The Exorcism of Fun

"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."
from a presentation titled: "Notes on a democracy of playfulness in 'Spectacle 2.0' political campaigns" made by Maaike de Jong & Valentina Rao during a conference called Media, Communication and the Spectacle.

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A game fit for a prince

Apparently, even the Prince Philip played Lap Game.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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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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Towel Surfing?

They called it "Towel Surfing." Apparently, it was a flash mob event on beautiful Bondi Beach, very much in keeping with the guerrilla dancing meme made famous by our beloved Defenders of the Playful, Improv Everywhere, producers of the inspiring Where's Rob stadium event. I didn't see anyone actually surfing or dancing or even standing on towels, so I didn't get the towel surfing part. But the event was definitely YouTube-worthy (starting with the semi-inspiring image of a fat-challenged man dancing in his Speedos and then going on to embrace the more clearly inspiring images of lovely lasses dancing in their all-but-all-together), and the commercial underpinnings remained safely in the background. But commercially under-pinned it certainly was, sponsored by Do You Flip, an Australian site promoting the people who make the Flip digital video camera. And therein lies the departure.

So, OK. So they take a very successful meme which was created as a playfully artistic statement and use it to sell cameras. And it makes one perhaps enter into disturbing conjectures, similar to those entertained by the recent conference, called "The Internet as Playground and Factory, where variously sober thinkers discuss the way that some people make money off of others' freely contributed inspirations, the Towel Surfing video vividly exemplifying the very point the speakers make over and over again. And yet, and yet, when all is said and done, it's still fun. Even without towels.

via The Presurfer

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Grown-Up Fun

Several years ago, when I was teaching at Esalen, a woman named Magdalena Cabrera came into my life. Last Sunday, Magdalena invited me to help her and a significant passel of her wonderful friends celebrate her birthday. I led a two-hour version of my 5-day program. And, because of her, and her friends, and the park and the finally perfect Palo Alto weather, we created something profoundly playful, lovingly fun.

In one of our discussions, we talked about the politics of fun - namely about how we so often feel that we don't deserve to have fun, that we are doing something wrong, something immoral, given the harsh realities of harsh reality. Magdalena was reminded of something she wrote me in response to a rather profound insight from my rather profound brother-in-law. It captures much of that feeling:
I too feel unable to enter into Fun when so much feels wrong and sad and overwhelming in the world today, everyday. I forget your teaching, so to speak, that Fun IS part of the solution and not just a form of denial, an escape, a narcissistic indulgence at the expense of others who are not as fortunate as I am...Just thoughts, which bring me back to the mindfulness practice that DeepFun is for me. It is the practice of Minor Fun all the time, despite the trying external circumstances on this beautiful and fragile earth I love and despite the woe I see. And as I practice this path, I want to change my paradigm and begin to really believe that having fun, living fun, teaching fun, being fun, can transform this world, that it is part of the solution to the distress. IF not the world at large, it may have the power to transform MY little world, my circle of influence, I hope. And that is a step in the right direction.
We continued that dialogue, Magdalena, myself, and Bruce Williamson, long after everyone had left. Two things we noted: 1) starting anything with fun is probably the best way to prepare for everything else that isn't, and 2) given the world and being a grown-up in it, having fun is inescapably a political act.

O, as they say, MG! I think we might have found the difference between the fun we have as children, and the fun we have as adults:
Kids play because they have to. It's how they learn the world, how they grow, how they cope. Grown-ups play because they choose to. It's how they change the world. It's how they endure.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Pangea Day

Walleyball is a one of the films produced as part of the Pangea Day celebration. It is a demonstration of how the power of play can transform a border fence into a volleyball net - a dividing line into a connection. Which, of course, is the whole purpose of the event.

