New Games, still


June, 2002: Yesterday there was a New Games festival in Redondo Beach. It was a genuine New Games festival, complete with many of the New Games that we wrote about in the New Games books. There was Egg Toss (with water balloons), Snake in the Grass, Tug of War, Boffers, parachute games, and yes, of course, the Lap Game.

It was facilitated by 60 volunteers who had been through an official New Games Training led by a genuine New Games trainer, Dr. Bill Michaelis.

Actual New Games. The same kind of New Games that Bill and I taught 30 years ago, played in the same Play Hard, Play Fair, Nobody Hurt spirit that we learned to manifest in the hills of San Francisco and the fields of Fleetwood, Pennsylvania.

New Games was born in the 70s. It was the brainchild of Stewart Brand. In many ways, it was part of the anti-war movement. There were sit-ins and be-ins. This was a kind of play-in. A demonstration of community and solidarity. Stewart had great success with a book he wrote called "The Whole Earth Catalog" - the book was a large catalog of alternative technologies, appealing to the "hippies" among us who were trying to build communes and live inexpensively and consciously.

The first events were held around San Francisco, naturally. The were called "New Games Tournaments." Thousands of people came to play. Stuart's original idea was what he called "Soft War" - many games that involved competitive contact, but games where people played lovingly, for the fun of it. That's where the motto "Play Hard, Play Fair, Nobody Hurt" became so identified with the concept.

Later on, more and more non-competitive games were included, because it turned out that for many participants, the soft war games were just too threatening. This was largely due to the influence of Pat Farrington, who joined the New Games Foundation a bit later. When I joined the Foundation, there was a great need for more of these non-competitive games, and especially for a training program. That was my specific contribution. New Games are very much alive. Especially in elementary schools where they've been adopted into the curriculum.

As for non-competitive games: I've taken a slightly different approach, as I indicated in my article and now in my book Junkyard Sports where the idea is not necessarily to eliminate competition, but to somehow shift the focus away from winning and more towards the fun of playing. I like to make the distinction between play and playfulness. The games I advocate are those that encourage playfulness.

Traditionally, non-competitive games are games that have no winners or losers. There is definitely need for more and more of these games, to balance out the kind of rampant competitiveness of traditional sports. On the other hand, I tend to believe that a more descriptive term for both cooperative games and New Games is "Pointless Games" - because the score doesn't matter and the only reason to play is for the fun of it. Take a look, for example, at this page - the two games (and my lecture) shown are both competitive, but designed so that there really are no winners or losers. And in the first game - Panther-Person-Porcupine - losers join the winning teams!

New Games developed into a brand for a collection of Pointless Games. They were compiled in two books, both of which are out of print. And yet, here we are, playing New Games again. Who would have thought that the New Games we played 30 years ago would keep their newness a generation after they were invented?
Not me! I thought we'd have to invent a whole new generation of New Games, every generation. Me, I'm still busy inventing Newer games.
But just yesterday I was playing those same old New Games, and I was watching people teach each other how to play in the same old New Games way.

Old New Games. And we were still having as much fun. Still being as playful. Playing games that were still as renewing. Still as new.

Of course, the people were different. A different generation of people, in fact. But they played just as hard. And the fun they created together was just as revolutionary.

Which says something about revolution, I think, and something more about we who revolve.