant leap into playful gamery, I nonetheless celebrate the existence of Bear, Hunter, Princess, as well as the directly corresponding, Fed-Ex-popularized Bear, Hunter, Ninja.
Scenes like this could reaffirm your faith in the fundamental fun of it all, could make you love New York, even. From a distance, probably. In someplace warm. Where people aren't throwing things at you.
"The exorcism of fun could be compared to Foucault's Histoire de la Sexualité - where he analyzes how we construct sexuality to be a taboo topic, yet at the same time create an opportunity to make it all we think about (us victorians). In politics, we perform rituals like: dressing appropriately, awaiting turns for speaking with limited timeframes, having a chair that interferes when we may get too cheerful or drift off of topic improvising. We design buildings where not everyone is welcome, we put up chairs in specific order and the benches on which we sit are fixed, so we don't scoot towards one another to chit chat. We have to really try hard to keep the inclination for spontaneous behavior out and when a politician does display playful behavior, we may even claim s he is mocking democracy. There are, of course, politicians that display forms of contempt for democracy. We need only look at some of the remarks Berlusconi made recently, to see that in terms of the responsibilities he has, he does not do justice to the weight of his function. But this is not due the playful style with which he enters the political arena, it is due to the negation of the seriousness of the topic at hand. So, should we look differently at the notions of playfulness and seriousness, we may find a better way of conceptualizing forms of positively productive play and forms of play that deteriorate the game of politics, without doing away with play and playfulness altogether."
I began this particular journey with the Eigenharp from Eigenlabs - a jaw-droppingly amazingly futuristically one-man-bandly sort of instrument that you can play with and on and on.
Which led me to searching Youtube for more audio-visuals of this particular techno-amazement in action. Which, almost before I knew what I was doing, landed me on John Fowler, a guy making similarly amazing music with the humble, and significantly non-electronic "Jaw Harp."
Which made me think and rethink about the meaning of play, the vast toy-instrument continuum, and the deeper reaches of fun.
1. laugh 2. want to work in a mattress company 3. experience something akin to astonished respect for the mattress domino-endorsing mattress company management 4. think about the fun you could be making your work into
In her article, The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting, in the Nov 20 issue of Time magazine, Nancy Gibbs gives "helicopter parents" a lot to think about, and, hopefully, even more to question.
"The insanity crept up on us slowly," she begins; "we just wanted what was best for our kids. We bought macrobiotic cupcakes and hypoallergenic socks, hired tutors to correct a 5-year-old's 'pencil-holding deficiency,' hooked up broadband connections in the treehouse but took down the swing set after the second skinned knee. We hovered over every school, playground and practice field - 'helicopter parents,' teachers christened us, a phenomenon that spread to parents of all ages, races and regions."
The thing is, according to Gibbs, change, at last, is a-brewin':
"Since the onset of the Great Recession, according to a CBS News poll, a third of parents have cut their kids' extracurricular activities. They downsized, downshifted and simplified because they had to — and often found, much to their surprise, that they liked it. When a TIME poll last spring asked how the recession had affected people's relationships with their kids, nearly four times as many people said relationships had gotten better as said they'd gotten worse."
So we're learning. All over again. The hard way.
Gibbs' article is as compassionate as it is wise.
"Fear is a kind of parenting fungus: invisible, insidious, perfectly designed to decompose your peace of mind. Fear of physical danger is at least subject to rational argument; fear of failure is harder to hose down. What could be more natural than worrying that your child might be trampled by the great, scary, globally competitive world into which she will one day be launched? It is this fear that inspires parents to demand homework in preschool, produce the snazzy bilingual campaign video for the third-grader's race for class rep, continue to provide the morning wake-up call long after he's headed off to college."
One of my favorite insights in the article is a "pro-boredom" statement from Carl Honoré, author of Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting. "Children," he says, "need that space not to be entertained or distracted. What boredom does is take away the noise ... and leave them with space to think deeply, invent their own game, create their own distraction."
In that interview I mentioned yeseterday, the one included in Parlour Games for Modern Families, I noticed myself saying something that might actually be useful to us as we continue to explore ways to make ourselves in particular and the world in general more fun. So, here's me quoting someone quoting me:
"When you're playing a game with other peple, you're creating fun together, you are empowering that experience, and that experience is empowering you, so the fun you're having reaches deeper, the laughter is more profound, you laugh with your entire body. You experience a sense of exhilaration and timeless, of perfect focus.
"It's important always to remember that the game does not matter as much as the fun you're experiencing with each other. It's not the game itself but the playful contact between people that matters.