Fun-flavor-wise, it's kind of a dark chocolate thing - sweet, with more than a hint of bitterness.

via Digital Maverick

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Fun and Anti-Fun

In his article Islamism and the Politics of Fun, Asef Bayat writes: "Drawing mainly on the experience of Muslim states, notably postrevolution Iran, I explore why Islamists are so distinctly apprehensive of the expression of 'fun' — a preoccupation most people in the world seem to take for granted....Fun may be expressed by individuals or collectives, in private or public, and take traditional or commoditized forms. Fashion, for instance, represents a collective, commoditized, and systematic expression of fun, yet one that is constantly in flux because it deems to respond to the carefree and shifting spirit of fun. Fun appeals to almost all social groups (the rich and poor, old and young, modern and traditional, men and women), yet youths are the prime practitioners of fun and the main target of anti-fun politics, because youth habitus is characterized by a greater tendency for experimentation, adventurism, idealism, drive for autonomy, mobility, and change. Perhaps that is why fun is often conflated with and identified by 'youth culture.' ...But the differential habitus of these social groups tends to orient them more or less to different fun practices and therefore subject them to different degrees of prohibitions and regulations that can be subsumed under the rhetoric of 'anti-fun.' For instance, whereas the elderly poor can afford simple, traditional, and contained diversions, the globalized and affluent youth tend to embrace more spontaneous, erotically charged, and commodified pleasures. This might help explain why globalizing youngsters more than others cause fear and fury among Islamist anti-fun adversaries, especially when much of what these youths practice is informed by Western technologies of fun and is framed in terms of 'Western cultural import.'"

Perhaps Anti-Fun should be considered yet one more flavor of fun. Similar to the taste of paying taxes or experiencing one's own mortality. A tad bitter, don't you think?

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Games of Make Believe

A recent broadcast of the Leonard Lopate Show had, as its topic:

"Please Explain: Games of Make Believe: We look into how children play games of make believe, and whether kids’ imaginations have changed along with trends in technology and education. Dr. Susan Linn is Associate Director of the Media Center of the Judge Baker Children's Center, Instructor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and the author of most recently Dr. Elizabeth Goodenough teaches at the University of Michigan Residence College and is the author of most recently Under Fire: Childhood in the Shadow of War."

Here's a quote from their discussion: "Nurturing creative play has become counter-cultural, because it's not lucrative. Children who play creatively don't need any of the things...that dominate the toy market."

I liked that counter-cultural label. I liked the explanation for it. But, despite the erudition of the authors and the clarity of their insights (play is important. kids need more of it.), I find myself only partially nodding in agreement (go ahead, try nodding partially. it's kind of fun.).

I think people who are so clearly alarmed by the way kids are playing now, with the impact of mass media and stuff, need to turn those alarms off for a while, and listen more carefully to the way kids are playing, right now, in the middle of all that technology and commercial pressure. It's hard to listen carefully enough. To look deeply enough. But kids are playing brilliantly with all the stuff they have to play with. Brilliantly.

Maybe they're not playing the way we'd like to see them play, maybe there are other things they could be playing, but until we are ready to acknowledge and support the new forms of play that our kids have created, until we are ready to play with them, the best we can do, I think, is stay out of the way.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Best Game Ever - Fantastic Fun

As you know, my interest in Improv Everywhere has been high ever since I first heard about their playful public theatrics. Most recently, Improv Everywhere launched a new, shall we say, play, which very well might prove, as they themselves describe it, to be the Best Game Ever.

Start here, with a video of the event. Then read about it. Then ask yourself what it would be like if you had actually been there, been one of the parents, or better yet, one of the kids.

This Best Game Ever is right on the edge of art, theater, and social comment. It wouldn't succeed if not for the playfulness and sensitivity of the Improv Everywhere company - the people who conceived and staged the event. It could have proven insulting to both parents and players, it could have proven upsetting, been perceived as an act of ridicule. But apparently the event stopped short of being ridiculous, just at the point of being almost entirely believable. If not because of the believability of the actor-spectators, then because of the player's willingness to belive. If not by the actuality of the giant scoreboard, then most definitely by the blimp. Why don't we do this for all kids, everywhere - invest great effort and expense, yes, but, for the kids, and parents - to give them one random hour, of sheer, magical, transformational fun. Beyond game and sport. A theater of total participation.

Fantastic fun. The fun of fantasy fulfilled. Ah, delicious.

via Metafilter

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Are video games ever good for kids?

Someone sent me this question: Are video games ever good for kids?

I guess it came at a good time, because I actually enjoyed writing my answer:
Are video games ever good for kids? Of course they are. They can be good for adults, and even seniors, too.

Can they be bad? Of course they can. It depends on the games and on the people who are playing them.

