Four freedoms of play

The Playful Learning Wiki, four theoretical models of play, includes Ralph Koster's Theory of Fun for Game Design, Brian Sutton-Smith's Ambiguity of Play, something from the National Institute for Play (a.k.a. Stuart Brown) and Scot Osterweil's brilliant Four Freedoms of Play.

Scot Osterweil: The Four Freedoms of Play

Scot Osterweil (MIT Comparative Media Studies, Education Arcade Project) has observed this truth: play has no agenda. Freedom is central to the experience of play. To understand the anatomy of play, Scot has identified four components that he calls the "four freedoms of play." If these freedoms are not respected, the play experience is severely compromised or even ruined.

  1. Playing with a tireFreedom to Experiment

    The player's motivations are entirely intrinsic and personal. The process is open-ended.

  2. Freedom to Fail

    Losing is part of the process.

  3. Freedom to Try on Different Identities

    Players aren't necessarily limited by their bodies or surrounding physical context.

  4. Freedom of Effort

    As described in Peter and Iona Opie's classic ethnography of playground culture, children may scramble around in a game of tag, avoiding being caught for twenty minutes, and then suddenly stop and allow themselves to be tagged once they have reached a certain degree of effort or perhaps want to move on to another activity.

I deeply appreciate this perspective, this idea of exploring the "freedoms" of play. In many ways, it's what play is all about.

Watch his talk on YouTube

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Labels: , ,

Pat Kane defines his "Play Ethic"

Pat Kane, author of The Play Ethic: A Manifesto for a Different Way of Living, is a musician/philosopher. His insights into play, society and the Internet are often as intricate as a dance score or a Bach fugue. In a recent interview appearing on the Creative Maverick site, he gives us a more, shall we say, melodic insight into his vision. He explains:
The play ethic is what comes after the obsolescence of the work ethic. The work ethic is an ideology or belief-system which asserts that any job has dignity and worth, despite how alienated it makes you feel or how disjunct it is from your desires and aspirations, because society recognises this submission to the job as the basis of social order.

The play ethic is an alternative belief-system, which asserts that in an age of mass higher education, continuing advances in personal and social autonomy, and ubiquitous digital networks (and their associated devices), we have a surplus of human potential and energy, which will not be satisfied by the old workplace routines of duty and submission.

The identity of a 'player' - optimistic, willing to try and experiment, open to participating with peers in a multitude of projects - fits this new landscape, this new social order, much better. But we need to forge a convincing 'play ethic', particularly for organisations and government, which will help them to change their structures (or make way for new ones) to accommodate the expanding constituency of networked players.

Every time I read his words, I grow more appreciative of the many gifts he brings to our conversation about the increasing importance of play to the evolution of the human spirit. This latest is especially accessible. Enjoy.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Labels: , ,

Play and Transhumanism

The connections between play and culture are wonderfully profound. Whether they are actual or not, they've led to centuries of sometimes remarkably penetrating thought. Most notably, a book called Homo Ludens in which the author, Johan Huizinga, famously attributes the source of all human culture to play. And far less notably to my book, The Well-Played Game, wherein I draw the connections between play and games to community and the pursuit of personal excellence.

Recently, our favorite musician/play theorist Pat Kane published another densely thought-provoking article, this time on the topic of Play and Transhumansim. Whether you think of the idea of transhumanism of imminent concern or as an intriguing fantasy, Pat's article helps us understand why our explorations of the evolving meaning and significance of play become increasingly relevant to personal, social and technological co-evolution.

Here's a taste:
"Yet transhumanism, it seems to me, almost transcends these familiar political uses of evolved human nature - in the sense that it asks us to squarely face our increasing ability to transform that very nature itself, intentionally and by design. And if play operates as dynamically and unpredictably in our unamended nature as I suggest, we are in a moment where we will have to begin to imagine what kinds of 'politics' or 'ethics' are possible, when play's energies are given the most powerful of chariots to drive.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Labels: , ,

Ground of Play

The profoundly playful Pat Kane has a three simple measures for the conditions governing a successful "ground of play" (as in "play ground")
1 It must have loose but robust governance
2 It must ensure a surplus of time, space and stuff
3 It must treat failure, risk and mess as necessary for development
He applies this to three different environments: Lion cubs at play on the savannah, a play park, and the Internet. Of the three, the last bears slightly more direct relevance to our being here together. I quote liberally, as I am wont to do:
1 Have loose but robust governance? Surely that's the very definition of the Internet. It has a variety of non-governmental institutions which manage domain names, and the improvement of codes and protocols that enable the web. And these codes themselves have come from a variety of actors that are neither public authorities or private enterprises, but exist somewhere in the 'commons' of open source software production...
2 Ensure a surplus of time, space and stuff? Again, that's the very definition of the Net. It ensures the infinite copyability of digital information, it exists in a state of total plenitude of content. Time mulitplies on the net: the way that social networking eats into organizational time is evidence of the way the Net busts the boundaries of our schedules, enables us to break time into bundles that suit us.
3 Treats failure, risk and mess as necessary for development? The mantra for web development is not 'ready, aim, fire' - get it right, hope you hit the mark - but 'ready, fire, aim' - keep shooting, try many trajectories and options, and out of the many iterations a few things will hit beautifully....
So, that's why I love the web. (Listen also to my Funcast called: "Learning by Dying".)

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Labels: , , ,

The Singularity Fun Theory

This morning, I found this:

  • How much fun is there in the universe?
  • What is the relation of available fun to intelligence?
  • What kind of emotional architecture is necessary to have fun?
  • Will eternal life be boring?
  • Will we ever run out of fun?

To answer questions like these… requires Singularity Fun Theory.
  • Does it require an exponentially greater amount of intelligence (computation) to create a linear increase in fun?
  • Is self-awareness or self-modification incompatible with fun?
  • Is (ahem) “the uncontrollability of emotions part of their essential charm”?
  • Is “blissing out” your pleasure center the highest form of existence?
  • Is artificial danger (risk) necessary for a transhuman to have fun?
  • Do you have to yank out your own antisphexishness routines in order not to be bored by eternal life? (I.e., modify yourself so that you have “fun” in spending a thousand years carving table legs, a la “Permutation City”.)

To put a rest to these anxieties… requires Singularity Fun Theory.