"I think the world is as fun as it always has been. I think what's changed is that there's less acceptance of peple having fun in any kind of public environment. If you're laughing, people start looking at you as if you are crazy or definitely not doing what you're supposed to be doing. Playfulness is suspect. I don't think it was that way 100 years ago. Those people who do those bizarre things where they get into a train station and start dancing....people like that are helping us all to become the kind of free people we're supposed to be."
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.
With ample funding from a still amply funded funder, a set of stairs was converted into something very much like a giant piano keyboard. It was an experiment, so they say, to see if an invitation to a bit of fun could make people choose to take the stairs rather than the escalator. There are a couple of great shots in this video, comparing the two, before and after. The Fun Theory illustrated.
From the soon-to-be-launched website TheFunTheory.com - "an initiative of Volkswagen." You go, VW! And so, with a little bit of fun added, apparently, do we.
One of reassuring things about this whole exploration is how effectively viral it has been since its inception. I've lost count of how many people have written about it since I first saw it - and am still finding earlier mentions of it on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Apparently, it affirms something that many of us want to see affirmed - a long cherished belief, a faith in fun, nourished by the forces that drove our youth, the Internet, and our very souls.
Last weekend was Rosh Hashana for some, the end of Ramadan for others, and, for the fortunate few, PARK(ing) Day. According to the folk at parkingday.org:
PARK(ing) Day began in 2005when Rebar, a San Francisco art collective, converted a single metered parking space into a temporary public park in an area of San Francisco that is underserved by public open space.
Back then the project was named simply PARK(ing), and was devised as a creative exploration of how urban public space is allocated and used. For example, up to 70% of San Francisco's downtown outdoor space is dedicated to the vehicle, while only a fraction of that space is allocated to the public realm. Paying the meter of a parking space enables one to lease precious urban real estate on a short-term basis. What is the range of possible activities for this short-term lease?
Since 2005, the project has grown into PARK(ing) Day, an annual worldwide phenomenon, created independently by groups of artists, activists and citizens.
It removes significant plaque from my playful heart when I learn that Circle Rules Football was recognized as "Best Sport" in the recent Come out and Play festival here in the States. (Read the well-illustrated rules here.) Not because it's any less competitive than soccer or any less demanding of teamwork or significant athletic prowess, but simply because it's new. Because, as a new sport, it's still free from all those commercial/official interests that turns sport into something other than an invitation to play.
And maybe just a tad because it uses a "a swiss ball, a body ball, a yoga ball, or an exercise ball, whatever you want to call it." Todd Strong and I and Human Kinetics chose to call it an "Activity Ball" in our soon-to-be-published Great Games for Big Activity Balls - a collection of significantly fun games to play with the aforementioned. Which, in retrospect, makes the success of Circle Rules Football even more celebration-worthy, for Todd, myself, our publisher, the manufacturers, distributors and owners of these over-sized bouncy wonders, and especially for those of us who get to play with them.
For people in the US, Labor Day commemorates our more or less continued victory in what is at heart a heart-breaking struggle. For centuries, we have been trying to protect laborers from being abused by the people who hire them. And these efforts seem especially heart-breaking today, because for the remarkably many who don't have work, it sometimes seems that tolerating the abuse is a better alternative.
On Labor Day, having fun at work is one of the last things we tend to think about. We think about having work. And we think about getting paid. And we think about getting benefits. And we dream about our once closely-held illusions of things like job security and company loyalty. But not about fun.
And yet, as much as work can sustain us, fun sustains our work.
And, hopefully, now I've found you, who, on this day commemorating the victories and ongoing struggles between labor and management, also affirm the struggle for work sustains us and that we can sustain - work that is as fun as it is profitable.
Let's divide everything we do into two categories:
The things we have to do
The things we want to do
Over-simplistically speaking, fun is why we want to do the things we want to do.
Sometimes, all too rarely, if you ask me, the things we have to do and the things we want to do are the same. Then the fun we have is very deep, in deed. Often, those of us who pursue the Playful Path deem the merging of 1.0 with 2.0 our personal apotheosis.
Now, let's divide the things we want to do (2.0) into two more categories:
The things we want to do because they will lead us to the things we really want to do
The things we want to do because we O so really want to do them
The things of the 2.1 variety are often endorsed by social and cultural forces of great purport. Frequently, they come in the guise of jobs and community service and good citizenship and generally all require what the psychologists understand as the ability to "delay gratification."
These other things (2.2) are what we do for fun, what we think of, what we mean when we say "fun." We're not talking about awards or rewards. Just doing them is all we ask. Just experiencing them. Just feeling them. Jumping in them. Lying in them. Rolling in them.