Actually, the same can be said for any kind of game. Can chess be bad? It can be, if it becomes an obsession, if the chess players pursue chess to the exclusion of everything else social, physical, and intellectual.

In fact, the category "video games" is itself misleading. The term comes from the arcade game era, and was used primarily to describe games like Pong and Breakout and PacMan. And these games suffered from the same misconception that led to us asking the very same question - are they good for kids.

Currently, kids have access to a very wide variety of things you might call video games, and other games that involve computers that you wouldn't think to call video games, but, in fact, have the same characteristics. Texting, for example, via cell phone, chatting and IMing via computer. Not games, actually, but highly interactive platforms for largely intellectual engagement. And then there are mass multiplayer online environments, like Second Life, which no one thinks of as video games, and yet have many of the same attributes.

I myself have designed games of almost every ilk, including computer games. Some were intellectual exercises, some social. Some were for the Children's Television Workshop, others for dedicated videogame companies, others for board and card game publishers. They all have succeeded in engaging children, in challenging them to solve and master some intellectual or social problem. And, as such, have all proven good for them - except for the few kids who took the games too seriously.

Which brings to mind all those concerns about violence in children's games. I personally don't like games that involve people blowing each other up. But I can't tell you that they're bad for kids, because I think most kids are not fooled by the imagery, and focus rather on mastering the intellectual, visual, and physical challenges these games pose. Take, for example, chess. Isn't it all about killing? Killing military figures and religious figures and government figures and destroying their homes?

On the other hand, violent imagery isn't necessary for a good game or a good video game. Take, for example, the many variations of the Sims, or my current conceptual passion - the beautifully cooperative game of Chilone.

But, I can't say violent games are really bad for kids, either. If kids are seeing violence, in their neighborhoods or on TV or in the movies, then it's part of their lives, and it's something they need to play with, to integrate into their world view.

There's a great story from Sara Similansky about pre-school kids who were playing outside, in the school playground, when a car hit a pedestrian. Soon an ambulance came and took the pedestrian to the hospital. It was a potentially traumatic experience for the kids. The next day, they started playing Accident and Ambulence. They continued playing for several days. And then went on to something else.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Public Fun - "The More the Merrier" principle

There's a flavor of fun that we get when we're not the only one having it. You can call it "social fun" or "shared fun" or even "loving fun." It's a kind of fun that often leads to public fun.

According to the Oaqui, that kind of fun, public fun, when applied to human affairs in general, can prove a most reliable socio-political guide to human ethics. The Oaqui explicate/s:
"The More Merrier Multiplier, in a mathematically articulate manner, expresses the true relationship between the Merrier and the More. If no one else is in this meeting is making merry, OR if you find yourself clearly lacking in measurable merriment, OR if nobody else will be the merrier because we are having the meeting, the whole thing is pretty much worthless. Or, saying the same thing in just about the same way: If you're having fun, and if everyone else is having fun, and if just about the entire world will have more fun as the result of what you're having fun doing, you can be pretty sure that what you're doing is, in fact, a very right thing."

And if there's such a thing as public fun, there's definitely equally such a thing as private fun. The fun we have all by ourselves with ourselves often within ourselves. Fun that we share with ourselves only. And of course there's semi-private fun, like the fun we have with kids and pets and ocean waves and sand and water....

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Transforming Fun

This image is made of 3200 Barbie dolls, part of an exhibit called "Running the Numbers" by artist Chris Jordan. He comments:
"This series looks at contemporary American culture through the austere lens of statistics. Each image portrays a specific quantity of something: fifteen million sheets of office paper (five minutes of paper use); 106,000 aluminum cans (thirty seconds of can consumption) and so on. My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone, such as we find daily in articles and books. Statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing, making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of 3.6 million SUV sales in one year, for example, or 2.3 million Americans in prison, or 410,000 paper cups used every fifteen minutes. This project visually examines these vast and bizarre measures of our society, in large intricately detailed prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs. The underlying desire is to emphasize the role of the individual in a society that is increasingly enormous, incomprehensible, and overwhelming."
Part of the power of this work, aside from the sheer massiveness of effort and vision, is its playfulness. There is something fun here, despite the sobriety of the message. Transforming fun, one might call it.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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"Play is as necessary to civic health as dreaming is to mental health"

"Play is as necessary to civic health as dreaming is to mental health..." - observes author Grady Hendrix in the article "Feel the Sting of My Foam Sword - A must-see documentary about LARPing."

