Solitaire, computers and motorcycles

The other day I was sitting at the dinner table with a deck of cards. Not sure what led up to this. I had a long solitaire-playing period many years ago when I lived at the farm, playing solitaire for at least an hour a night, just sitting, drinking tea, shuffling, laying the foundation, dealing cards three at a time - you know, solitaire.

Not that I had given up the game. I'd played it a lot since the farm. But not with cards.

Playing solitaire on the computer has a lot going for it. It's the most popular of all computer games. It's so wonderfully orderly - the cards always so well-stacked, the piles so even, the dealing so automated. There are hundreds of variations, each so easy to learn. There are pleasing sound effects, sometimes spectacular "reward displays" when you win a game. There are games that come with in-depth statistics, tracking how many times you've played what, and how often you've won.

But playing with an actual deck of cards, the wonderful sound and feel of shuffling, the ritual of laying the cards out to start the game, and, for me, above all, the opportunity to cheat, in so many instructively soul-searching ways. Aside from the sensory engagement, there's a freedom you get when you're playing with real cards that is completely unlike the experience of playing on the computer.

Playing solitaire on a computer is like driving a car on a freeway. You get your speed, ease, comfort, predictability. Playing with real cards, however, is like driving a motorcycle on a back road. You get your freedom.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Q-tip wars

You need: duct tape, sunglasses, straws, Q-tips, and two different-color markers.

One kid is 'IT' wrap them in duct tape, sticky side out. From shoulders to knees. (Give 'IT' sunglasses for protection.)

Two teams stand about 5 paces from 'IT.'

Each team is given straws with color coded Q-tips (red and blue?) (If you color them in the package with a marker you can get all the tips at once.)

You blow the whistle (or clap your hands or scream or something) and everyone starts shooting their Q-tips through their Q-tip-straw blowguns at 'IT,' the target.

When they are finished...count how many of each team stuck to the target.

(To add difficulty...'IT' can move and wiggle)

(It is a huge waste of Q-tips, but a great amount of fun.)

contributed by Sally Franz

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Will Scrabble be more fun in England now that proper nouns are allowed?

This just in: Mattel of the Isles (British, that is) endorses the legality of proper nouns of the generally capitalized kind. Ultimately, it is believed, that UK Scrabble players will find that words spelled backwards (e.g. sdrawkcab) will soon be acceptable. And, if you can imagine this, bachelor words, completely unconnected to anything else already on the board, will some day find their home in England's parlors.

Of course, that's Mattel's doing. And Mattel only owns the rights to Scrabble in England. Here in the States, it is sold by Hasbro, who, it is believed, will never endorse such basic violations of the essential game.

It's almost 15 years since I worked at Mattel. During much of my tenure I advocated, nay, begged Mattel to consider such bizarre reframings of the Scrabble rules. They resisted me. I resisted them. And then I quit.

I am feeling belatedly justified. Perhaps, in their newly acquired wisdom, Mattel will go so far as to endorse variants of the wackier kind - such as these - varying further the very reasons for playing Scrabble.

Let us play.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Estray Bonajour is Escravos de Jo

This just in:

Estray Bonajour:

Is actually

Escravos de Jó"

See this for the full story.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Some children's games from China

Our new collection of some children's games from China.

One of my favorites:

Nestle a Person

Players are divided into groups of two, which are scattered on the playground. Make sure there is a distance between the groups. Players in each group stand in a line. One group volunteers to be the runner and the chaser. The game begins with the chaser trying to catch the runner. Both the runner and the chaser must run along outside of the play groups. The runner can join one of the groups at any time, either in the front or at the back. Once the runner has joined one of the groups, the person at the other end of the group must start to run as the new runner, and the chaser continues to try to catch the runner. Once the runner is caught before joining one of the groups, the runner and the chaser switch roles.

Courtesy of Dr. Tong Liu , PhD, Professor of Early Childhood Education, Hebei University, China; Post doctoral fellow of Yale Child Study Center, U.S.A

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Spoofing - a game of lots, military style

Spoofing, according to Robert L. Vaessen, is a military version of the game of Lots. I quote, at length:
Each participant begins with three coins. The coins are held behind the participants back. The participant selects 0 - 3 coins and places them in their game hand. That hand is closed into a tight fist (to prevent contestant peeking and coin rattling). The remaining coins are held in the off hand.

The game hand is then thrust forward in front of the participant. The off hand remains behind the back with the unused coins (if any). After each participant has selected a number of coins, and everyone has their game hand out front, the guessing commences.

Each participant in turn guesses the total number of coins contained in the game hands. The first person to go/guess is usually chosen by rank. RHIP - Rank Has It's Priveleges. The highest ranking person (or eldest if ranks are equal) goes first. After the first round, the person who guessed last in the previous round goes first.

No one may reuse a number. If one person selects '7' as the total, no one else may select '7' for that round. After everyone has guessed a number between zero and the max possible, the coins are revealed.

Everyone opens their game hand, and the coins are totaled. If someone guessed the correct number of coins, that person is out of the game. They now wait until, through process of elimination, one person remains. Snide side-line comments are usually proffered at this point.

The process is repeated, until there is one person left. This may take a while. Given some skill, deception, and a good poker face, the participants may continue 'spoofing' for some time. The last person standing is the 'stuckee'; the person who must go on the soda run (sometimes the loser might have to pay for the drinks as well), mop the floor, perform some errand or undesirable chore.

While the game is typically played to an undesirable end, I have seen it used to determine who gets to leave early, or determine the particpant for some other desirable task. In this version, the last person standing is eliminated completely, and a new round is begun with those who 'spoofed' out. In this case the game continues until there are two contestants. The last person to 'spoof out' is the winner. The last person standing is just another loser.
Rob continues to explain how much a part of his military experience the game became, and how he never found it played in any other circles. He concludes thus:
Spoofing became something of a competition sport at one of my assignments. We kept records of who won how many games. There was even a 'Spoof King' crown. The person with the worst record was humiliated by having to wear the crown while 'spoofing'
Interesting to contemplate the military influences that have molded this game. How it accommodates distinctions of rank, how the winner gets to leave the game and heckle the other players while the losers have to keep playing. I'm quite certain there are more, shall we say, "civilian" ways to play the game. But it's nonetheless instructive to note how games tend to mirror the culture in which they are played.

description of Spoofing is copywritten by Robert L. Vaessen

via Rob's World

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Laughter Games Workshop - Israel, cont'd

Last year in Israel, I had several opportunities to experience the energy and enthusiasm of Israeli "laughter leaders." It was a very powerful experience for all of us, laughter being so much needed in this country. (For more about what I learned and taught last year, see this.)