Sometimes, also all too rarely, the things that we want to do because they lead us to the things we really want to do (2.1) are also fun (2.0). They may not be as much fun as what we really want to do, but they are more fun than the things we really have to do (1.0). Like joking around with strangers in the dentist office. Or trying to meditate while the dentist is getting the needle ready. (Listen, for example, to this.) These things, whilst not exemplifying the sheer delights of fun of the 2.2 variety, often characterize the more mature approach to the fun available to the more, shall we say, mature. This kind of fun, as exemplified by dentist-office humor, has been most thoroughly and inspiringly explored by my friend David Naster.
Further explication of the meaning of fun will be available by request. If you haven't already, see also this.
Just For Fun is a book about when big business happens to people who care far more about creating than marketing, and who love what they do for its own sake. As such, it is not just a book about an alternative business model - the open source movement - but about an alternative affect, one that honors the joy of creative work more than the humorless pursuit of profit, and that sees fun, rather than power or money, as the proper goal of life.
Torvalds’ real genius lies not so much in his programming abilities, though those are extraordinary, but in his capacity for that thing so many of us never learn to do: have fun. Fun, Torvalds believes, is at heart very far from the frivolous thing capitalism and religion have made it out to be. Fun is, rather, the highest form of human behavior, the thing that comes after survival and community, the thing, in other words, that not only makes life worth living, but is - or ought to be - a lifestyle in itself.
(This is a collaboratively drawn representation of a or the Oaqui, produced by several as yet unnamed players during a game obviously known as Redondo. This site and those associated with it claim no actual correlation between the embedded, self-justified image on the left and anything having to do with the or a Oaqui.)
The following was not faithfully transcribed:
We temporarily interrupt this blog for a message from me and/or us, the Oaqui. We had other choices, but we preferred this one, because we (royal and not) are and is personally in touch with a vast and powerful force. We (royally speaking) don't know if it's THE force. But it sure is a. A force of such power that it could almost completely absorb the Royal we by and into. We have discovered that we have royally, and for some time been joining something larger than ourselves. Something that makes the royal us go beyond ourselves, and into the world.
And now we are told that you have experienced the same thing!
Which is why we have to interrupt this blog. So we can share. With you. Personally.
You and your dog know already know about the force of fun, for example.
When you are having fun together, you are both absorbed by the same force. Your dog manifesting sheer doogy energy, absolute doggy joy. You, in your turn, joyfully, breathlessly running after the ball. Playing together. Absorbed in something you both understand as "fun."
This force of fun is one that we are royally sharing in, and that is sharing in us - parents and children, neighbors with strangers, animals with humans. This force of fun that we join and are joined by is available to us just about anywhere we look or listen to or breathe deeply in or lie on the ground to watch.
If you were a psychologist you might classify the Fun Force as something like "intrinsic reward" or "intrinsic motivation." If you were a philo-mathematician, you might call it "autotelic" - something we do that rewards the doing of it.
It's not like we really have to win or finish even. When we are having and had by what we all know as "fun" what more could we ask except to get to do it over and over, get better at and in and with it? It's the play what is the thing. The play of. The play between.
Now, if you happen to be one of those people who is, in fact, making things more fun, or if you simply care about making things more fun, if you are even dimly aware of the force of fun in your life and world in general, well then, might I royally suggest that you make yourselves known to your other selves as soon as possible. Because it could very well result in more fun. For me and/or us
The Oaqui ("oa" is probably pronounced "wa", "qui" is most likely pronounced "cky", as in "wa cky") was or were first introduced to the world through the virtual writings of the person currently identified as "Major Fun."
For all Major FUN actually claims to know about the actual identity of the Oaqui, Oaqui could refer to a singular and/or plural, male and/or female and/or cosmic being. This is because: 1. the Oaqui communicate only by email, and 2. the Oaqui language make/s no distinction between singular or plural, masculine or feminine, young or old. It is the Oaqui apotheosis to be seen as not only one with the many, but also many with the one. In this manner, the Oaqui is/are oft considered the true manifestation of me\we-ness.
And for all we know, there might be no such person or group as the Oaqui. Major FUN might have made the whole thing up, just for the fun, and the depth of it.
"I have always appreciated the whimsy, fun, and general laid-backness that I feel whenever I shop at Trader Joe's. So I was not really surprised but rather delighted when I recently discovered this redesign of their standard tissue box. It just impressed the heck out of me. I mean it's a box of tissues, right? But someone, somewhere within that corporation decided to have a bit of fun with something that is totally invisible and non-consequential to most people, and this was the result! It's almost like reading a funny series of greeting cards. Some might say it's trivial, but I maintain that nothing is trivial that gives a person even a momentary smile, laugh, or enjoyment of someone else's wacky sense of humor."