The quote concludes: "...but playing makes Americans suspicious."

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Silly Power

Apparently, silliness can be put to some significant service. I quote extensively from this:
"'White Power!' the Nazi’s shouted, “White Flour?” the clowns yelled back running in circles throwing flour in the air and raising separate letters which spelt 'White Flour'.

"'White Power! the Nazi’s angrily shouted once more, 'White flowers?' the clowns cheers and threw white flowers in the air and danced about merrily.

"'White Power!' the Nazi’s tried once again in a doomed and somewhat funny attempt to clarify their message, “ohhhhhh!” the clowns yelled 'Tight Shower!' and held a solar shower in the air and all tried to crowd under to get clean as per the Klan’s directions.

"At this point several of the Nazi’s and Klan members began clutching their hearts as if they were about to have a heart attack. Their beady eyes bulged, and the veins in their tiny narrow foreheads beat in rage. One last time they screamed “White Power!”

"The clown women thought they finally understood what the Klan was trying to say. 'Ohhhhh…' the women clowns said.'Now we understand…', 'WIFE POWER!' they lifted the letters up in the air, grabbed the nearest male clowns and lifted them in their arms and ran about merrily chanting 'WIFE POWER! WIFE POWER! WIFE POWER!'

"It was at this point that several observers reported seeing several Klan members heads exploding in rage and they stopped trying to explain to the clowns what they wanted.

"Apparently the clowns fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the rally, they believed it was a clown rally and came in force to support their pointy hated brethren. To their dismay, despite their best jokes and stunts and pratfalls the Nazis and Klan refused to laugh, and indeed became enraged at the clowns misunderstanding and constant attempts to interpret the clowns instruction."
Infuriatingly funny, don't you think? Powerfully silly, nicht ja?

via Noise

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Politics of Laziness

Once again, my friend and co-inspirer Doc Searls has come up with a botheringly thought-worthy post, in a somewhat delayed meditation on Labor Day. He calls it "Leveraging Laziness. " He cites yet another post, "America’s Labor Day, The Right to Be Lazy, the Photocopy Shops of Istanbul, and the Democratization of Knowledge, " by another provokingly thought-worthy fellow named Stephen Lewis, who, in turn, muses on the 1883 essay by Paul Lafargue, called "The Right to be Lazy."

Doc quotes Lewis musing on Lafargue: "Forget about fighting for the right to work, Lafargue argues (while Lewis muses), one should struggle for the right to be lazy! Marx’s famed Communist Manifesto begins with the warning that the specter of class-based violence is haunting Europe, but the opening paragraph of Lafargue’s The Right to Be Lazy warns us against a more insidious danger from within, our own supposed industriousness..."

I love the web.

via Doc Searls

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Rolling Water

The Q Drum - it rolls, you can pull it, kids get the same kind of fun from it that they'd get from a good pull toy, and it can contain 50 liters of deliciously sloshing water.

So in places where women spend half their day just getting water from the well to their village, carrying it in heavy jugs and drums and barrels, here's a simple innovation - a donut-shaped barrel that can be pulled on a rope.

OK, so maybe it's not as fun as pulling a wagon, but it certainly is a lot more fun than having to carry the water, and since it's easy enough for kids to do, it's a lot more fun for them than having to watch their mothers suffer. It's fun to help. Fun to be valuable to the survival of your own village. Fun to walk around with a giant, sloshing pull-toy.

And it's simpler than a pull-toy, more durable. And the inspiration that made this possible, it was like the inspiration that you get from an act of deep playfulness, where you finally arrive at something new, something simple, something that transforms reality, something that changes the world. For good.

via Neatorama

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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"Knitta began in August 2005, when the soon-to-be-Knittas were discussing their frustration over unfinished knitting projects: half-knitted sweaters and balls of yarn gathering dust. That afternoon, they knit their first door handle."

Knit their first door handle!

Which led them, inexorably, to becoming: "… a tag crew of knitters, bombing the inner city with vibrant, stitched works of art, wrapped around everything from beer bottles on easy nights to public monuments and utility poles on more ambitious outings."