I decided that the Singularity Fun Theory was one of those theories that would be just as much fun if I didn't try too hard to understand what it actually means, and, putting a rest to my anxieties, remained quietly thankful that there are people thinking as deeply about the future of fun as Dr. Eliezer S. Yudkowsky.

Labels: ,

Flow on Flying Rings

Here, from the American Public Media show Speaking of Faith, people who like to play on the flying rings in Santa Monica's muscle beach give a near-word-for-word description of the flow-fun connection.

Watch them, listen to them, as they shed light on delight.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Labels: , ,

Fun's Fun, part two - More or Less

On the other hand, sometimes a thing that you do for fun isn't as much fun as it used to be, and some other times it's more fun than you remember it ever being before.

After several tours around the park near my son's house, discussing why it is that some things seem like more fun than others, we came to the conclusion that it has less to do with the fun of the thing in itself, but more with how much fun we're finding in it at the time.

We could at the time be finding a lot of fun in, for example, just walking together, father and son, in the relative peace and loving relationship in which we are finding each other, on this remarkably warm day in this lovely little park in Jerusalem, while there's no war in Gaza. On the other hand, we were finding at least as much fun talking about fun, in the conversation, in the intimacy of shared thought. It's not that the talk was in itself more fun than the walk. It's just that it was in the talk and in the walk that we were finding the fun.

The fun of the walk, on Csikszentmihalyi's chart, was something closer to what I've been calling minor fun. It's fun. It can be great fun. But talking, conversing, being in dialog, is higher on the flow channel. It can become far more complex, far more demanding, require far more of our minds and hearts. But, again, walking is not necessarily more fun than talking - when they're really fun, walking or talking, they're really fun - one just as really, as deeply, as totally as the other, separately or together. The same being true of mountain climbing and daydreaming, giving or getting a massage.

The thing about the kinds of fun you find in different positions in the flow channel is not that one is more fun than the other, but that each is the kind of fun you can get more or less of yourself and the world into - the kind of fun that can amuse you or challenge you to the very edge of all your vast abilities; the kind of fun that can lead you to regaining, or losing your very life.

Which, when you think about it, is something - depending on how much fun you are having, and what moment of the world you find yourself in - you could also say about talking and walking with your son in a park in Jerusalem.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Labels: , ,

Fun's Fun

My son and I were on one of our rare and most delicious walks through Jerusalem, when we got to talking about fun and flow and the connections and differences, not only between fun and flow, but also between the various kinds of fun, the degrees of flow. The more we walked and the further we walked, the clearer we were both able to get, at least about how I see the connections and degrees of it all.

Looking at a relatively simplistic image of flow as described in this article about the implications of flow on the nature of design, or a more recent, and more complex chart from an article about flow in the workplace, it's natural to conclude that among the various forms of flow, there are those which are "higher" and more fun, and those which are "lower," and not so much fun. Like, for example, watching TV, when it's fun, is not really as high or as good or as complete fun as skiing down a mountain, when it is fun.

Fact is, at least as I understand it, fun is fun. Fun is flow. And flow is flow, no matter how high or low it is in the channel. There are the apparently nobler kinds of flow, like those surgeons sometimes experience. And there are the oft-derided baser, more immediately accessible kinds, like those experienced by people who chew or smoke for fun. There are forms of flow that seem more like fun, like riding a roller coaster, and forms of fun that seem less like flow, like collecting stamps. But the whole point is that when chewing gum is fun, it's just as much fun as bungee jumping - when bungee jumping is fun. That's the big contribution of this whole idea of flow. Rock climbing or rock dancing, the joy, when it's joyful, is just as joyous, just as all-embracing, just as time- and mind-transcendent.

And what we were able to conclude in our most fun and flowful walk of ours was this: For me, flow is fun. And fun is fun. My playful path is not at all about having deeper fun, or looking for fun that's more major, or trying to identify the particular flavor of fun that is most profoundly and deliciously flow-like. It's about finding the kinds of fun that are fun for me, whatever they are - the kinds that are most reliably, most deeply, most thoroughly fun - and having them, living them, entirely, whenever I can, for however long they are fun for me. And most often, it appears to me that those kinds of fun tend to be the kinds of fun I can share with you, my son, and you, too, my cherished reader.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Labels: , , ,

The Qualities of Play

Play is such a difficult phenomenon to define because there are so many different ways it is experienced. Some experiences are qualitatively better. Some are worse. Some games better, some toys better. As we discuss the quality of play, we will explore a few such qualities, and hint at the remarkably many more qualities of play to yet define.

Scanning the web for terms relating to the quality of play, we begin with two almost universally agreed-upon attributes by which the experience of game or sport, for example, are measured – or at least expressed: "well-played" and "lousy."

We all know what a lousy game is like, how clearly, painfully obvious it becomes, to at least one of us, that everything about the game is lousy – the way each of us is playing, the way we're playing together. Disappointed in our selves, in each other. The game. The team. I am lousy. We. Are lousy. We are playing poorly, so poorly that the whole game got lousy.

Tim Candon, sports editor of the Cary News of Cary, NC, describes a particularly lousy game as follows:
"The Imps were universally disappointed after their lousy game Saturday against Sanderson, when they compiled 90 yards of total offense, including 17 rushing, and failed to score in the 16-0 loss to the Spartans.

"They lost. 16-0. They barely made any yardage the whole game. They were, as a team, 'universally disappointed.'"
Note that there was no mention of the quality of play as perceived by the winning team.
The idea of a "lousy game" almost always refers the quality of the game as perceived by people when they are losing, or have lost.

In the Official Forum (an online forum for sports officials), Mark Padget writes in response to a question about how to recover from a "lousy game."
"Sometimes, I think during a game that I may be a little "off". We all know the reasons: head not in the game because of thinking of personal stuff, very tired, not feeling well, etc. Whenever I am alert enough to realize it during the game (sometimes with a little prompting from my partner), I try to concentrate on the things I can change immediately, such as hustling more, making sure I am in position, practicing proper mechanics on calls, etc."
The term "Lousy Game" is frequently used to describe the design of a game, rather than the way the game is played. As in the following customer review from Darrell Brock "Dazza"
"…this is just a lousy game. The graphics are not bad, the storyline is a little weak. But the controls suck and that makes for a lousy game. In first person mode, the controls are way too sensitive, and you cannot change the sensitivity or the up down orientation. The characters do things you do not want them to do, turn whatever way they want, stick to the wall when you do not want them to, refuse to when you do. The camera goes off on an angle you do not want. In fact, playing next to walls, I have seen nothing but the wall on the screen while the character is fighting."
The quality of "lousy game" can refer to either or both: the game, and the way the game is being played.

