Games for Playful Players

by Bernard De Koven

The experience of the well-played game is what we love most about sports, but it is accessible only to truly accomplished athletes. There are thousands of other games besides sports. Most of them are easier to play, more inviting, far less serious, and even more likely to lead to the very same thing we find in the well-played game – something I often find myself calling “deep fun.”

We start with Seven Ways to Make Almost Anything More Fun. Then we opine on how you can even make losing fun, if you’re playing those kinds of games. And from there, to:

Games for the Many

cards - usc - bradley newman - 119 copy

The Greetings Game – how many ways can you say hello?
Giant Cards
and games to play with them
Identity Exchange – a milling around game in which one becomes other
Boxes – a game for hundreds
Giant Pick-Up Sticks – and I mean, GIANT
Human Card Games – silly mixers for large groups
Reception Line – formal silliness
Human Tunnel – mass movement through very longer and longer people tunnels
Human Spiral – going around together
Human Caterpillar – a roll-playing game
Snake in the Grass – eek, snakes everywhere!
Blob Tag – sooner or later, we all get blobbed
The Shoe Ritual – cargo cult cuteness
Octopus Tag – it’s good to be a tentacle
Catch the Dragon’s Tail – the more dragons, the more tails to catch
Bomb and Shield – a mad milling game from Augusto Boal
Eclipse – another mad milling game from Augusto Boal
The Orchestra Game – making something like music together
Humans vs. Zombies – campus-wide fear frolic
Mutual Self-Congratulations - another hand game
Mass Multiplayer Crowdsourced Paddycake – a hand game for any size group
Something that Beats Something that Beats Something Else that Beats Something – a variation of a variation of Rock/Scissors/Paper – and here’s a variation of that.
Blather, the game? – blather together or not.
The Shared Twiddle – let’s all join hands and twiddle
Take a Bow – applauding for no particular reason, bowing when you feel like it.
Instant Paddy Cake – spontaneously generated, ad hoc playfulness
Doh-si-doh – a polygon dance without the music or dancing

A New Games Album from Lee Rush: a reminiscence of a spirit that is sadly out-of-date.
Photos from my New Games Workshop for NYU Game Center

Games for the slightly less many


Johnny Went to Sleep – sooner or later, you just give up
A What, and another What – exploring confusion
Zoom – a sitting around game
Chairs and Laps – a moving around game
Car-Car – an excuse to make nice to each other
Cookie Machine – another nice-making excuse
Mutual Massage – yet another opportunity for shared ah – from the Touching Games collection
Hug Tag – lots of running around and sweet touching
Everybody’s It Freeze Tag – a dramatically quick game of tag
Elephant, Giraffe, Toaster – a game of quick and silly response
Ultimate Rock-Paper-Scissors – a.k.a. Rock, Paper, Scissors, Posse – a silly way for everyone to get on the same side
Dho-Dho-Dho – the practice of loving competition
Machines – a theater-like game of collective body building
J’Accuse – a game of murder by palm tickle
Screamless – group silliness from Emperor Matt
The Knee Games – a welcome addition to our collection of collective silliness
Human Microphone – amplify each other
Dumb Crambo – a team guessing game
Teeth – for your silly parlor, a genuine, silly parlor game
Giving Off Hints – kind of like verbal Sardines
Pointless – a finger game for any size group
The Evolution of Volleyball according to the Oaqui – introducing Jollyball, Follyball and Polyball
Of Schmerltzes, Sockballs and Pantyhose – safe, soft, ball-like games
The “Numbers Game” and Thumper, too – beyond sanity – see also Lucy and Roll Over  and Big Booty
Rock-Scissors-Paper Tag – which way to run and why
Group Juggling – border on impossibility
Dum Dum Da Da – a singing silliness
Lemonade – a game of great drama and taggage
Wink – don’t let a good one get away
Duck-Duck-Elephant – beyond Duck-Duck-Goose
Estray Bonajour – a singing ritual of shoe passage
Machines – a theater-like game
The Lap Game – a.k.a. lapsit
Chairless – like the Lap Game, only not
Zen Hip Swing – get moved while moving someone else
Human Clay Reverse Charades – like it says
Psychic Handshake – mystical group gathering
Prui – the game
Glass Cobra – get yourselves together together
The Sound and the Fury – a warm-up game of almost mystical silliness – see also Signifying Nothing
Bernie Found Nirvana – a game that’s played until it’s impossible
Panther, Person, Porcupine – three-team Rock, Scissors, Paper
People Pass – and variants
People to People – twisted twister
The Prince of Wales – beyond Numbers. See also The Priest of the Parish (a.k.a. “Who Sir, Me Sir?)
9 trading numbers for wackiness
The Wrapping Game- An hilarious game for all ages