What is the relation of available fun to intelligence?
What kind of emotional architecture is necessary to have fun?
Will eternal life be boring?
Will we ever run out of fun?
To answer questions like these… requires Singularity Fun Theory.
Does it require an exponentially greater amount of intelligence (computation) to create a linear increase in fun?
Is self-awareness or self-modification incompatible with fun?
Is (ahem) “the uncontrollability of emotions part of their essential charm”?
Is “blissing out” your pleasure center the highest form of existence?
Is artificial danger (risk) necessary for a transhuman to have fun?
Do you have to yank out your own antisphexishness routines in order not to be bored by eternal life? (I.e., modify yourself so that you have “fun” in spending a thousand years carving table legs, a la “Permutation City”.)
To put a rest to these anxieties… requires Singularity Fun Theory.
I decided that the Singularity Fun Theory was one of those theories that would be just as much fun if I didn't try too hard to understand what it actually means, and, putting a rest to my anxieties, remained quietly thankful that there are people thinking as deeply about the future of fun as Dr. Eliezer S. Yudkowsky.
Though I have written many articles about volleyball, devoted an entire funcast and even a full chapter of Junkyard Sports to volleyball, I have yet to find anywhere outside of my own writings any mention of the perhaps most profound and, dare I say revolutionary contribution to the very nature of volleyball - the Cross-Court Rotation Variation. Not even in the Wikipedia article "Volleyball Variations," or the obversely titled Thinkquest article "Variations of Volleyball," have my Googling eyes sighted anything approaching actual citing.
Perhaps a diagram is necessary. Perhaps two diagrams.
Here, from Wikipedia, the traditional method of rotating:
While in the Cross-Court Rotation Variation the Number One-positioned player in team A (herein illustrated as the Red Team) goes to the Number Six position in team B (the Green Team) while simultaneously the Number One-positioned player in team B moves to the Number Six position in team A, all other players moving down-position according to the traditional rotation rule.
Perhaps the merits of the Cross-Court Rotation Variation are too numerous to enumerate. Perhaps the concept is too subtle or simple to catch the attention of the sport-minded many. But the truth remains: simply by letting players change sides as well as positions we can not only satisfy all the purposes of the official rotation rules, but we can also make the game a lot more fun for anyone who wants to play. Anyone.
But wait, a note of hope from my colleague Roger Greenaway:
"You will find a reference to this variation of volleyball which forms part of the history of Turntable (née Revolver) ending with a climactic reference to Junkyard Sports.
"As you will discover, the cross-court variation was invented (or reinvented) in Scotland around 1990 by a group of playful trainers inspired by Terry Orlick's creative interferences with the rules of competitive games.
"...lessons I have learned from computer games...The first...is echoed by kids who talk about "hard fun" and they don't mean it's fun in spite of being hard. They mean it's fun because it's hard. Listening to this and watching kids work at mastering games confirms what I know from my own experience: learning is essentially hard; it happens best when one is deeply engaged in hard and challenging activities. The game-designer community has understood (to its great profit) that this is not a cause for worry. The fact is that kids prefer things that are hard, as long as they are also interesting."
Writing about an event involving Palestinian and Israeli children that was led by the Ultimate Peace initiative - an organization devoted to teaching kids of different cultures to play the sport of Ultimate Frisbee, Al Jazeera reporter Diana Worman notes:
"A sporting initiative like this will always attract its critics, especially at such a sensitive time in such a sensitive place, but the ultimate aim of this week is to allow kids to be kids, and to integrate, and learn with each other and to have fun."
So there they are in Israel, making this incredible thing happen between Palestinian and Israeli children, where they are bridging a cultural chasm, and at the same time being responsible, together, for keeping the game fair - and the big thing, the main thing is that they are having fun together.
Which reminds me about something I learned during Day 2 and 3 in Denmark, at the Lego Idea Conference and a follow-up meeting of Lego designers. I was there to lead participants in my Junkyard Sports Tabletop Olympiad. And, as you know, the game is jam-packed with "teachable moments" about teamwork and creativity, resourcefulness and innovation. And I learned from the participants that what really mattered, every time I played it, had nothing to do with the copiousity of opportunities to gather meaningful insights, and everything to do with how much sheer, all-embracing fun it allowed them to have together.