Then there’s a quality of play that is clearly the opposite of lousy - the "well-played" game. This quality also refers to both the game and the way that it is played. But, unlike, or opposite to a "lousy game," the "well-played game" is a shared quality. A game can be described as “lousy” by just one player, or by the spectators, or by the team. A well-played game is one that is appreciated by all the players, regardless of score or distance to the goal. One that in fact must be appreciated by all players. By definition.

The quality of "well-played" doesn’t describe the game itself, but rather how that game was played, enacted, performed. Even a game with a truly lousy design can be well-played.

The Well-Played Game is played well by all, transcending, as Robert Butcher and Angela Schneider note, even competition:
"one’s opponents are an essential part of one’s quest for the well-played game." "Participants, they note, take pleasure in a well-played game, in which they put their best efforts in the desire to win. This requires the cooperation of all involved. The shared end is the game well played.”
Even in its absence, the appeal of "well-played"ness can so dominate the experience of a game that the Utah Daily Herald quotes the coach of the Utes, no less, saying.
"This was not a pretty game...They didn't play well, either. It was not a well-played game. I was disturbed by the lack of intelligence in the game."
Fun, like lousy and well-played, is a measure whose presence or absence has as significant an impact on the quality of the game as does "lousy" and "well-played."

There’s "the Beautiful Play" – which is similar to "well-played," but is more often applied to the quality of particular instance of the game rather than that of the game itself. Even a lousy game can feature a beautiful play or two.

And the expression "good game" – usually said with a towel-slap to an exposed buttock – denotes yet another quality, one usually associated with winning, one usually not expressed by the team that lost.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


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

Labels: , , , , ,

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

Labels: ,

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

Labels: ,

Designed Play - the culture of games

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

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

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Labels: , ,

Playing WITH Children

In 1972, in a revised version of the Teacher's Guide to Interplay, my very own and only curriculum in children's games, Dr. Vytas Cernius and I wrote an article describing what can happen when an adult joins in children's play.

I republished it here, because we were saying important things, then, revelations, even, like this:
"It is an amazing discovery, one that has to be continually rediscovered, that the attitude of openness and acceptance, the genuine desire of the adult to be present as an equal player within a group of players, are powerful forces which inevitably result in a positive social movement by all participants."

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Labels: ,

Fun. Laughter. And other Miracles.

"Sometimes I get religious about the whole thing, sometimes I think of fun and laughter as a spiritual experience. Our lives have become increasingly fragile, our world increasingly harsh. It is a miracle that we can laugh at all. And that's the whole point."

Miraculous fun.

From notes on the Daily Game by Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Labels: , ,

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

Labels: , ,

Laughter and Tears

I finally found the source for a particular insight that has been bothering me for quite some time. Apparently, "Dr Fry, a psychiatrist at Stanford Medical School, found that children laugh an average of 300 times per day, while adults only laugh between 15 and 100 times per day (reported in the Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients August/September 1996 p. 10)."

This particular observation has been echoed almost endlessly by just about everyone who is pushing happiness, humor, laughter and all those positive things we so desperately wish we were feeling.

My observations, though not conflicting with Dr. Fry, are based on at least 10 years of grandparentage, and 40 years of parenthoodness.
Children cry at least as often as they laugh, if not more.
Oddly, as I get older, I find myself crying more easily, and more often. And I kind of like it. I'm not sure if I laugh more often. But I've always been a laugher.

If we are to take any message from Dr. Fry's research and my personal findings, it might be that adults would probably laugh again the way they laughed as children if they let themselves cry more often, as they did when they were children.

I grow old. I cry more. It is a gift.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Labels: ,

The Opposite of Play

In another attempt at preparing for the future by exploring the past, I found myself reading an old interview I gave a few many years ago. And in it, I found myself saying:

"The opposite of play is death."

And you know how my friend Brian Sutton-Smith says "The opposite of play is not work, it's depression"?

I guess it's a question of how opposite you want to get.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


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

Labels: , , ,

Half-Belief and the need to believe in something that used to be meaningful

Brian Remer, whose recent interview of me led me to performing the conceptual Dance o' Glee, writes:
"You've been on my mind lately because I've been thinking about your concept of half-belief that you shared at the last NASAGA conference [see this]. I have been noticing how many contexts in which this concept is relevant. It's a big component in just about anything creative: art, amusement parks, literature, fiction, movies (it explains how we can become 'lost' in a book or film), and theater. (Locally the New England Youth Theater did a version of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. The entire play, all the parts, were done by two teen-aged girls! It took place in their bedroom and, just the way kids play and make up games, they acted the whole show evolving into different characters as needed. So here you had the actors demonstrating the half belief that we as an audience engage in to enjoy a performance!)

"A couple of weeks ago, I was working with some nurses who support some medically fragile children in their family's home. The nurses were critical of the parenting in the home so I wanted them to look at some of their assumptions and get in touch wth some empathy for the family. I used Thiagi's Least Preferred Patient jolt. Three patients in a hospital noted for its geriatric work are described and people choose the one they'd least want to care for. It's set up so most people will choose one that turns out to be a cuddly infant.

"The surprise effect was lost on this group. One said, 'I always work the night shift so I wouldn't mind dealing with the patient that can't sleep (the baby). It'd give me something to do.' It seemed I'd chosen a jolt that was too close to the experience of these nurses for them to get into the half belief necessary to be caught off guard.

"So there's this tension or balance between having the 'game' be close enough to the person's experience to be relevant yet not so close as to be dismissed as ordinary and expected. I've seen this too in role plays where people begin discussing a real issue rather than practicing a role.

"You probably said all this in Atlanta, Bernie, so if I've forgotten the details, the general concept still lives on and informs me. It even explains why people support stupid politicians, wars, cults, and more: the need to believe in something that used to be meaningful."
The funny thing being that somehow we know that we don't "really" believe in these politicians, wars, cults. Not entirely. Not fully. At some level, we are not fooled. It's half-belief. And in trying to make half-belief whole, we end up fooling ourselves.