This year, in a session organized by Yehudit Kotler and Bat-Shachar Weinfeld, I led two more sessions for laughter leaders form all over Israel. It seemed even more successful this time, as I was more aware of what kinds of games they were looking for. (Here's the complete list of the games I had prepared - we managed to play about 20% of them.) This time, part of both sessions was captured on tape by Gidon Sheran (discs showing highlights of both sessions are available for $10 each).

The first of the three games he captured was A What. Playing it in Hebrew, the word for "what" is "mah" and the word for "who" is "me", providing more than ample cause for much bilingual chaos. And then, when we added the next object, for some reason it became "moo," which, though completely nonsensical, added just enough to the linguistic confusion to tip us over into sheer hilarity.

When we tried to play the next game, Estray Bonajour, since this was largely a Hebrew-speaking group, and a very silly one, instead of trying to sing what I was singing (an almost impossible task, since I was singing nonsense words), they all decided to create their own gibberish. The game turned out to be very similar to a game they already knew, which we played immediately after. This was a wonderful moment for all of us, as is any opportunity that comes along when the students can teach the teacher. (We made the balls out of plastic grocery bags - a ubiquitous resource in Israel - following the traditional bag ball construction method.)

The third came shortly after we had all learned how to do the Frog of Enlightenupment and decided to try playing the theater game Three-Headed Oracle. In case you don't know Hebrew, when the three wise frogs answered the questions, the first said "I", the second "think" and the third had to decide how to actually answer the question.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Junkyard Games

It pleases me significantly to announce, proclaim, and otherwise acknowledge the availability of Junkyard Games, an "innovation simulation" based on my variously named Found Object Tabletop Olympiad, a.k.a. The Junkyard Sports Tabletop Olympiad, et. al.

Many are the insights one could draw from a comparison of the game, and the simulation based on it. You might, for example, have already noted how the "Found Object" component inherent to the concept of Found Object Tabletop Olympiad has been replaced by a cunning collection of pre-found objects. Interesting. By including three identically cunning collections of intriguing objects, the Junkyard Games simulation controls for chance - what each team accomplishes has nothing to do with the objects it has in its collection, and everything to do with the collective creativity of its members.

The instructions in the simulation (developed by Ron Roberts) differ widely from those of the Found Object Olympiad. Again, they help the experience be much more carefully focused on the performance of the teams. Observers record all the ideas that are generated during the brainstorming sessions, and later all the redesigns that are inspired by the first run-through of each of the games. These observations prove instrumental in helping participants focus on the process of innovation (while the Found Object Olympiad game is focused pretty much on whatever strikes participants as being the most relevant to their particular interests. The detailed instructions for processing the experience that are part of the instructions in Junkyard Games further aid in focusing the experience towards the social dynamics and processes that accompany collaboration and effective innovation.

So what you have in Tabletop Olympiad is an open-ended game that is as funny as it is collaborative, that encourages creativity and playfulness, and creates an experience that can be applied to an understanding of many different social processes. And what you have in Junkyard Games is a subset - a focused, carefully managed experience designed to shed light on the unique dynamics of innovative teams. Each is instructive and fun. Each is a valuable, teambuilding experience. Each makes people laugh. Each is something in which I am proud to have had a part.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Games for "Laughter Leaders"

Last year I had a wonderful time teaching games to Laughter Leaders in Israel. Laughter Leaders are generally practitioners of a discipline/practice called Laughter Yoga that "combines Unconditional Laughter with Yogic Breathing (Pranayama). Anyone can Laugh for No Reason, without relying on humor, jokes or comedy. Laughter is simulated as a body exercise in a group; with eye contact and childlike playfulness, it soon turns into real and contagious laughter. The concept of Laughter Yoga is based on a scientific fact that the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter. One gets the same physiological and psychological benefits."

I was invited to a Laughter Yoga session by a very laughing lady named Bat-Shachar and was delighted and enlightened. The "fake laughter" really works, especially when it's as infectious as Bat-Shachar's. She did play a lot of games - a lot. In keeping with the nature of yoga teachers, games are very leader-centric. The goal is to help people laugh, by any means possible. So a game really comes down to a series of instructions - do this funny thing, laugh, now do that. This allowed me to understand yet another assumption that guides my work, an assumption that isn't as common to game leaders as I had thought.

For me, the goal is to use as few instructions as possible, and to transfer the leadership to the players, also as fast as possible. I consider a game successful when I can walk away for a few minutes, come back, and discover that people are still playing it. Better still, when it turns out that they've changed the game somehow, somehow really made the game theirs. Given how intense Bat-Shachar's workshop was, and how actively engaged she was, I'm hoping she and her cronies discover the usefulness, and perhaps even the value of my approach to games - before they burn out entirely.

Today, I'll be teaching a selection of pointless games (and their significance) to a group of about 35 Laughter Leaders. I hope I'll be able to make my approach, as well as my games, somewhat more useful to them. If you're interested, you can find the list of games I'll be teaching here.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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An ecology of play

I was reading a publication of the Association for the Study of Play called Transactions at Play and thumbed my way to an article by Avigail Morris on the game of "Nine a Side Basketball" as played in the Kingdom of Tonga. The focus was on "a case study in negotiating gender roles." It was about how the women of Tonga - who spend most of their lives engaged in very genteel, feminine activities - adapted a game of competitive basketball to reflect their own values.

Aside from all the keen insights of the paper, and the fascinating study of how culture is reflected in sport, there was one of the things she said (Vol. 9, p. 25), almost in passing, that struck me as particularly poignant. "As in many other Pacific Islands," she writes, "international sport has replaced many of the traditional games played only a few generations ago."