Alex of Neatorama adds the perfect label to this wonderfully playful, bizarre, and somehow socially significant act of rebellious knittage. He calls it "knit grafitti." He also notes that a group calling itself Masquerade posted a map showing how they are similarly engaged in knitting their nuances into the streets of Stockholm.

What a wonderful world playground this world can be!

via Neatorama

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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"Putting Skinned Knees Back into Playtime"

There's been some happy buzz about arecent article in the New York Times in which Alex Williams writes about adults who are teaching children the bygone games of their youth - marbles, hopscotch, red rover, kickball. He writes: "They are spurred by concerns that a decline in traditional play robs the imagination and inhibits social interaction, by personal nostalgia, and by a desire to create a new bridge to connect generations — a bridge across both sides of the Nintendo gap."

The article (you need to be a subscriber to read it on line, is called "Putting Skinnned Knees Back into Playtime." I guess this is in contrast to the callused thumbs of X-Boxers.

The article concludes with a story about one mother, Sara Boettrick, who tried to follow this new trend with her daughter. "Ms. Boettrich admitted that she hadn’t seen the kids playing seven up, pickup sticks and jacks, and that she had since abandoned her attempts to spark a love of them in her daughter. She added, 'I think I had more fun than she did.'"

And I think therein lies the truth of this whole back-to-the-games-of-our-youth movement. We, as adults, want our children to learn the games of our childhood, because they are the games within which we can still find our youth. As for the youth of today, they are finding theirs in their games. And if it is truly our goal to help our children play, perhaps we should begin by asking them to teach us their games. Perhaps, if they let us play their games with them, we will better understand the fun of their youth, and better share with them the gifts of our maturity.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Checkers in Prison

Here, here, and also here are three parts of a clear, succinct, and even illustrated guide to eleven different checker games. Yes, that's right, eleven. Probably more if you think about combining rules. About which is something I would definitely urge you to think.

Let me tell you why this is so important to me. Years ago - o, maybe 30 - I held a checkers class in a prison in Pennsylvania. It was going to be a class about a lot of different games, but the residents (ok, inmates) weren't allowed to have cards or dice and checker sets were readily available and/or easily made. So, anyway, I decided to teach them different ways to play checkers. This was a major shock for many of them - that there was in fact more than one way to play checkers. And a major opportunity for me to start a dialogue with them on starting dialogues with each other - around rules, around thinking about the game itself, and not just winning. Because if you start out to play checkers, and the next question is "what kind of checkers do you want to play," then, all of a sudden, the relationship between the players becomes more important than the game itself. I mean, the game is still important, believe me you, but making the decision, figuring out what you both want to play, is an act of connection, of communication, of community. Playing with rules, selecting the rules you want to play by, and then keeping those rules, these are the kinds of thing free people do, the kind of thing that people who are part of society, who help to build society, do.

And they really wanted to learn every game I could teach them, every variation. And it was fun.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Dancing in the Streets

Barbara Ehrenreich's Dancing in the Streets is a celebration of celebration. It is about ecstatic dancing, religious and profane, as practiced throughout history and across cultures.

Ehrenreich begins her exploration with earliest recorded history, from cave paintings to early religion. She writes:
"To the extent that we can only guess at today, the religion of the ancient Greeks was a 'danced religion,' much like those of the 'savages' European travelers were later to discover around the world. As Aldous Huxley once observed, 'Ritual dances provide a religious experience that seems more satisfying and convincing than any other...It is with their muscles that humans most easily obtain knowledge of the divine.'" (p. 33)
I have to quote that quote again: "It is with their muscles that humans most easily obtain knowledge of the divine." Muscle knowledge. Yes. And yes again. Knowledge of the divine. Knowledge of the self, of love, of community. Through the muscles. And dances, like games, are the liturgy.