Winding my way along a tree-lined, dirt-and-gravel "art walk" that winds its artful way past the Hotel Legoland, across a creek, through trees and, here and there, a remarkable sculpture, I paused by an overflowing trash basket, and caught the following train of thought:
It was the second or third time that I took this particular walk and passed this particular trash. And this time, just as I got near the trash, I was thinking about fun, and the patent absurdity of my stated purpose - namely to "make the world more fun." And this time, I guess because I was thinking about fun and the world, I was reminded of signs I saw in an Jerusalem park that I also walked through - signs that said something like "if you didn't clean it up, you made it dirty."
It was funny, and so was I. Every time I passed that unsightly spill of cigarette boxes and knotted bags of dog poop, it made my walk just a little less fun. And this time, thinking about fun, remembering that sign, I actually stopped myself, picked up the trash, and restored a little bit of the fun of that small part of the world and my walk. It wasn't that I had made it unpleasant. But I certainly had left it unpleasant.
And then I continued my walk. And because I was present enough to take on the responsibility, I was more present all the way back to the hotel. A certain, very definite sense of fun was restored to me, and to the people who wouldn't notice, but would appreciate the art path a little more.
Restoring fun. Being a guy who likes the play of everything, I just gotta love the play of meaning that those words create. The fun is itself restoring. The fun is itself restored, as was my fun, as was my self, as was my world.
Obama's hackle-raising reference to the Special Olympics raised several of my own personal hackles, actually, about the Olympics in general, Special or not-so. I rushed to my computer and Googled for the kind of alternative that I'd like to see taking place, an even more special kind of Olympics, and clicked my way over to the Fun Olympics, and I sighed with something like belief relief, saying to myself, as I often do, that there is hope for the healing power of silliness. That despite all the brouhaha, the haha lives on.
Ya-Ya and granddaughter Esther are playing Chutes and Ladders. There are two problems we older folk have with that particular game: 1) it can get very boring, 2) it can only have one winner. The boring part can be endured. The winner part turns out to be the very opposite of why we want to play in the first place, especially when we're playing between generations.
Ya-ya and Esther are playing so that they can be together. Just having fun. Just doing something, anything, really, they both can enjoy. Ya-ya is probably enjoying being with Esther a lot more than she is enjoying playing Chutes and Ladders. Ya-ya is probably very bored with the game. Esther will probably cry if she doesn't win.
They need a variation.
Some of the best game variations come from playing with rules that aren't written down. Like the rule that says: "this is your piece. You can only move that piece. You really can't move any other piece because those pieces belong to other players. Other players can't move your piece, because that piece belongs to you. And, you can only win if your piece is the one that reaches the finish first."
I call my variation the "Nobody's Piece Variation." It works like this: "you can move any piece. Whatever piece you move is yours, for that turn." It's yours, but it's not you. You could call it Myrtle or Smunchnik or Pawn. You could even call it You. But it's not you. It's just a piece. Nobody's piece. And all that's important at the time is who moves it.
So, when it's your turn, you can move any piece you want. If you want to move the piece that's closest to winning, you can do that. If you want to help the other pieces catch up, you can do that, too. It's up to you.
Then the game belongs to all of you. And the winning belongs to anyone who wants to claim it. You can make the game as long as you all want to play it. If you want, you can play forever. And nobody has to be bored. And nobody has to lose. And the one who really cares about winning can win if she wants. And you all can focus on enjoying each other, which is what you're playing for in the first place.
About the photo: I found it on a weblog called Tundra Topics. It was in a post about Ya-Ya's visit to her Alaskan family. It's a wonderfully personal website, by the way, giving us a clearly illustrated view of Alaskan living, written by someone who, it just so happens, was born in Indiana, my new home.
It was about a year ago, again from Israel, that I wrote about my experiences playing a game called "Sound and Fury." This time, it was one of the last games we played, near the end of our stay, and one of the precious few we got to play with the whole family: Josh (who turned 2 in October), Zev (4), Reina (7), Maya (11), their parents (40), and us grands (66, 67).
Once again, the game was new for me - specifically the part about how much more deeply fun it was to play it with family - particularly with a relatively large family (relatively speaking), explicity with a family whose youngest member is still learning how to talk (albeit in two languages).
We did make up a new rule: If you wanted to pass (just in case you couldn't think of something silly enough to do - the pressure, you know), you could just say something (we had suggested something like "smeegledeebop," but "pass" worked, too), and then everybody would just do anything they felt like (complete with noise and movement). Oddly fun.
Point is, as a family game Sound and Fury is very oddly fun: easy enough for a 2-year-old to understand, fun enough to keep us all involved (we must've played it for at least 15 minutes, maybe 10), pointless enough to keep anybody from caring about having anything other than what we already had together.