Games disappear. One of my favorite sites, Street Play, has been devoted, for many years now, to saving at least the memory of stick ball, box ball, stoop ball - all those games that captured a whole culture of inner city life in the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. Then there are the children's games I described in my article Near Myths, where I first publicly began to explore the idea that games are a form of literature, as profound as a theater piece, as culturally and psychologically relevant as a Shakespeare. Any of these games, as they disappear from the collective memory, become lost to us, and we become a little more lost without them.

I don't mean to appear recidivist. I welcome new games in any form - especially those that give us new opportunities to play. But until I encountered that observation about the passing away of traditional games, I don't think I properly mourned that loss. There's an ecology of play, whole species of games that at one time prosper and multiply, and later get displaced by the new. They are living things, cultural treasures that bring life and understanding, and their loss is ours.

We should play them again, some time. The old games. We should give them life again, from time to time. They were fun then, and they are as much fun now. And as relevant. And as deep. We should play them again, before they are gone, and something dies in us, forever.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Democratic Games

I was contacted by Christian Ulrik Andersen (Associate Professor, Ph.D, Chair of DARC DIGITAL AESTHETICS RESEARCH CENTER, Dept. of Information and Media Studies, Aarhus University). He was working on a paper called "Writerly Gaming: Political gaming" and was interested in using a photograph from a New Games event to illustrate his article. He had found the photo on the Deep Fun site on Lee Rush's page devoted to a New Games Album.

He sent me a draft of his article, in which a photo was included, as well as the following quote from one of Stewart Brand's articles in the New Games book:
“You can’t change a game by winning it, losing it or refereeing it or spectating it. You change a game by leaving it, going somewhere else, and starting a new game. If it works, it will in time alter or replace the old game.”
His taking that quote out of the context of the book helped re-frame it for me, allowing me to see more clearly the political relevance of Stewart's vision and of the influences underlying my own play/work. I included here again because I thought it might help you do the same.

Christian's work and play in "democratic games" are most worthy of our collective contemplation. See Planet Pledge Pyramid for a worthy example.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Matress Dominoes

Here's a clip that will make you:
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

via Humor That Works

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Pass the Spoon Game revisited

Overheard on NPR:

The origins of "Pass the Spoon" are unknown to me. I only know that we continue playing it with a strange sense of daring, as if we are going to get caught, or become "the chosen one."

Pass the Spoon is a game played with the all of the Thanksgiving guests right after the gathered group has finished dinner (pre-dessert) and the food remaining on their plates has turned into scattered debris. The person to start the game is also the loser from the previous year. This person is given a fresh serving spoon upon which he places a piece of food from his ravaged plate. The spoon is passed to the person next to him or her and food is placed ever so carefully on the spoon. It continues to get passed in this manner. Food piles up on the spoon, creating a precarious load of disgusting gruel. This is the critical point of the game. Should a piece of food fall off the spoon on your turn, you must consume the remains of the spoon's content to the chanting and clapping of the savages with whom you just ate Thanksgiving dinner.

One eats the heaping mound of once tasty morsels with gagging disgust and wonders why this game exists. It is at that moment we all decide to forgo this tradition … until next Thanksgiving.

From Mary Weberg, Denver
So, I say to myself and yours: Surely we can make this game more fun for more people. Surely we can make a more universally thankworthy Thanksgiving ritual. There has to be a kind of gag that makes everyone laugh, and no one gag.

How about if we played this game with dessert instead? How about if we all had a spoon, and on our plates we each had a different dessert, or, better yet, a different ingredient. You have the pie, I have the cherries, she has the vanilla ice cream. And we all pass our spoons to the next person at the same time, and each person adds their ingredient and passes the spoon to the next, until someone yells "reverse" (or something of that ilk). And then we pass the spoons, trying everso hard to get the spoons back to their original owner without dropping anything. And then we see if we can get further next time. And when we think we absolutely can't go any further at all, we start over in the opposite direction. And then with the wrong hand, maybe. While singing, non-stop, mouths empty and full: "we gather together" or a round of "row, row, row your boat" or "over the river and through the woods" or perhaps engaging in the singing ritual of Estray Bonajour.

I guess it's all about what kind of fun we're trying to have. And whether it can be just as much fun when it's for everyone's profit instead of at someone's expense.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Playing Playfully

I've posted an article that I thought you might enjoy. It begins like this:

Early in my explorations of play, I observed that people have a different way of playing games that they have themselves designed or modified. They would play with the game as much play the game itself. They would play with the game together. As a shared thing, that somehow managed to take precedent over who won or who lost, who was the better competitor, who was more or less able.

It was especially evident in games played in informal settings, like backyards, streets, vacant lots (as so beautifully described by Iona and Peter Opie) where the choice of game, and the interpretation of rules, would always be in response to the environment, materials at hand, different skills and changing play preferences of players. Bases would be moved, boundaries redrawn, when things didn’t seem fair, players could rely on the semi-magical power of playground law, shouting out things like “interference”, “time out,”, “no cutting,” “do over” or “no takebacks.” Here, in the States, this kind of game became known as Street Games. Played during the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s, in streets and vacant lots, informally, with sticks and aluminum-foil balls, these games created and nurtured the urban community.

Much later on, I came to characterize this kind of game play as “playful.”

The rest of this article can be found here.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Finger Jousting Illustrated

Apparently, one of Montague Blister's favorite games is Finger Jousting. In a recent post, he shares, with well-deserved pride, an exemplary moment of the aforementioned.

See this for further explication.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Parlour Games for Modern Families - a guide to shared hilarity

Every new book of parlor games is a cause for celebration. If it's clearly written, well organized, and has, among its collection of time-tested invitations to silliness, a few brave new games, yet even more celebration is called for. The publication of Parlour Games for Modern Families is something for your whole family, and everyone your family knows, to party about. Seriously. Well, not too seriously.