Brian adds:
"We do end up fooling ourselves! And we can choose to fool ourselves negatively or positively. I can say, 'That rubber alligator is such a fake,' and have a miserable time on the Disney jungle ride. Or I can say, 'Yikes, look out for the monster!' and have an adventure. I can say, 'Jane tried to float a pretty lame idea at the meeting,' and turn things into a dull day. Or I can say, 'Jane is quite an innovator. I think her idea might have some merit,' and, when I make the half-belief whole, fool myself into having a terrific day. A friend of mine says the only thing you can control is your own attitude - I think this is how she does it! Have we also, now, explained how a self-fulfilling prophecy works?"

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Simages, Bernie and Competition, too

Simages is a publication of NASAGA - the North American Simulation and Gaming Association, the very same North American Simulation and Gaming Association that honored me with the Ifill-Raynolds award for "outstanding achievements in the field of fun."

I am honored to tell you that I have been honored again. I was interviewed by Brian Remer, and the result closely approximates something one might call "cogent," if one were prone to using words of that ilk.

The interview, which is one among many fine articles, appears on page 12.

See also the excellent article by Dave Blum "Healthy Competition, an Oxymoron?"



from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


The We inside of Me

I found another reference to something similar to the Me/We idea - the one I thought I had made up, and that recently someone in Al Gore's sphere also thought they made up, only differently.

In Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor's TED presentation, she talks about the "we inside of me." You can find this particular part of her talk at around 16.50 on the video. Here's the text:
So who are we? We are the life force power of the universe, with manual dexterity and two cognitive minds. And we have the power to choose, moment by moment, who and how we want to be in the world. Right here right now, I can step into the consciousness of my right hemisphere where we are -- I am -- the life force power of the universe, and the life force power of the 50 trillion beautiful molecular geniuses that make up my form. At one with all that is. Or I can choose to step into the consciousness of my left hemisphere. where I become a single individual, a solid, separate from the flow, separate from you. I am Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, intellectual, neuroanatomist. These are the "we" inside of me.

My explorations of the idea of the We inside of Me, can be found here.

via sacred son

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Al Gore Me/We-s

In yesterday's New York Times Week in Review, there was an article describing a new logo that was designed for Al Gore's We Can Solve It (the "Climate Crisis") campaign, an offshoot of his Alliance for Climate Protection. You probably noticed a certain connection between the logo design for We Can Solve It, and my Me-We logo. Allow me to disabuse you.

The Gore logo is of the word "WE." If you turn it upside down, you can see "EM" - which, as you perhaps almost immediately perceived, is "ME" spelled backwards.

Just to note a distinction. For Al Gore, and most people who are trying to address the public, WE is the real target. ME is only there because it is necessary - without it, there can't be a WE. I, on the other hand, have been using the Me-We connection to describe a relationship between two equal parties - individual and group. When you turn my Me/We logo upside down, it's still Me/We. The Me is never in a lesser position, never backwards.

This is the idea of Fun Community, which has become so central to my work, and play - the equal weight of Me and We, the equal value, importance, significance.

Thanks for finding that article, Lee. And telling me about it.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Six Reasons Not to Have Fun

On the occassion of his 35th birthday, Jay Michaelson, chief editor of Zeek A Jewish Journal of Thought and Culture, shares with us a rather deep meditation on 6 reasons not to have fun - just in case:
"As I approach my 35th birthday, I wonder if I'm having too much fun....Granted, what I call 'fun' is not what most people do. Here I use the term in a broad and intentionally self-deprecating way, to refer to anything my heart deeply wants, from meditation retreats to writing a novel...I think that, when push comes to shove, I have made these choices because I deeply wanted to make them. Sure, these deep yearnings are different from simply wanting to get some kicks. But they are still about 'fun,' I think: about the juiciness of life itself, about experience, about enjoying life, in the deepest sense.

"...Why are we supposed to grow up and stop having fun, anyway? First, at least for me, there is what Anthony Kronman called the 'firestorm of regret.' I am now at the age where peers of mine are not just rich tax attorneys, but also influential politicians, respected professors, and writers and editors at publications (even) more well-known than Zeek...These pangs of regret occur because of an underlying anti-fun value: that one should make something of oneself. This is a particular, Western value that is not shared by all civilizations. Probably the most obvious counterexample is the Rastafarian (or pop-Rasta) value of spending an entire life delighting in the pleasures of Jah -- working, to be sure, to better social justice, but never losing sight of the gifts of creation, which are here to be enjoyed.

"A third reason to stop having fun, along with regret and the value of achievement, has to do with dignity and maturity. It's just undignified, isn't it, to be the balding guy on the dance floor.

"A fourth reason to stop having so much fun is, of course, that life isn't always fun.
Pleasure, even in its deepest form, is only one of the important aspects of life. In a long-term relationship, for example, pleasure waxes and wanes, but if the pursuit of immediate sensual pleasure (affairs -- fun!) is placed above commitment (less fun), the end result will likely be sorrow. Or in terms of health: the burger is fun, but heart surgery is not....

"Fifth, if life is only pursued for the delights of the self -- even highly refined delights like reading post-structuralist theory or creating art -- it becomes a dead end. It's too easy to keep searching for the next thrill; this is how people become addicted to drugs, like an acquaintance of mine who died, at age 38, because of his years-long crystal meth addiction. At first it's fun; then it's less fun; then you need to do it to have any fun at all. So, too, with spirituality. The first meditation retreat is such a high! You think you'll never come back down. But then you do, and you start searching for the next high: samadhi becomes a narcotic.

"Finally, I think we're meant to stop having fun, at some point, because of a sense of deeper responsibilities, most importantly to family and community. Of course, since I've defined 'fun' to include anything that provides a sense of joy in life, family is fun too. But I think it's distinguishable, in that the intention of the family man or woman may be less 'I am doing this to taste the joys and sorrows of life' than 'I am doing this because it is my role, or my duty, or my responsibility.' Likewise for career; it may be fun, but it's mainly responsibility."