One of the sad truths of being in Israel, especially in Jerusalem, is the amount of, well, pollution. It's just not something you'd expect to see in the capitol, for heaven's sake, of the Holy actual Land!
One form of pollution comes from the proliferation of plastic shopping bags. They're everywhere. You can't go shopping without coming away with a half-dozen or so of these colorfully indestructible, everlasting wonders of modern technology. There are these large cages where you can recycle them. And the cages are often full. But there's the other part of the problem - most people ignore any attempt to keep the city clean. And there are attempts, believe me.
So, as a parting gift, this video, on how to make a ball out of plastic shopping bags.
The workshop was attended by only a few people - we had eight altogether. But these were an exceptional few - highly energetic, deeply playful, totally committed to making people laugh. Participants included several other laughter leaders (here's Bat-Shachar's website), game facilitators and trainers, a meditation facilitator, a belly dancer, a magician named Caliostro (who was "the primary magician" performing for the Israeli army in the 80s) , a gym teacher, and Shiri Ben-Dov, who leads games and works with an organization that conducts bachelor parties. Each brought their entire being into play - personally, professionally, spiritually.
It's been a long time since I've shared the concept of Pointless Games that I worked/played with people who understood the idea so deeply, so quickly - not just the games, but the immense value of playing without purpose, without score, without excuse - of playing for fun.
For me, this was the experience of Israel I most needed. For all the insecurity, the fear, the hatred, the violence, the worry, the passion, the crowding, the traffic, the sheer intensity of life here - even in the middle of a war - I found people here who welcomed the comparatively small gifts of funny games. I found Israelis who have affirmed with their very lives the wisdom of things like peace and laughter and the power of play, and who bring these very experiences to everyone they can reach - Jew, Arab, Israeli, Palestinian.
During this long/short stay I often felt, well, foolish, in thinking that I could help bring fun to Israel in a time of war. And here, near the end of my stay, I discover these people. True champions of baseless, purposeless laughter. Fun-bringing Israelis all.
So, what have I learned so far about bringing more fun to Israel?
I'm glad you asked.
First of all, it's not such a good time for fun in Israel, as well as in general. Not when people are busy dealing with the Gaza thing. And the money thing. And the job thing.
As for the Gaza thing: if you're Jewish or Palestinian, it was a violence that was done to you, even if the violence was not your doing - a deep, shocking, deafening violence that was so thunderous you can't hear much of anything else - your family, maybe, your neighbors, your friends. You certainly can't hear anything that comes from the "other side." Not love, not grief, not caring, not explanation, not apology, not words of peace. And most definitely not play.
Play is one of those words that can only be spoken in a "still, small voice," that in times like these can be only be heard over the din of war by children and puppies. The rest of us have to wait for quiet, inside and out. Even clowns can't make themselves loud enough. Even people like the Israeli group called "Pharsh-the official military of the silly revolution" (thanks for the link, Pat Kane), or the "laughter therapists" you nevertheless might find doing their work in the bomb sheters in S'deroth; can't be silly enough to change anything - not right now.
But they're doing their work, nevertheless. And so, apparently, am I. Thanks to Alex Sternick, I'll be conducting my first Games and Laughter workshop, specifically for Israeli laughter therapists, giving them a chance to learn a few funny games, so they can give people a few more reasons to laugh. Like I said - nevertheless. Even though there is no reason. Except maybe sanity.
Teaching laughter, fun, games, play - it's a funny kind of work, a funny kind of gift we have to bring. Not anything that you might call a "cause." Not anything that you might think of as revolutionary. And yet, something having very much to do with peace, after all.
Here, from the American Public Media show Speaking of Faith, people who like to play on the flying rings in Santa Monica's muscle beach give a near-word-for-word description of the flow-fun connection.
Watch them, listen to them, as they shed light on delight.
On the other hand, sometimes a thing that you do for fun isn't as much fun as it used to be, and some other times it's more fun than you remember it ever being before.
After several tours around the park near my son's house, discussing why it is that some things seem like more fun than others, we came to the conclusion that it has less to do with the fun of the thing in itself, but more with how much fun we're finding in it at the time.
We could at the time be finding a lot of fun in, for example, just walking together, father and son, in the relative peace and loving relationship in which we are finding each other, on this remarkably warm day in this lovely little park in Jerusalem, while there's no war in Gaza. On the other hand, we were finding at least as much fun talking about fun, in the conversation, in the intimacy of shared thought. It's not that the talk was in itself more fun than the walk. It's just that it was in the talk and in the walk that we were finding the fun.