Before I continue, I must admit that I am personally implicated in this book. Somewhere in the book (page 7), there's a quote from me. Somewhere else (page 91), there's a whole interview with me. Which, from my perspective, makes the book that much more celebration-worthy. However, don't let me bias you. With surprising objectivity, I can tell you that this book is something you will treasure - a resource that will lead you and everyone you know to whole-hearted, side-splitting family and community fun.

Written by Myfanwy Jones and Spiri Tsintziras, Parlour Games for Modern Families includes a wide enough range and variety of games to bring everyone you know into play, many times over. There are paper-and-pencil games, dramatic games, card games, active games, word games, story games, dice games, marble games, and on, and also on. Since it is most likely that the person who reads the book will be the same one who will be organizing the play party, every game includes an overview detailing the appropriate ages, the recommended number of players, anything you will need to play the game, and about how long the game will take to play. Most of the games include variations and ways to adapt the game to younger and older audiences.

Written and published in Oztralia, the book talks lovingly and playfully to anyone who can read English and understands the value of sharing silly times. Just like you.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Clabbers, Dense Escalating Clabbers and Volost

Surfing my way, somehow, to a collection of Scrabble Variants, I learned about Clabbers which is a game of Scrabble, all right, but the letters can be in any order you want, as long as they are an anagram of a Scrabble-acceptable word. The author notes that "the board usually ends up tightly packed in places, and necessarily quite empty in others. Game scores will often be much higher than in standard Scrabble, due to the relative ease of making high-scoring overlap plays and easier access to premium squares."

That's all I needed to know: higher game scores, each word a puzzle in its own right. My kind of Scrabble.

Then there's, of course, Dense Escalating Clabbers for the serious Clabbers-player. The Wikkipedist explains: "Dense Escalating Clabbers add 1/3 more tiles. In addition, every bingo increases a player's rack size by one, and the play times are increased from 25 minutes to 33 minutes 33 seconds. There is also a 100 point bonus for playing a fifteen letter word. These modifications also make the game more challenging and interesting, and also increase the likelihood of triple-triple plays." "Bingo" I deduce, having something to do with using all one's tiles.

Then, apparently, there's Volost. A "surreal game" says the Wikipedist, "where the only acceptable words are VOLOST and VOLOSTS." I wasn't really clear about what makes this variation worthy of our collective consideration until I read the last sentence in the article. "It is typically played late at night, and alcohol is usually involved."

Ah. Alcohol. I should've known.

See also this great collection of potential Scrabble variants on Half-Baked.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Deep Rope

 There was a minute or two in that increasingly amazing movie Mystic Ball (increasingly amazing just in the memory of what you've witnessed: the love, the play, the skill), when you get a glimpse of a few girls playing rope. Take a look. Click on the image if you want to see it bigger.

Looks like they're playing Double Dutch. Except the girl in the middle's balancing a ball on one foot. Balancing a ball one one foot and jumping two ropes at the same time!  OK. Now look at this picture. Also from the same movie. Also the same kids. Only they're all balancing a ball on one foot!

This is the kind of stuff that gives me chills, that makes me just about want to pray to the spirit of play, if you know what I mean, if there is such a thing. Double Dutch, from 4 corners, while balancing a ball on one foot. And, o, wait. Isn't the girl in the middle also jumping her own rope while she's jumping the two crossed ropes while keeping a ball balanced on her foot? How utterly accomplished is that? How fun, how lovely, how spiritual, how miraculous how the spirit of play has moved these girls to such profound and practiced depth!

Play. Do not doubt its powers. Even when no one wins, everyone wins.

from Junkyard Sports

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Jesse Schell, conceptual optician

Dear Jesse Schell,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hard Fun

Today's "quote of the day" comes from Seymour Papert in his essay "Does Easy Do It? Children, Games, and Learning"

"...lessons I have learned from computer games...The 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."

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Denmark, day one

The day after I arrived in Billund, Denmark, for some workshops and consulting with Lego, I was greeted by my friend and Chief Happiness Officer, Alexander Kjerulf, and a few of his many associates (from left to right: Mareike Bulow, Roosevelt Finlayson, your local funsmith, our Lego associate, Alexander, Michael Bech Bendix, and Bjarne Tveskov).

So we introduced each other to ourselves, and we shmoozed fascinatingly, and then, right in the middle of the Hotel Legoland lounge, we got up and played actual games.

Mr. Finlayson, it so happens, is from the Bahams, where he conducts programs he calls "Festival in the Workplace." His theory is that there is much for businesses to learn about the nature of work, just by recognizing the amazing amount of dedication and devotion that goes in to producing a Carnivale, all without salary or job title, all for fun. So, after we played my current most favorite of pointless games, Sound and Fury, he taught us one of his - a children's circle dance called Brown Girl.

And then we sat down, exhausted in glee, feeling as if we had known each other at least half a lifetime, and shmoozed some more,, until someone noticed that I was fighting myself to stay awake, and we hugged, and we took this picture, and we left each other amidst echoes of probably unforgettable delight.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Putting the Play back in Playgrounds

Rocky (my best friend and wife, too) heard this on NPR today - a story titled: "Oakland Group Seeks More Play In School Day." It's about a school program taught by a group called Sports4Kids. They explain:
"Since 1996, Sports4Kids has been transforming chaotic playgrounds riddled with fights and inactivity into structured, healthy environments for play. This workshop is designed to provide adults within school communities the tools and strategies to help them create healthy and playful experiences for all students on their playground."
So, OK, it's still adults teaching kids the games that kids should be teaching adults how to play. But its very newsworthiness demonstrates how such a simple idea can speak to such a profound need. May they succeed beyond their wildest.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Big, Big Cookie Jar?

There's, of course, Who Stole the Cookie from the Cookie Jar. But did you know that there's a version of it that you can play with maybe 150 people?

It's called The Priest of the Parish. It's played with teams. My favorite part of the game description is this: "The end of the game is when the Gossiper (the game leader) can't be bothered continuing any further."

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Pooh Sticks and other Fictional Games

The World Pooh Sticks Competition, in case you wondered, is only a few weeks away - March 29 is the day.