Of course, Michaelson's six reasons not to have fun: "...regret, achievement, maturity, truthfulness to life, avoiding the dead-end, and taking responsibility" are, at the same time, of course, six very good courses to take, actually, to bring more fun into your life: try letting go of regret, the need to achieve, the illusion of maturity, the belief that you could be anything other than true to life, try letting go of dead ends, taste responsible fun.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Labels: , ,

Top Ten Tips for Run-of-the-Mill Players to Enjoy Outstanding Games - from Craig Conley, guest blogger

There's nothing so comfy as mediocrity. Indeed, our culture teaches us both explicitly and implicitly that "okay" is good enough. But when it comes to fun, the middle-of-the-road game players cheat themselves out of something precious. Lackluster players miss out on the special spark that characterizes outstanding game play. We're not talking about the thrill of victory versus the agony of defeat. An outstanding player will have more fun losing a game than an average player will have winning a game. The fact is that mediocre players cannot, by definition, get caught up in the lighthearted spirit of the game.

Following are ten techniques for transforming yourself into an outstanding player of your favorite game.

1. Seek your game's hidden source of entertainment, its heart of fascination. In Classical times, Greek and Roman games consisted mainly of running, wrestling, jumping, riding, and racing. On the surface, these games were nothing out of the ordinary, yet their players made them the world's most extraordinary entertainments, exciting the enthusiasm and awakening the spirits of the spectators.[1]

To find your game's heart of fascination, observe those moments when players become carried away, when they exclaim joyously, when they leap into the air or rise off their seats as if suddenly weightless. Notice those moments when teams cheer one another, when the thrill of the play dissolves rivalry. When you identify the dynamic at play—the true spirit of the game—you can foster it, prolong it, and take it to Olympic heights.

2. Improve your flexibility and agility (whether muscular or mental). To stretch your gray matter, a Web search for "lateral thinking exercise" will offer puzzles unsolvable by traditional step-by-step logic. To increase your physical flexibility, the "sun salutation" of Yoga is a 12-step series of poses that exercise every muscle and joint of the body. Do a Web search for "sun salutation" to find free pictorial guidance.

3. Use drills to work on weaknesses (whether muscular or mental). If another player is one step ahead of you mentally or one second faster than you physically, that's a winning edge. A single increment of improvement may be all you need for success. Set simple goals and work one step at a time.

4. Better your memory. A good memory is a boon to virtually any game. A Web search for "memory game" will yield hundreds of free online resources for exercising your powers of recollection.

5. Dispel falsehoods that hinder you. Are you convinced that golf isn't a woman's game, or that softball is a young person's game, or that pinball is about making lights blink with a rolling ball? Educate yourself about your game. Read books, explore websites, talk to other players. There's always more to learn.

6. Sharpen your concentration. This is the age of the eleven-second attention span. Being easily distracted is ruinous to game play. Sharpening your concentration takes conscious, prolonged, repeated effort. Keep a journal about your game. Thinking and writing about your game will help to increase your power of concentration.

7. Manage your stress. Stress management techniques will help you improve virtually any game. A Web search for "stress management" will yield hundreds of free online tips and techniques. One marvelous stress reducer is laughter. A Web search for "laughter therapy" will inform you about how laughter reduces stress hormones, boosts immunity, promotes a positive attitude, and engenders a feeling of power.

8. Practice solo. If your game involves two or more people, don't let that fact discourage you from practicing any aspects you can work on by yourself.

9. Embrace change. "Change is necessary to improve your game. You must not be afraid to risk giving up the known for the unknown if you wish to play better."[2]

10. The final tip is too specific to apply to just any game. You already know what it implies, or will soon discover it through your ongoing self-education. Perhaps this tip will require the help of a coach or the advice of a teaching pro. Perhaps it will involve visualization techniques, or the use of a video camera, or familiarization with quantum physics. This final tip may be the ultimate key to your fullest enjoyment of your game.


[1] Lewis Henry Morgan, League of the Ho-dé-no-sau-nee or Iroquois, 1904, p. 303.
[2] Philip B. Capelle, Play Your Best Pool, 1995, p. 383.

Craig Conley is an independent scholar and author of One-Letter Words: A Dictionary (HarperCollins) and Magic Words: A Dictionary (Red Wheel). His website is One Letter Words. His Zen version of Rock-Paper-Scissors is called "Moon, Fish, Ocean."

Labels: , , ,

Exploring the Wisdom of Games

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Labels: , , , , ,

The socialization of virtual

Clive Thompson, a contributing writer for The New York Times, writes:
...By the looks of it, we're entering a new golden age of social, face-to-face game playing. Consider that in the last year, the biggest breakout hits have been music games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, and the Wii's sporty and casual titles.

Each of these games explicitly encourages social playing -- people hanging out together. (Here's a revealing cultural moment: I was walking down the street in the East Village last month and overheard two female college students complaining vociferously that they hadn't been invited to their friend's Rock Band session.)

Perhaps we're simply going back to the roots of gaming. Though you wouldn't know it from the perennial hysteria about games turning kids into walleyed, anti-social zombies, videogames were originally a social pursuit, because the best games were available only in arcades, and those places were as convivial as Irish pubs. You'd watch one another play, you'd share techniques, you'd talk trash, gossip.

In the late '80s, the rise of home consoles broke up that sociality, making gaming a more solitary pursuit -- something you pursued alone in a basement or a bedroom. But 10 years later, the rise of multiplayer gaming brought the public vibe back to games. That was particularly true of world-games like World of Warcraft, where players log in often for the sole purpose of chatting.

So maybe it's no surprise that we're coming full circle. We don't want to play alone. We want play dates.
Playing alone is fun. There are puzzles and solitaire and running around trees and stuff. Playing together is funner.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Labels: , , ,

The Spirit of the Game - from guest blogger Craig Conley

The "Spirit of the Game"

by Craig Conley

Without the spirit of the game,
what would the game be?
—Nevin H. Gibson,
The Encyclopedia of Golf

Arabian folklore tells of a wish-granting genie imprisoned in an oil lamp or bottle. Might players innocently conjure such a spirit in a game of spin-the-bottle? Indeed, every game has a motivating force at the heart of it -- its own sort of soul. Whatever we might call it -- essence, atmosphere, intention, or ethos -- it's that special spark that distinguishes the game from all others. Like a genie of folklore, the Spirit of the Game grants good sports a wish -- the ultimate wish. (We'll get to that in a moment.)