The fun of the walk, on Csikszentmihalyi's chart, was something closer to what I've been calling minor fun. It's fun. It can be great fun. But talking, conversing, being in dialog, is higher on the flow channel. It can become far more complex, far more demanding, require far more of our minds and hearts. But, again, walking is not necessarily more fun than talking - when they're really fun, walking or talking, they're really fun - one just as really, as deeply, as totally as the other, separately or together. The same being true of mountain climbing and daydreaming, giving or getting a massage.
The thing about the kinds of fun you find in different positions in the flow channel is not that one is more fun than the other, but that each is the kind of fun you can get more or less of yourself and the world into - the kind of fun that can amuse you or challenge you to the very edge of all your vast abilities; the kind of fun that can lead you to regaining, or losing your very life.
Which, when you think about it, is something - depending on how much fun you are having, and what moment of the world you find yourself in - you could also say about talking and walking with your son in a park in Jerusalem.
My son and I were on one of our rare and most delicious walks through Jerusalem, when we got to talking about fun and flow and the connections and differences, not only between fun and flow, but also between the various kinds of fun, the degrees of flow. The more we walked and the further we walked, the clearer we were both able to get, at least about how I see the connections and degrees of it all.
Looking at a relatively simplistic image of flow as described in this article about the implications of flow on the nature of design, or a more recent, and more complex chart from an article about flow in the workplace, it's natural to conclude that among the various forms of flow, there are those which are "higher" and more fun, and those which are "lower," and not so much fun. Like, for example, watching TV, when it's fun, is not really as high or as good or as complete fun as skiing down a mountain, when it is fun.
Fact is, at least as I understand it, fun is fun. Fun is flow. And flow is flow, no matter how high or low it is in the channel. There are the apparently nobler kinds of flow, like those surgeons sometimes experience. And there are the oft-derided baser, more immediately accessible kinds, like those experienced by people who chew or smoke for fun. There are forms of flow that seem more like fun, like riding a roller coaster, and forms of fun that seem less like flow, like collecting stamps. But the whole point is that when chewing gum is fun, it's just as much fun as bungee jumping - when bungee jumping is fun. That's the big contribution of this whole idea of flow. Rock climbing or rock dancing, the joy, when it's joyful, is just as joyous, just as all-embracing, just as time- and mind-transcendent.
And what we were able to conclude in our most fun and flowful walk of ours was this: For me, flow is fun. And fun is fun. My playful path is not at all about having deeper fun, or looking for fun that's more major, or trying to identify the particular flavor of fun that is most profoundly and deliciously flow-like. It's about finding the kinds of fun that are fun for me, whatever they are - the kinds that are most reliably, most deeply, most thoroughly fun - and having them, living them, entirely, whenever I can, for however long they are fun for me. And most often, it appears to me that those kinds of fun tend to be the kinds of fun I can share with you, my son, and you, too, my cherished reader.
A week or so ago, at the benevolent prompting of my son, I added a new advertising section to my blog, called "FUNsponsored Ads." These are ads for things I personally happen to believe in - sponsored, as it were, by my sense of, well, fun. I don't get paid for them. Nobody's counting clicks. But it makes me feel good to know that I've been able to somehow further the good fortune of what seem to me to be "good" things.
The FUNsponsored Ads section currently features three organizations. (You can find them - and soon other sites of similar ilk - by clicking here). Each of these sites demonstrates a different approach to helping people do good. They are all fund-raising efforts. But they are also somehow fun.
One site allows you to give smal loans to people who really need them - loans without interest, personal loans to people who are genuinely trying to improve their lives and their world. People you can believe in. It works, because it's more fun to give to people than it is to give to institutions. It makes it personal, even though, if you choose, you can remain anonymous. And they're just loans. Acts, not so much of generosity as of trust.
Another offers you the opportunity to give other people the opportunity to give charity - a gift of giving, you might say. In a way, it's the ultimate charitable act, giving others the chance to be charitable - for free.
Yet another lets you bring a fun technology - a playground toy - that in turn brings clean water to villages whose very lives depend on it. The toy itself is fun. It's fun to see people having fun. It's fun to know that that the fun you are helping to give people is constructive, meaningful, healing.
Each tells us something about the art of fund raising. Each honors the fun inherent in giving. Each invites fun as much as it invites giving.
Too often, the people who are involved in trying to raise funds get a little too desperate. They send out pleas, they cajole, they beg, they try to make you feel obligated, to make you feel that if you don't give, you're somehow a bad person. But giving is not about being "good." Giving is about fun. It's a kind of fun, I guess you might even say "flavor" of fun, that feels good all by itself. It feels good when you get thanked. It feels better when no one even knows you're the one that gave them that gift of health or sustenance or promise.