According to Wikipedia, Pooh Sticks is "A game for two players or more, in the traditional version of poohsticks the participants must drop a stick simultaneously on the upstream side of a bridge and run to the other side. The winner is the player whose stick first appears on the other side of the bridge."

The game of Pooh Sticks is one of an apparently significant plenitude of Fictional Games, included amongst which can be found Calvin Ball, Brockian Ultra-Cricket and, of couse, Quantum Soccer.

All of which is to say that if you want to create a new game, inspiration awaits.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Computer-assisted fair play?

Kevan Davis writes:

"Thought this might interest you, anyway, if you haven't encountered it before - it's a ball-catch game with RFID chips. The idea of a computer keeping score and keeping track of what is and isn't 'fair' seems like something that fits well with your 'well-played game' stuff."

And sends me to a post by Russel Davies who, writing about a toy called "Cosmic Catch," says:
"But where this thing really scored is in an element I've not noticed in a lot of the talk about play - fairness. And kids are utterly, utterly obsessed with fairness. It's the most important element in any game. And human rule-enforcement is automatically deemed unfair. There is no referee, umpire or god-like grandparent that can escape being seen as unfair at some point, for some decision. But the commanding voice of Cosmic Catch escapes all that. The relentless, ineluctable judgement of the RFID machine brooks no argument, is prey to no human frailties and biases and is immediately seen as fair."
And I, in turn, thought it might interest you.

My first, pre-actual-playing-with-the-thing impression is that, fairness-wise, if kids want to cheat, they'll find someway around it. And second, if kids have trouble with the idea of "fairness," this probably won't help them understand or integrate what they need to learn. On the other hand, it's something to think about, in deed it is.

Expect a more detailed report once we get our hands on one of these, Cosmically-Catchingly speaking, fairness-wise.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The "Nobody's Piece" Variation

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.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Sound and the Fury, cont'd

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.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Lego, Games, and me, too

I've been wanting to tell you about this project ever since I became involved with it, more than a year ago. As you can see from this article, it's finally been made public enough for me to write about.

I've only had a small role, actually, as an outside consultant. I got to help them create a format for their rules - one that would be clear enough, well-enough illustrated, as Lego-like as we could make it. I also got to help them think about the entire concept: the educational and social implications, the game system, online and off.

A hint - take a look at the image of the die. It's a Lego die. Note the different faces. Contemplate what it would be like if you could change the faces, like you can change anything Lego - build and rebuild them, even, perhaps, while you're playing a game with them. Think about the impact that might have on the game.

Another hint - think about playing on a board made of Lego pieces. You could redesign the board, if you wanted, couldn't you. You could move the start and finish, shrink or enlarge the board, add or remove obstacles. In other words, you could have exactly the kind of game I've been teaching about, designing, implementing - exactly the kind of board game, computer game, social game that I've been writing about ever since the Well-Played Game.

Which, by the way, is what led the Lego people to inviting me to this whole project. Because of a book by Salen and Zimmerman called Rules of Play, a book for computer game designers which brings the concept of the Well-Played Game to the design of online, multiplayer, role-playing games, which, further because, the leader of the new Lego initiative was astute enough to read.

What this particular Lego genius and profoundly insightful person had to show me was a group of board games, made out of Lego pieces. The real genius was not in his discovery that you could in fact make new and viable board games using Legos, but that you could make board games that could be changed, boards that could be redesigned, that you could let kids design their own variations, that you could make it possible for kids to learn how to design games that would be even more inclusive, and always "new," just as we did more than 30 years ago with the games we taught and created for the New Games Foundation. Only even more flexible, more responsive to the player/designers, and with board games.

I can't really tell you much more about this project or my future role in it, because it is still in the future. But I can, at last, share something promising with you, something positive, something new, something I am proud to have had even a small part in bringing to you, something empowering, something fun.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Play and Game Communities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Street games everywhere

Street Games are informal sports, adapted to environment, the materials, and the spirit of the people playing. They are played without adult supervision, without official people or equipment. They are games that you can take very seriously, sports with loose enough rules so that you can play with just about anything, anywhere, with just about anybody you want to play with.

Playing in the street is probably as old as streets themselves. Streets are a natural playspace, depending on the traffic. Just take a look at Breughel's painting of maybe 200 middle-age children (though they may look middle-age, they are in fact children at play in the middle ages) playing more than 80 different children’s games.

In the late 19th century, most of the games Street Games Culin reported on were played on streets that led into vacant lots or were surrounded by fields or crossed rivers and train tracks. By the middle of the 20th century, streets were bounded by houses and each other. Around this very time, most of the games that were still being played in the streets – especially in the streets of big cities like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and London - became the very games most commonly cited as “authentic” Street Games: Wall Ball, Stick Ball, Box Ball, Hand Ball, Stoop Ball, Skully. Jacks, Marbles, hopscotch, and Double Dutch, too.

For the World War generations, Stick ball and Skully would be grow to be considered the archetypal Street Games. Stick ball would become an official sport, as much like baseball as possible, originally played with a stick for a bat, an old tennis ball for a baseball, a sewer lid for home plate, a car and a sign post for first and third. And frequently no second base at all. And now played on Stick Ball Fields with official Stick Ball Sticks and even Stick Ball Balls.

Skully is like marbles, only instead of marbles it’s played with bottle caps filled with candle wax, and instead rolling, you slide the caps, like little shuffleboad pucks, and instead of playing in a circle, you play on a big rectangular, chalk-drawn field of lines and boxes.

Skully and Stick Ball, like all Street Games, originated as informal sports, adapted to environment, the materials, and the spirit of the people playing. (There are games you can play with half a ball, for example, with just three people, if you have to.) They are played without adult supervision, without officials. They are games that you can take very seriously, just like real sports but their rules are just loose enough to let you can play with just about anybody you want to play with. Street Games can, and have, become formalized, and commercialized. You can buy official sticks for Stick Ball. Official Spaldeens and Half Balls, too.