The Spirit of the Game is not necessarily spelled out in the rules. Indeed, "There are situations in which adherence to the so-called letter of the rules can be taken to violate the spirit of the game."[1]

The Spirit of the Game is a distillation of the intent of the rules. It has been called "a self-regulating set of norms without which some games would degenerate into anarchy."[2]

It is a frame of mind, not a commandment carved in stone. It's a point of view, a sense of humor, a strength of character. Novelist Richard Le Gallienne summed it up perfectly: "To be whimsical, therefore, in pursuit of a whim, fanciful in the chase of a fancy, is surely but to maintain the spirit of the game."[3]

Because it is typically undefined, the Spirit of the Game can be abused. Unsportsmanlike conduct (like taunting and intimidation) is one indication of abuse; bringing the game into disrepute is another.[4]

When honored across the board, the Spirit of the Game turns opponents into equals. Most importantly, it engenders fun. While camaraderie is jolly and competition is stimulating, "the real spirit of the game is all about having fun."[5]

Though each game has its own unique Spirit, there are some universal characteristics. The Spirit of the Game is:

• even-tempered
• self-possessed, yet unselfish
• levelheaded
• well-balanced
• untroubled
• either easygoing or animated
• motivated
• spontaneous
• committed
• earnest
• disciplined
• wholehearted
• courteous
• honorable
• responsible
• idealistic
Ultimately, the Spirit of the Game "is the only thing in the game which is lasting."[6]

Corporate trainer Julius E. Eitington makes an interesting observation: when players become caught up in the Spirit of the Game, they "become themselves."[7]

What is one's true self, but that of a player on the grand game board of life? Edward Clark Marsh once described being enlivened by the Spirit of the Game: "If it was not for a moment real life, it at least made you wish it were."[8]

Other signs that the Spirit of the Game is present include:

• both sides wish each other good luck
• both sides cheer one another (winning or losing is secondary; the game itself is a victory for all [9])
• everyone plays fair (no cheating, no bending of the rules)
• players celebrate the game's tradition, safeguard its precedent, and carry on its legacy
• players supervise themselves.
Game scientist Andrew Thornton notes that "There is no agreed upon definition of the Spirit of the Game, but there is a pervasive sense that one should play by it. The Spirit of the Game is the Police" inside each player's head.[10]

But we've neglected the quintessential sign that the Spirit of the Game is present. And that's when the ultimate wish is granted: the firing shot that sets play into motion. When the game is afoot, all else is inconsequential!

Fun Facts about the Spirit of the Game:

• In Ultimate Frisbee, where there are no referees and no penalties, the Spirit of the Game is the underlying philosophy. "The Ultimate player will always praise and support successful actions on both teams. It is a normal thing to introduce yourself to the opponent at the beginning of every point and to wish him a good game. And after the game both teams stand in a circle talking about the game and singing a song for the opponent team. So it is a lot more than just a short handshake after a game."[11]

• The Spirit of the Game comes into play "before the game has even begun."[12]

• "Soccer is unique among sports in that the official's job is first and foremost to maintain the spirit of the game as well as the safety of all concerned; this concern outweighs all other laws of the game."[13]

• The Spirit of the Game of soccer has been traced back to the early to mid nineteenth century, when the game developed from its folk roots into its modern form.[14]

• The Spirit of the Game of curling "demands good sportsmanship, kindly feeling, and honourable conduct."[15]

• The Fighting Spirit of the Game of American football is persistently aggressive in nature: "Throughout the history of football, the violent spirit of the game has endured, even as other elements of the game have changed."[16]

• The Spirit of the Game of lacrosse "is a feeling of honor and dignity."[17]

• The Spirit of the Game reminds players that not everything is a matter of life and death, that consequences are temporary, and that results are not critical.[6]

• The Spirit of the Game teaches players to "accept success with grace and failure with restraint."[18]

• The Spirit of the Game of golf is characterized by disciplined conduct, courtesy, and sportsmanship at all times.[19]

[1] Allan C. Hutchinson, It's All in the Game, 2000, p. 195.
[2] Lincoln Allison, Amateurism in Sport, 2001, p. 161.
[3] The Quest of the Golden Girl, 1897, p. 35.
[4] William John Morgan, Ethics in Sport, 2007, p. 126.
[5] Richard Carlson, The Don't Sweat Guide to Golf, 2002, p. 205.
[6] Division for Girls' and Women's Sports, Sports Programs for College Women, June 21-27, 1969, p. 23.
[7] The Winning Trainer, 2001, p. 142.
[8] "Anthony Hope's 'Sophy of Kravonia,'" The Bookman, 1907, p. 381.
[9] Modris Eksteins, Rites of Spring, 2000, p. 124.
[10] Belinda Wheaton, ed., Understanding Lifestyle Sport, 2004, p. 187.
[11] Jorg Bahl, Ultimate Frisbee, 2007, p. 4.
[12] John Byl, Co-Ed Recreational Games, 2002, p. 205.
[13] Andy Caruso, Soccer Coaching, 1996, p. 29.
[14] Sharon Colwell, "The 'Letter' and the 'Spirit': Football Laws and Refereeing in the Twenty-First Century," The Future of Football, 2000, p. 201.
[15] Gary Belsky & Neil Fine, 23 Ways to Get to First Base, 2007, p. 209.
[16] William D. Dean, The American Spiritual Culture, 2002, p. 148.
[17] Steve Bristol, quoted in Our Game: The Character and Culture of Lacrosse by John M. Yeager, 2005, p. 79.
[18] Hubert Vogelsinger, The Challenge of Soccer, 1973, p. 274.
[19] United States Golf Association, Golf Rules Illustrated, 2004, p. 4.

About the author:

Craig Conley is an independent scholar and author of One-Letter Words: A Dictionary (HarperCollins) and Magic Words: A Dictionary (Red Wheel). His website is His Zen version of Rock-Paper-Scissors can be found at

Labels: , ,

"...just another kind of fun."

It is something of a testimony to something to discover I have friends like these, who think of me so lovingly as to send me something like this:


Thought of you as I just finished reading Alan Alda's memoir, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed And Other Things I've Learned. (Highly recommended for anyone with a theater background!) The back story on this quote is that in October of 2003, he was in Chile working on an episode of Scientific American Frontiers. Filming at a remote mountaintop observatory he came within probably an hour or two of dying from an obstructed bowel but through a wonderful series of events involving both grace and luck was successfully operated on and is still thriving.