Ehrenreich, in inviting us back into the dance, is inviting us to abandon ourselves to the celebration of life. She is not trying to be objective. She is trying to reason with us, to give us perspective, to remind us of what it means to join the rhythmic magic of ecstatic dance, to caution us against abandoning abandon.
"Nothing speaks more clearly of the darkening mood, the declining possibilities for joy, than the fact that, while the medieval peasant created festivities as an escape from work, the Puritans embraced work as an escape from terror." (p. 145)
But all is not lost. The spirit of ecstatic dance has surfaced again and again, throughout our history, despite our most puritanic leanings. The emergence of Rock and Roll, the Beatlemaniacs, the Deadheads, each leading us back to the dance. And most recently, oddly enough, we are finding each other dancing in the stadium.
"So, by the close of the twentieth century, the clash of the athletes was only one part, and for many only a minor part, of the activities and events that made up a game. People went to the stadium for the opportunity to dress up and paint their faces, to see and be seen, to eat and drink immoderately, to shout and sing and engage in the sports fan's equivalent of dancing." (p. 237)
No, Ehrenreich is not objective about the whole thing. She is a brilliant, informed, impassioned teacher. She cautions us again and again against the growing isolation and alienation that we have accepted into our lives. And she offers us a perspective, a promise, a gift, an invitation to the dance.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Getting angry

Several of my most confidential advisors have suggested that I would be more effective in bringing more fun to the world if I were more angry about the lack thereof.

I'm not really a very angry person. And it always seemed to me that anger and fun really don't belong together. And, even if getting angry would help, I'm not sure if I could get angry about more than one thing at a time. I mean, I wouldn't want to dilute my anger.

There's lots of stuff I could get angry about, so much stuff I just don't know where to begin. So, I made a list. And then I arranged it alphabetically. And then I added more stuff and took out even more. And I was left with this:
  • AIDS, SARS, and all those acronyms that kill people
  • Batteries that aren't included
  • Bullies
  • Child abuse
  • Corruption
  • Cruelty
  • Fascism
  • Food that tastes good but is still bad for you
  • Genocide
  • Global warming
  • Homelessness
  • Hospital closings
  • Hunger
  • Illiteracy
  • Ignorance
  • Intolerance
  • Death
  • Disease
  • New Operating Systems that don't work with my software
  • Nuclear proliferation
  • Overpriced medicine
  • Pain
  • Playground closings
  • Poverty
  • Prisons
  • Prudery
  • Racism
  • Spam
  • Spousal abuse
  • Stupidity
  • Terrorism
  • Tests
  • Torture
  • Toys that break almost the moment you get them out of the box
  • TV sets that are bigger than mine
  • Violence
  • War
I'm still not happy with the list. I was going to ask you to add more items, or suggest alternatives, or at least to help me pick the one or two most angry-worthy items. On the other hand, maybe angry about all this funlessness isn't really what I need to get. Maybe, if I can choose to be angry, I can just as easily choose to be funny. Not that I can afford to ignore all these anger-making things. But, just maybe, if bringing more fun into the world is what I'm about, humor is the more powerful messenger.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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A little less than a year ago, I wrote about a game of Urban Capture the Flag, hosted by a group called "Newmindspace." And though I find myself sorely tempted to write about the upcoming, Feb. 24th event called "Pillow Fight NYC," I find myself moved to talk about a more sobering event, called "Nightlights." Because of the beauty of the vision, and the sad wisdom contained in this little blurb:
300 LED's were stolen at the beginning of Night Lights.
We are shocked and disappointed that while we were creating this event, a small handful of people prevented the installation from even happening. (These LED's were eventually to be used for fundraising after the evening was over.) We lost over $500.
It is precisely this kind of wisdom, for all its sobering significance, that makes Newmindspace such a valuable resource for anyone contemplating the production of a public event, especially if they are doing so for the sake of art, play and community - because Newmindspace has learned what it is like, playing with the public, in all of its beauty and ugliness, and because they continue to bring us to play, nevertheless.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Play Pump

Forgive me, I needs must enthuse. All that talk about serious games and serious play and here we have someone who has sponsored the epitomical manifestation of purposeful play and functional fun - the Play Pump. As explained in the Frontline special, punfully subtitled " Turning water into child's play:"
"(Trevor) Field then teamed up with an inventor and came up with the 'play pump' -- a children's merry-go-round that pumps clean, safe drinking water from a deep borehole every time the children start to spin. Soup to nuts, the whole operation takes a few hours to install and costs around $7,000. Field's idea proved so inventive, so cost-efficient and so much fun for the kids that World Bank recognized it as one of the best new grassroots ideas."
Yes, and of course yes, the Play Pump is only part of the solution to the rest of the world's crying need for an accessible supply of potable water, and my focusing on the use of a children's playground device doesn't begin to do justice to the seriousness of the problem. But, see, fun is my passion, my purpose. Fun, the kind of fun that is central to human growth, essential to the evolution of the species, is what I'm here for, what I'm working for. And the Play Pump, and the similar "Power Wheel" (which also generates electricity) are the very embodiment of that very thing. And, though I haven't actually played with a Play Pump, it is clear that it embraces everything I ever thought was major about Major Fun. Functional fun. Lasting, liquid laughter. Purposeful play.