Street Games are continuously changing and adapting to their environment, to the players and the evolving technologies of play. There are still kids who are playing in the Street Games spirit, but the streets they play in, and what they play, and whom they play with, are, for the most part, a far cry from the way we played Stick Ball. They still play their own Street Game versions of baseball and football, soccer and hockey, but they play for the most part in their private yards or on the sidewalk, and they have nerf balls and whistling nerf footballs and portable street soccer goals and hockey pucks that hover. And yet, as far as everyone’s concerned, they’re playing something very much like what we called Street Games. They are playing in a way so that everyone can play. They are all players. They are all officials.

Though played on Razors and skateboards and BMX bikes, modern Street Games, like all Street Games, are replete with intricate tests of agility, opportunities for invention, and performances of death-defying originality. Each, like the classic Street Game, remains somehow informal, adapted to the environment, materials, and spirit of the people playing.

Street Games have their virtual equivalents in video games, especially in games that involve physical movement, like the Wii, or, slightly earlier, Dance Dance Revolution, each with its many different game playing modes, where players get to choose to cooperate and compete, follow and lead.

In every expression, it’s the dynamics of Street Games – how they are organized and maintained, how they are supported by their community, how they engage players in learning, teaching, designing, and leading open-ended play contracts, where you can change the rules, where winning isn't the point, really, where it's all about getting to play - that are most instructive.

When you begin to explore how a Street Game is governed, how it empowers its players, and becomes redefined by the way they want to play together – you discover an almost perfect reflection of the social architecture of successful communities – neighborhood and national, physical and virtual.

Street Games are remarkably easy to overlook. Many parents who moan over their children's inability to play manage to ignore the Street Games being played all around them.

Part of the reason that parents overlook the Street Games they’re own kids are playing is that they can’t see them. That’s because Street Games are being played on a very different kind of street from those of their parents. Street Games take place everywhere, but most often in spaces noted anthropologist Victor Turner called these spaces "liminal" - spaces that comprise an unofficial, temporary, anybodyland; spaces that exist between buildings and sidewalks, steps and parking lots, between front yards, across fences, behind the library and garage. “In between” spaces. Like the Internet.

Street Games are governed, officiated over by the people who play them. Just like the, oddly enough, Internet.

And, like the Street Games of the past, Street Games of today are played mostly by children in their liminal years – not-yet-adults, too old to be seen as kids – and are played everywhere.

Even on the railing of the library steps. Even on the cell phone and in chat rooms. Even on the Internet.

See also:

Iona and Peter Opie's Children's Games in Street and Playground, Norman Douglas' London Street Games , and especially the Streetplay website.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Dreidel Games

And a holy hello from Jerusalem. Which happens to be where I am. Where the fact that it's almost Chanuka takes on significant significance. Which makes me think of Dreidels. Which are a form of Teetotum. Or perhaps Teetota.

I'm ever so sure there's an historico-cultural connection between Chanuka and gambling. And if there isn't, it'd be fun to invent one. But I never liked gambling. Especially with kids. Because it's hard enough for them to deal with winning and losing, even without financial consequences, even when they're playing for pennies. Or latkes, even. (see also "The Great Latke-Hamentash Debate")

So I've been thinking that maybe there should be other games to play with Dreidels. For example, maybe a Dreidel version of Yahtzee (we could call it "Yachtzee"), with, say, 4 Dreidels. It could be maybe a cooperative game - see how many different combinations you can make before you get a duplicate.

And how about new kinds of Dreidels - like this lovely, impressive, and interestingly fragile glass Dreidel, or maybe even a junkyard Dreidel made of bottle caps!

Who knows what good a few new Dreidels and a few newer Dreidel games could create for Dreidel-players everywhere, for the children of Dreidel-players, for the very future of Dreidel-playing? Who actually knows?

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


The Eight Funnest Games for 2008

Eight games, representing a broad spectrum of commercially-available, party-like playfulness, have been selected for your holiday delights.

Check them out here.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith



Home made checkersTake a closer look at this checker set. Nothing but a random collection of bottle tops and a piece of cardboard. And yet, it's checkers, and it's most clearly as playworthy as a checker set should be.

This is the lesson that AfriGadget teaches us, post after post after post: that we can make do. We can make do beautifully.Even without the newest and jiggiest. We can make do. Especially when we have to. Which, given the current state of the world, is something we should strongly consider making part of the basic curriculum, if you know what I mean. Courses in ingenuity and junkwork.

Founded by Erik Hersman, AfriGadget is edited by a team of African bloggers, and was recently selected by Time Magazine as one of the 50 Best Websites of 2008. You'll want to know more about Erik. Here's a recent interview.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Hopscotch 2.0

I found this hopscotch court outside my very own house. It was drawn by 9-year-old girl named Erica, our neighbors' kids' cousin (artist's name and relationship included to establish proper "provenance").

According to my unfounded deductions, it began life as what one might consider to be a regulation hopscotch court. For some reason, Erica decided not to stop when she reached 10. So she continued. By the time she reached 12, she decided that the next square should not be a number, but rather an L, as in "Left foot."

She goes on, the next square being also an L (requiring a hop), the next an R, then another L, then two more hopworthy Rs, followed by two Ls, an R, and then a "clap" square. (A clap square! O, the intimations of hopscotchly variations yet unexplored!) Followed by more Rs and Ls, and so on, into illegibility.

My point: Contrary to popular opinion, kids are not only still playing games like hopscotch, they are still inventing it.

For more detailed hopscotch contemplation study, view the image in its full, hi-res glories.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Another Deep Fun

One of these days, the bridge will be even wider - the one connecting this Deep Fun website to a book of games published by the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations - a book called Deep Fun.

In the mean time, what we have is a generous collection of games, many of which echo the spirit and purpose of this website, its articles, and its collections of Pointless Games. Generous, because there are 31 pages of games - each of which is written from the perspective of a youth leader devoted to developing community and social skills. Generous also because the entire booklet is available online, for free, in HTML as well as PDF formats.

Even before you look at all the wonderful games, take the time to read the first chapter - The Five Steps of Community Building. My favorite part, the last two points in very final section on "Accessibilities and Comfort Levels." I quote:

3. It is always ok to pass: Make it clear that any participant can pass at any time during the activities. If you are doing an intense activity, also make sure that chaplains or someone else is available to help someone process the experience.