[page 218] Chapter 21. Golden Time.

"On a movie set, after the crew has worked twelve straight hours, they go into overtime pay in which every hour is worth two. It's called golden time. After Chile, I was on golden time. It was clear to me that everything I did was something I couldn't have done if I'd checked out in La Serena. Now, at last, there was no pressure to succeed. There was nothing I needed to prove to anyone. There was only the chance to have another day and to have some kind of fun with it; trivial fun or deep fun, they were both good. I still wanted to get better at what I knew how to do, but that was just another kind of fun."


"There was only the chance to have another day," says Alan Alda, "and to have some kind of fun with it; trivial fun or deep fun, they were both good. I still wanted to get better at what I knew how to do, but that was just another kind of fun."

What a wonderful connection. What wisdom. What a good friend Bruce is to have remembered me with this. What fun. What a fun way to embrace all 54 flavors of fun.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Labels: , ,

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

Labels: , , ,

Education and The Well-Played Game

A colleague received the following note from a teacher interested in attending a session I was teaching about The Well-Played Game:
Do you feel this workshop will work with 10 of our teachers combined with 20 other people from other areas in the community?

I really am not totally convinced of the direct application of this workshop to the classroom, but maybe you can convince me more! I do see the relevancy of having fun, but I guess I am used to workshops for teachers that are specifically geared to the curriculum and classroom.
Here's my response:
As a teacher, hired by the School District of Philadelphia, back in 19 - can you believe it - 68! to write a city-wide elementary school curriculum in, yes, theater - I discovered how remarkably ineffective our schools were at teaching kids how to work together. Theater, as I understood it, is a demanding, labor-intensive, social collaboration. It's all about working together, creating together, acting together. So I wound up developing a 5-volume, 6-hole punched curriculum to teach kids how to play together.

As a teacher, especially as someone who was working inner city elementary school kids, who spent his time playing games like duck-duck-for-goodness-sake-goose, I learned how important play was to human, social and intellectual growth. And how important social growth was to educational growth. And how silly we were to expect kids who didn't even have a chance to play together to become skilled at working together.

And that's what I'm still teaching 40 years later.

Yes, I realize that the ability to work well together is not measured directly, per se. But my guess is that any experienced teacher understands how a kid's ability to play with other kids turns out to be part of everything that we educate for - not just math and reading skills, but intelligence, maturity, esteem, leadership, grace.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Of play, talking to yourself, and self-regulation

Play and self-regulation? Play, the apotheosis of abandonment, spontaneity and general mucking about...and self-regulation?

Well, maybe not play, so much. But games. Games, for sure. Like, for example, Simon Says. Here's what Alix Speigel says in her article Old Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills
"Simon Says is a game that requires children to inhibit themselves. You have to think and not do something, which helps to build self-regulation."
And this about reading stories with preschoolers from researcher Laura Berk:
"Reading storybooks with preschoolers promotes self-regulation, not just because it fosters language development, but because children's stories are filled with characters who model effective self-regulatory strategies."
And the there's even talking to yourself. "Permitting and encouraging children to be verbally active," writes Speigel, "to speak to themselves while engaged in challenging tasks — fosters concentration, effort, problem-solving, and task success."

"In fact," says "executive function researcher" Laura Berk, "if we compare preschoolers' activities and the amount of private speech that occurs across them, we find that this self-regulating language is highest during make-believe play. And this type of self-regulating language… has been shown in many studies to be predictive of executive functions."

Speigel continues: "It turns out that all that time spent playing make-believe actually helped children develop a critical cognitive skill called executive function. Executive function has a number of different elements, but a central one is the ability to self-regulate. Kids with good self-regulation are able to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline...We know that children's capacity for self-regulation has diminished...Poor executive function is associated with high dropout rates, drug use and crime. In fact, good executive function is a better predictor of success in school than a child's IQ. Children who are able to manage their feelings and pay attention are better able to learn."

If we'd only let them play.... If we only believed in fun....

via Steve Cooperman

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Labels: , ,

Mystic Ball - the movie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Labels: , , ,

Hard Fun, Easy Fun, Visceral Fun, Social Fun

In his wonderful presentation on the Core of Fun, Ralph Koster identifies four more kinds of fun:

"Games," Koster conjectures, "mostly focus on hard fun."

I, of course, think of "hard fun" in terms of "flow, complexity and the 'slanty line'," and social fun in terms of "coliberation." Nevertheless, these are in deed 4 more flavors of fun to behold, enjoy, and plant into our many-flavored garden of conceptual joy.

See also Koster's "Theory of Fun." And perhaps this, from one game company that claims to put the theory into practice.

via Craig Conley

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Labels: , ,

The Well-Played Game applied: The Player as Author

In 2003, Cindy Poremba, "a digital media theorist, producer and curator researching documentary and videogames through Concordia University's Doctoral Humanities program," published a paper which she titled: "Remaking Each Other's Dreams: Player Authors in Digital Games." The abstract begins: "One of the more interesting and distinct aspects of the digital game genre is the proliferation of player-produced content and artifacts."

One of the references she cites is a book, originally published in 1978. The book is about social games - you know, like hide and seek and tag - about the social dynamics, the balance, the rules, like quitting and cheating and stuff. And, oh, yes, it's a book I happened to write - The Well-Played Game - which partially explains my excitement about discovering Poremba's paper. The other thing that excites me, maybe even more, is what she has to say about what I wrote - how well easily she sees the relevance of the book (remember, it was written 30 years ago) to an understanding of the dynamics of the online play community.

In fact, I'd like to go further - to explore its relevance to the virtual world at large. But that's another story.

Cindy's website, shinySpinning, is a treasure for anyone wanting to explore our ever-evolving understanding of fun, games, community and media.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Taking Play Seriously

Taking Play Seriously. So far, no fewer than seven of my friends wrote me about this article in yesterday's New York Times (I have some very good friends). It concludes: "Animal findings about how play influences brain growth suggest that playing, though it might look silly and purposeless, warrants a place in every child’s day. Not too overblown a place, not too sanctimonious a place, but a place that embraces all styles of play and that recognizes play as every bit as essential to healthful neurological development as test-taking drills, Spanish lessons or Suzuki violin."