suggested by Shael DeKoven Weidenbach, funspotter

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Cooperation and Competition

Spurred by a conversation with Janine Fron of Ludica, I found myself writing an article about the connections between competition and cooperation, in games and everything else. My perhaps most quotable and easily misunderstood quote: "Cooperative games nurture diversity. Competitive games, uniformity."

Hence, today's FunCast

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Video game playing may fulfill innate human need

In her article Video game playing may fulfill innate human need, Anne Harding writes:
"Players' enjoyment of games depended on whether the games made them feel competent and independent, and, in the case of multiplayer games, connected to other players. Players who enjoyed their experience showed increases in well-being, self-esteem, and vitality after playing, while those whose needs weren't satisfied reported lowered vitality and mood."

My co-inspirer and fellow Funspotter Celia Pearce, adds: "One thing I like about this article is it's saying that most of the studies have been about the potential harms. It also begs the question: who is getting enjoyment out of what? I think some games are actually not that enjoyable for some people, as you know. I hated football when I was a kid!"

It is a great relief to stumble upon this oasis of positivity. My one disappointment is that this article, like so many that have been written in defense of "gaming," is so passionately focused on videogames that it fails to connect with the larger phenomenon of play, in all its manifestations. According to my exhaustive inner research, precisely the same findings related to the enjoyment of videogames is true of all play frames - bowling (speaking of frames), chess, solving puzzles, playing dress-up.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Sustainable Fun

Sustainable Fun? In an ecologically-sensitive kind of way. Like, for example, any of these "Possibly Scoring 10 for Non-consuming" activities:
  • the pleasures of breathing fresh air in the country
  • sea-bathing and surfing
  • collecting empty shells or other beach combing
  • hiking (no litter),bushwalking
  • playing most team sports that don't necessarily involve personal violence (which 'wastes people' by damaging them)
  • birdwatching
  • bee-keeping
  • scrabble
  • friendships, love and affection
  • climbing, canoeing, running, horse-riding
  • picnic in the park - the 'park' part of it
  • politics in the pub
I love this concept: sustainable fun. Of course, what I love about it is thinking that there are sources of fun which are, in fact, sustainable. Not your consumable fun. But your sustainably fun kinds of fun. Your always fun fun. And that this kind of fun, this sustainable resource of endless delight, is as natural as friendship and snow.

In fact, so central to fun are these natural resources that, corrolarily speaking, one can say that "if it isn't fun, it isn't sustainable." Which just happens to be, according to this source and Funscout Joey Gray, a central theme voiced by environmentalist Dr. David Suzuki.


Ping Pong Punk'd

I found this on the ever-useless repository of silliness known as "Milk and Cookies."

It might take a while to download, but it's worth every megabit. It's a video of two, evidently champion ping pong players going beyond, well beyond, the pale of tournament competition.

I have no idea what led these two to this ping pongly apotheosis. I think it might have been the guy in red who started it all. But the blue dude was there for him all the way, getting the ball back to him no matter where he went.

The announcers clearly thought it was funny. The audience seemed to be more than adequately delighted. Me, I found it downright inspirational.

I can tell you why, but I'd have to quote myself, which is always a questionable practice. The following comes from my article on CoLiberation:
The central experience that led me to write my book The Well-Played Game was, in fact, a game of ping pong between my friend Bill and myself. Let me describe it to you, thereby exemplifying the selfsame example of the kind of experience I hope you will also learn:

"My good friend Bill was and is so much better of a player than I that there was actually no reason for us to try to play a 'real' game. Playing for points was clearly pointless. So, we decided to just see how long we could keep a volley going. It was a perfect challenge for each of us. For Bill, just getting the ball to hit my paddle was an exercise worthy of his years of "pongish" mastery. After half the night of this, we managed to sustain an almost infinite volley. We actually lost count."
Know what I mean?

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