4. Modify! Modify! Modify!: If someone cannot take part for whatever reason ask them how the activity might be modified so that they could take part.
Amen. Amen.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Johnson & Cluff Kids Playing

For many of us, the best thing about watching the clip of Johnson & Cluff Kids Playing is knowing that we are nowhere near the mayhem. The next best thing is trying to figure out what exactly they are playing. And shortly thereafter, the realization that these kids aren't hurting each other.

Despite the differences in ages and bodies and understandings of the game, these kids are in fact playing very well together, brilliantly, one might say, especially if one turns down the sound. In further fact they are playing together. Not only together, one might note, but intimately together.

Which, for some of us, is a very useful reminder, once again, that kids, given the chance, can and often will play together, safely, creatively, lovingly.

And at the same time, a kind of commentary about how adults, given similar opportunities, don't.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Pointless Games - a Knol

Bernie started a Knol.

How did Bernie start a Knol?

Bernie started a Knol like this, like this.

It's about a genre of games that people tend to overlook, and yet may in fact hold a key to our very survival.

I call these games "pointless," as exemplified by, for example, by a game called variously "Bernie Played a Game, Bernie Found Nirvana, and Johnny Went to Sleep."

Consider yourself personally invited, exhorted, cajoled even. Read the Knol. Add to it. Comment on it. Become part of it. this.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Horny Toad Invent-a-Sport Contest

A Handheld Skating and Snowboarding Sail, for example, would most definitely exemplify the kinds of new invented sports for which the Horny Toad Invent-a-Sport Contest was conceived.

The site features an inspirational collection of games to get you started. You'll probably notice that almost all of the images are of adults engaged in deep explorations of wackiness. See, for example, Crazy Croquet with its cinder block wickets, Richieball (see the official Richieball site for the full rules,) and the highly evolved, Box Ball-like game of Smack Ball.

The contest has already begun. The entry deadline is August 10.

The world is waiting for you.

via Hugh McNally (ex genius)

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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One of the best collections of theater games online, now available for download

Yes, punkin, you can in fact download the entire Improv Encyclopedia, in full, graphic, PDF format, or in PDA-appropriate, just-the-text straightforwardness.

For anyone who works with groups - teachers, recreation specialists, therapists, team managers, business facilitators - this is a what you will soon find to be an invaluable resource. Take a look at a sample game, like this one about translating gibberish (a game concept I recently added to Junkyard Olympics). Contemplate how useful this game can become in how many situations, note how clearly written, how intelligently cross-categorized. And it's only one of hundreds, and its free.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Lost Sport

By deep study of the Codex of the Lost Ring, we hope to gather insight into the mystery and vasty significance of the The Lost Sport of Olympia. We seek further guidance from Ariadne, who says of herself: "I woke up in a Labyrinth of Feb. 12. They call me Ariadne." Ariadne, should you consult the Wikipedia deeply enough, also refers to: "Ariadne's thread, named for the legend of Ariadne, is the term used to describe the solving of a problem with multiple apparent means of proceeding - such as a physical maze, a logic puzzle, or an ethical dilemma - through an exhaustive application of logic to all available routes." Ah. Ariadne's thread.

The mystery deepens and at the same time widens. What actually is the Lost Sport? Where is Olympia? Who lost it in the first place?

Perhaps we can deepen our understanding by reading an article titled: 'The Lost Ring' ARG players discover 'lost' Canadian sport.

ARG, don't you know, stands for Alternate Reality Game. Ah, so we are not speaking of an actual Lost Sport of Olympia, but something of a fantasy, something perhaps made up?

Perhaps in deed. But, reality-wise, the reality to which the alternate reality is an alternate, what we actually have is a quite fun game, which, as my colleague, covisionary and general friend Celia Pearce is quick to point out, is very much in the spirit of New Games of yore and ours. See, for example, this.

Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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A Million Ways to Play Marbles, at least

A Million Ways to Play Marbles, at least, was originally published in 1978, as an appendix to The Well-Played Game. I wrote it because I've found - in these many years of showing people how important, healing, inspiring fun can be - that it is extremely helpful for people to see games not so much as "things" but much more as "processes."

Generally, we think of a game as having a certain set of rules involving certain objects and aspects of the environment. But, if we take the time to remember, we discover that most games, especially the "good" ones, can be played in many different ways, with many different combinations of things and surroundings and people. Once that is understood, any game can become something that brings people together, regardless of the range of ages and abilities, because there really is no one way to play it, because we can change it in, well, a million different ways.

If you'd rather not read the whole thing, you can listen to me read it here.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Deeply Played Games

My keynote address at the NASAGA conference (2006) was called "Deeply Played Games."

Here's why:
"The games that we play the most deeply, as kids or adults, the games we play hour after hour, day after day, year after year – these are the games that are the 'good' ones, these are the games that affect us most deeply, and in these games we can find the bits of cultural DNA that are most deeply embedded into our collective psyche, so to speak, as it were. In Tag, Hide-and-Seek, Checkers, Football, we develop a common understanding of fairness and cheating, leading and following, winning and losing.

"The good games. The games that get played deeply. The deeply played games.
Playing them over and over, we begin to understand the game itself. Playing on different sides, in different positions, we begin to see the whole of the game, the web of strategy and counterstrategy, of trying to tag someone, of trying not to be tagged, of hiding and seeking.

"Deeply played games are games that we, for a time, can almost give ourselves over to completely, just about abandon ourselves to totally, get very close to divorcing from all other realities, embracing entirely, more or less. And the more we, as they say, “give it our all,” the more fun we seem to have. And the better we become at playing them, at understanding them. The more grace we can bring to them. The more of ourselves."
Should you care to read the entire address, you'll find it here.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Waiting Games

"Boredom," I explain, "is the mother of playfulness. Desperation, the father. This is one truth that you can explore, in depth, while waiting in line with kids. The particular joy of this realization is the attendant discovery that almost anything goes. The longer the wait, the lower the criteria for gamish acceptability. Even games that are just barely games. Even games that you have to make up as you go along.