This conclusion was my favorite part of a lengthy (12 page) article that explores many theories of play - the majority based on studies of animal play, some on brain studies, and the rest on play scholarship. But it was the conclusion I liked best. Maybe because, over the many years of my own personal explorations of play, I've become familiar with most of these studies; maybe also because I've come to believe that we can be of greater service, not by trying to understand play, but by having more faith in our children's love for it, more appreciation for our own moments of pointeless exuberance, more respect for the fundamental glee that comes from being alive.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


A Competitor's Perspective on New Games and Ultimate Frisbee

Joey Grey, my Ultimate Frisbee friend of many years now, sent me this link to an article titled: "The Origins of Ultimate Frisbee's 'Spirit' - Is THIS What You Signed Up For?"

I've not encountered such a deeply researched and passionately negative perspective on New Games and Ultimate Frisbee before. The main argument: that the "Spirit of the Game has nothing to do with good sportsmanship and everything to do with survival of the weakest" is, on the one hand, oddly distorted, and on the other, remarkably perceptive.

Ultimately, if you excuse the expression, this article is a real contribution to the evolution of everything that we tried to do with New Games. He has included some valuable links to scholarly and historic documents about the New Games "movement," and provides us with some major insights about why our ideas are still as revolutionary today as they were 40 years ago.

Perhaps, before you read his article, it might help to understand who the author is, and why:
"Frank Huguenard began playing Frisbee in the late 1960’s and being from a large chaotic family in Indiana, grew up fiercely competitive. By the late seventies, Frank had become fairly proficient with a disc and being athletically inclined, when he heard that there was a Frisbee-centric team sport on the Purdue campus, he immediately took to it and became involved with the sport called Ultimate. Being a square peg stuffed into a round hole (a competitive jock amongst a culture designed specifically to accommodate neither), Frank has spent decades ostensibly miserable in a environment (ironically created to emphasize fun and inclusion) that he consistently experienced as hostile and unaccepting towards him, his out of the box thinking and his unconventional throws & moves."
He correctly concludes: "you can't have a competitive sport based on the kind of ideology that creates a level playing field for the weakest player to have a fair shot at winning." Creating a level playing field for the weakest player to have a fair shot at winning - that's exactly what we did with our New Games, over and over again. We did it by not taking competition seriously. By demonstrating alternatives, by creating opportunities for people to experience "loving competition." Were we, as the author charges, "excluding ultra-competitive personalities from competition?" Why should we? Our culture has produced endless opportunities for ultra-competitive personalities to compete, like, for example, war. What we were creating were alternatives to "win at all costs" competition at a time when there were very, very few, not even skateboarding or bungee jumping.

The author has gone on to create what he considers to be a solution - a truly competitive version of Ultimate Frisbee that he calls Disc Hoops. It's not the kind of game I'd be able to play, or even want to. Me, I'm still creating alternatives of the "anybody can win" type. Not to compete with him, heaven forfend, but because, as he so clearly points out, the need for more and newer games doesn't seem to have diminished at all, at all.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Labels: ,

Fairy Chess

Fairy chess, explains the Wikipedian, "is a term in a chess problem which expands classical (also called orthodox) chess problems which are not direct mates. The term was introduced before the First World War. While selfmate dates from the Middle Age, helpmate was invented by Max Lange in the late 19th century. Thomas Dawson (1889-1951), pioneer of fairy chess, invented many fairy pieces and new conditions. He was also problem editor of The Fairy Chess Review (1930-1951)."

"On the other hand," comments the Funsmith, "Fairy Chess is an invitation to a cornucopious collection of what can only be called "Variant Chess Games," or, shall we say, more ways to play chess than you could shake a pawn at."

"Fairy Chess," continues the Funsmith, eyes akimbo with conceptual glee, "is, in fact, the chessular embodiment of Junkyard Sports, New Games and every one of those noblly playful efforts to return the power of play to the hands, hearts and minds of the players."

See also, the Piececlopedia

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Labels: , , ,

Monkeys laugh, too

Facebook friend Phil Shapiro wanted us to know about an article he found about monkey laughs. Yup, turns out that monkeys laugh, too. Or at least they do something that sure seems like laughing.

The article cites Dr Marina Davila Ross, from the University of Portsmouth, who "studied the play behaviour of 25 orang-utans aged between two and 12 at four primate centres around the world." She discovered that: "When one of the orang-utans displayed an open, gaping mouth, its playmate would often display the same expression less than half a second later."

"In humans," she explains, "mimicking behaviour can be voluntary and involuntary. Until our discovery there had been no evidence that animals had similar responses.

"What is clear now is the building blocks of positive emotional contagion and empathy that refer to rapid involuntary facial mimicry in humans evolved prior to humankind."

Ah, rapid involuntary facial mimicry. How fun is that?

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


The Sound and Fury at the Educational Centre for Games in Israel

I learned about The Sound and the Fury more than 30 years ago, when I first joined the New Games Foundation. Since then, I've been teaching it almost every chance I get. I have my reasons, in deed I do. It's a great way to get people involved, engaged, open, willing to play, exploring their own capacities for public silliness, and a perfect introduction to the idea of Coliberation.

I had the chance to teach the game again with some rather remarkable people in a rather remarkable place. The remarkable thing about these people was that they came from all over Israel because they value play and games and toys as tools for restoring health. The remarkable place was called "The Educational Centre for Games in Israel." And the remarkable woman who invited me to speak was its director, Helena Kling.

I first encountered Helena through her work with the International Toy Research Foundation. I found the following description of Helena and her center in an old issue of the ITRA newsletter
"Helena is by profession a psychologist specializing on Children’s Play in Hospita, and has for many years been working on projects about play. At present running the Educational Centre for Games in Israel, a non-profit association which she describes as follows:'We have a small building full of stuff, a veritable 'heritage centre' of play; there is 'hands on play' available; a work room where people can make games and toys; an exhibition room with miniature rooms and two model railways; a library that has become a centre of information on play; a large collection of Israeli board games and collection of collections and dolls and so much more that if I go on writing about it I am afraid of disbelief!'"
Such wonderful energy. Such a deep commitment to play. Such an honor. Such a fun person to play with.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Labels: , , , ,