New Games, competition and giant soap bubbles

During my conversation with Eric at Indiecade, I made a special effort to share something about New Games that seems to have been lost in the re-telling. New Games were not just cooperative. There was competition. In deed there was. The point of it all was not that the games were competitive or cooperative, the point was that the focus of New Games was on playing together, on celebrating community.

In her article In New Games Everyone’s a Winner, Claire Murray Noake describes the first New Games Tournament. She adds:

New Games does not deny the need to compete or the need to release hostility; however, the player’s competitiveness is usually directed against his own limitations and his hostility is released without harm to others. In New Frisbee, for example, the player concentrates on perfecting his own skills, not on defeating his partner. While New Frisbee looks very much like Old Frisbee, it is philosophically quite different. The player gets no points if he catches a good throw; on the other hand, if he catches or even misses but makes an all-out attempt for a difficult throw, he gains a point. Since the catcher calls his own points, each player is competing against the limitations of not only personal skill but personal integrity.

In Boffing, a form of fencing, pent-up emotions are released but no one is harmed. The participants, wearing both ear and eye protectors, “whop” or “boff” each other in a free-style swing with styrofoam swords.

To understand what New Games brought to us, it’s important to acknowledge how it embraced competition. Stewart Brand’s concept of Soft War, core to the concept New Games and the creation of the iconic earth ball, was based on training games used in military boot camps, as so well-illustrated in this video.

And, more recently, in this discussion about a team-building event that involved New Games, Bubblesmith Sterling Johnson writes:

You are right that some of the games were very competitive. Except when they allowed people to channel their evil John McEnroe, the competition had the effect of people trying really hard to see where they could push the situation, to discover something new, and to be as sharp and effective as possible. I like that kind of competition. It is like when folks at Daze 2 (2 years ago in SF) tried to make a world’s largest soap bubble. There was a competition, but I think everyone wanted everyone else to accomplish it almost as much as they wanted to accomplish it themselves. There is a sense, as you say, that everyone was on both sides of the net, and that we were cooperating to accomplish a thing bigger than any one of us.

And then notes:

One of the things about new games, like bubbles and good magic, is that they offered a portal into seeing the world and playfulness differently. To help people see the world differently is a very high calling, and new games was a playful and participatory way into that experience.


  1. mary on October 12, 2012 at 9:32 am

    Yes yes! Would this be another way to say it? When competition is so fierce that one cannot engage with the community of the game, it does not work for the ethos of a new game?

    • Bernie DeKoven on October 12, 2012 at 9:45 am

      Yes yes. It would be another way to say it. Here’s another way to say what I think you said: New Games (the “Brand” name – get it, “Brand” – as in Stewart Brand? – O, clever, clever I) is, first and foremost, a community experience. Inclusive, at the very heart. Any game that would exclude people, for any reason, that would separate people into winners and losers, leaders and followers, players and spectators, would not be called a “New Game.” It would be an old game. Very old. Old in the sense of “all too familiar,” of “come on, already, enough with the crazy hurting and beating and general cruelty” of “you call this fun?”

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