For the fund raiser, each of these sites represents an approach that honors the fun of giving. Each seems like fun, looks like fun, feels like fun, and yet each is clearly about charitable acts. They're not about dinners or auctions or raffle tickets. They're about the joy that comes with giving joy.
Now that times are hard, now that giving is even more desparately needed, it's these invitations to fun, these initiatives that are sensitive to what makes giving so much fun, from which we all have the most to learn, the most to gain.
This is not an easy place for me to be, not an easy time. In Jerusalem, at a time of war. Where people like the very people I love, like my very own family, are just as convinced as they are of God, that this war is necessary, justified, just.
Just like in Gaza. Just like in America.
It is an especially hard time and place for me to be talking to people, even the people who love me, who are blood-deep connected to me, about fun. Such a weak, silly thing to believe in, to teach about, compared to the dead seriousness of things like war. Bill Moyers has a very clear and moving essay about all this, about being here, Arab, American, Israeli, Iraqi, so very far beyond fun.
Yet, I'm finding people here who want to know about making things fun again, some of them, even desperately. I'll be meeting with the one of the principals of one of the schools called "Hand in Hand," where Arab parents and Israeli parents, together with Arab teachers and Israeli teachers are not letting the fun stop. I've had meetings with visionaries and entrepreneurs at PresenTense, with business leaders and soon with fund raisers and laughter therapists - Israelis, all of whom somehow believe that it can be, has to be, more fun than this.
It's funny, in a way. Here, at the borders of sanity, just where the fun stops, it leaks through. Here, hidden from the press of fear, from the din and clamor of hate, just like life does from death, the fun also rises.
Charlie Kalech arranged for me to meet with some of his clients and colleagues today to conduct a short symposium on The Fun of Work. Needless to say, a fun and deep dialogue ensued.
The highlight, naturally, was when we played a game. The game: Tabletop Biathlon, of course. (What you might call "Tabletop Olympics" when played with two teams. I've come to regard this game as one of my personal best. Every time I play it, I learn something else about fun and work and people and life and stuff.)
Pictured here is Charlie, sitting next to a waste basket, holding a paper airplane and a paper ball - the key elements of one of the two sports developed for the Tabletop Biathlon. Both events (the other, business card bowling) were exactly what I had hoped they would be - innovative, a bit silly, and most definitely fun. The paper airplane game involved trying to throw a paper airplane into the basket, whilst opposing athletes tried to knock it away with paper balls. It is today's featured game because it was developed in Israel. The connections to current Israeli events are too obvious to point out. And the subsequent laughter too profound to convey.
I was in Chicago O'Hare, waiting for a plane. We wanted desperately to call our daughter and couldn't find a pay phone that worked. Can you imagine. So we asked an iPhone-possessing young man if he could let us use his i- for a quick call. He obliged, and after we had finally contacted our daughter, we introduced ourselves.
Jon Lind, it turned out, is involved with a company called Defeats the Car, which, it turns further out, is a Dutch bicycle company named De Fietsfabriek, which kinda sounds like Defeats something. He just happened to have on his iPhone some rather delightful photos of their rather delightful creations. I was more than rather delighted by this bike, in particular. Jon writes: "The headlights...are battery powered LED lights. We went away from using the generator lights as they typically require more maintenance than we want our customers to have to deal with plus they create drag that can slow you down. Our customers are typically young families who want to have an alternative to driving their kids around town for local trips. Their reasons for desiring such a bicycle may come from concerns for the environment, saving on gasoline or avoiding the stresses of driving everywhere and having fun. We also have a large base of customers who get one of our city commuter models and they again have similar motives for getting things done without the dependence on automobile transportation. In addition to the practical purposes for purchasing one of our bicycles many people love the unique designs and styles plus the opportunity to personalize with either their names in the frame...or the sides of the cargo boxes can be used as blank canvasses with limitless opportunities for artistic expression."
Amazing what a chance meeting and a little kindness can lead one to.
As I was walking down the streets of Jerusalem, I was delighted to be reminded of my veritable path. For suddenly, appearing as if by divine intervention, I saw the word "Fun."
It was where the word appeared that struck me the deepest. Because it reminded me of the existence of the kinds of fun, especially the commercialized kinds, that have only a remote connection to the kind of fun that has occupied my life for the last 40+ years.
They might be able to take you there or bring you away from where the fun isn't, but they themselves are not what I'm talking about when I say fun, even though they may be advertised as such.