Here are some of my favorite creative word games, and several games that are less creative, mildly challenging, and comfortingly time-spanning."

These games could save your very sanity.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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New Tic Tac Toe

New Tic Tac Toe was published in 1977, under the auspices of Herb Kohl. It was very exciting to me to be even remotely associated with Herb Kohl, and I was honored in extremis when he asked if I could write something for him that he could publish and distribute through his Center for Open Learning and Teaching. Herb, for gosh-sake Kohl! So honored that I didn't really actually totally mind that someone misspelled my name ("Big K in DeKoven," I told 'em, Big D, small e, Big K, small oven." But did they listen?).

This was in 1977. 31 years ago, comparatively speaking. I only recently found a copy of it in my "trophy file" along with magazines that published articles of mine and newspapers and stuff that I've been keeping for historical reasons beyond my ken. I was about to consign it to eternity (e.g. recycling), when I thought to read it again, and, by golly, I kind of liked it. I think I was almost able to understand what Herb had seen in it and me all those many years ago. So I scanned it and uploaded it.

If you want, you can download a pdf file of the scanned booklet, here

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Knock Down Ginger

Here's a good collection of street games from the UK. There's nothing fancy about the website. The games are submitted by the people who played them.

This is where I found a game called Knock Down Ginger. I personally never thought of it as a game. To me, it much more closely resembles a prank. I quote:
"Knock Down Ginger and it's alternative named variations has been played since there were front doors to play it on. Usually carried out in the hours of darkness, the aim is to ring a doorbell or knock loudly on a door, as though very urgent, and run away as fast as possible.

To make this game even more exciting you can play variations such as after knocking you hide as close to the door as possible, in shrubs or behind a tree, behind the owners gate or just around the corner.

The test comes when you try a second time on the same door, giving the owner a few moments to settle down in front of their TV, the quicker you do this the more exciting it can be."
Variations, yet. Alternate rules, even. As for example, this one, posted by David from Essex: "And the perpetual motion version where you tie two knockers together and knock on the first door, when they close their door the other knocker knocks ad infinitum."

It has all the flow-inducing properties of a good game. For the players, that is. There's a definite sense of challenge/risk. You can apparently make it more or less challenging/risky as you see fit.

This is a good example of a particular flavor of fun that leaves a certain bitter aftertaste - certainly for the victims, but also, despite the hysterical peals of laughter, for the perpetrators as well. Moderately mean fun, perhaps. Slightly irresponsible fun? Lacking-in-compassion fun? Fun that tastes like the joke's-on-somebody-else.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Homo Ludens Ludens - of play and games

Exploring the relationship between play and games: discovering and affirming both the connections and distinctions - turns out to be ever more relevant to our understanding of the future of both play and games. In universities and art studios, in computer laboratories and workshops, investigations of game/play relationship are leading to a profound evolution of both. A goodly number of these leading-edge explorations can be found in the playful works that comprise the current Homo Ludens Ludens collection. See, for example, Stiff People's League, in the illustration accompanying this post.

In an interview with Daphne Dragona, of Homo Ludens Ludens, Ms. Dragona comments:
" reflects more the idea, the notion, the vivid and spontaneous basis for the action as well as its relation to fantasy, whereas games are closed systems and environments governed by rules which demand discipline and a constraint space and time. Play is in a way the presupposition for the games that are its expressions and forms.

"Play as a notion is much more open and therefore it may even embrace elements that come in opposition with a game's structure. For instance play has no death or end; but games do, otherwise there s no meaning into it. Or think of cheating. While it can destroy a game by breaking its rules, it is still a part, an act of play. On the same line, while any game forms hierarchies, play creates interrelations between them."

"...We can be playful anytime anyplace, not only through games. Games are basically a construction which is made possible because of this playfulness that already exists in any aspect of life."

People are doing some wonderful things in the name of play and games, art and technology. If you're interested in getting a taste, Homo Ludens Ludens is a virtual banquet.

via We Make Money, Not Art

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Slapsie Redux

Montague Blister's Strange Games weblog describes an amusing variation of Slapsie (a.k.a. Red Hands), called "My Mother Says."

Whilst we're contemplating the playworthy implications of this particular variation, it is worthy of our collective note to collectively note that there are even more profound (and potentially painful) versions of the game, such as shown in this video.

Even I, I must admit, have found myself embellishing on Slapsie lore, thinking perhaps to introduce slightly kinder, potentially gentle nuances, as in 3-person Slapsie and Hand Wave.

Should you at this moment find yourself without someone else's hands to slap, you can access a virtually painless, if somewhat less engaging version of this game online.

Slapsie-related fun has its own peculiar taste: intensely, shall we say, focusing fun, with just a touch of ouchy.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Children Will Play

Frances Henson VanLandinham's Children Will Play: Games and Toys from Simpler Times is a collection of "childhood memories," gathered from family, friends and neighbors, most of whom grew up during the depression, when times where perhaps simpler, but definitely far more difficult than most of us currently enjoy. Hence this lovingly illustrated collection describes handmade toys and homemade games - folk games and toys that are truly inspirational accounts of play and love, creativity and spontaneity, of imagination and free-range joy.

I quote from the introduction: "Children will play under almost any circumstances. I've observed children at play while cold and hungry. Even while living in an abusive environment, children play. Children don't have the verbal skills to communicate their pain and suffering, so they express pain as well as joy through play. Children play through times of social upheaval. During wars and natural disasters, children play."

The book describes how to play Appalachian jump rope, how to make corncob darts, milk can trains, bark sleds, plantain dolls, stick cows, hollyhock dolls, handkerchief dolls. It is full of stories of almost heroic celebrations of Christmas, when there was barely enough money for food.

It is a history of the human spirit. Something to treasure. Something from which to draw inspiration and hope. And it could very well open new pathways to fun, for all of us.

It can only be ordered ($12 plus $2.00 US shipping) from the author. Send your check or money order to Frances Henson ValLandingham, 812 Poga Road, Butler, TN 37640. Call 423-768-2261 for more information. Email

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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