Games for one or two or few, or a few more


Human Spring – a game for two Stand-Off – a similar game for two, but competitive
Danish Clapping Game – way beyond paddy-cake
Handpile Ouija – mystic silliness
Knots – weaving a tangled web
Spaghetti Standoff - pasta-partnered
Tiger-Person-Fireworks – a game of happy coincidence for two
Sequitur – actually, non-
Thinkers – why you’re more right than anyone else
Ninja Slap – a martial arts-like game of far more than martial arts-like fun – and variationd
Not-so-Crazy Eights – playing for family unity
Runaround Ping Pong – pongish silliness
Crazier Eights – playing for fun
If We Were – imaginary transformations
There’s Thumb Wars – and then there’s Samurai Thumbs
Handland – puppet theater of the air
Sock-Fu – Ninja Slap, except with socks
Sock Wrestling – let the mayhem hem as it may
Sound Travel - make noise, go places
Bonk Ball – lie on your backs with your heads together, try to lob a ball onto someone’s belly button
Darkroom - build an image and see what develops
PowerPointless – act out your own presentation
Everlasting Games
– pointless fun forever
The Frog – make a friend for life
Endless Blessings – The Game – bless each other in and with fun
There Must Be a Good Reason
Verbal Ping Pong – and beyond
How do you like it? Why do you like it? When do you like it? Where do you like it? – questionable guessing
Simultalk – talking together
Blind Sculptor – very touching
Redondo – group doodling
Drawing together – kinda like it says
Elephant, Elephant, Elephant – a card game of significant hilarity
It Could Be Worse – And it could be even worse than that
No, no, no. Thank you!
Dayeinu – the game
Oaqui Pong – An infinity of Ping Pong variations…
Found Object Scrabble – what to do at a restaurant while you’re waiting to get served
Manner of the Adverb – a dramatic guessing game
Coffeepot – Don’t coffeepot until you see the whites of their teeth
Minip - a kind of UnTennis for people who like playing more than winning.
Twenty Questions – begins with a discussion of the nature of human/computer interface as. revealed by the game of Twenty Questions, and concludes with a description of a new variation called “Plenty Questions.”
Cosmic counting – how high can you count together without interrupting each other
Checkers – and beyond
Long Knives and the Big Plate Special – a delicious and playful way to teach a remarkably spiritual message
Subversive Golf – as more or less developed by the DeepFUN group
BaaBaaBaaTwinkleEFG – a game of mental exacerbation
Cranked Clay – like Sculptor and Clay, only without the yucky touching
Higher Five and Clap You – a couple of hand games for silly times
3-player Rock-Paper-Scissors – further adventures into DIY games
Toilet Paper Tug of Love – careful caring
The Toilet Paper Connection – very gentle persuasion – perhaps leading to Toilet Paper Follow the Leader
Penny games – cheap fun of many dimensions
Werewolf – kill for the fun of it
Finger Jousting – strenuously, but pointedly pointless
Flip the Kipper – all you need is some magazines some newspaper and some silly-ready people
This is My Nose - you point to something and call it something else, I point to something else, call it something…
Mitt Rowdy – a game for two, and oven mitts, and a coin
from Comfort to Joy and beyond – conceptual sequentials
Ghost the game with letters
Stuntly – challenges from Beat the Clock to Minute to Win It to your game night
Creative Twiddling – self-occupation at its finest
Coaster games – you know, like those things you find under your drink

A Million Ways to Play Marbles, At Least – from the Well-Played Game.  (You can give everyone some marbles to play with while they listen to me read [about 10 minutes])

 Toy Stories – games with toys by Major FUN

Glue Things
Snapper Hands
Koosh Balls and Silly Putty
Suction Balls
Wikki Stix
Executive Balls
Your basic Strechin’ Squid Yoyo
The Never Fall Bumper Car metaphor and toy
Mighty Jumpz
Ziggy Pasta Ball Mondo

Make a ball out of shopping bags – recycling for the fun of it

Play Lists

Games for the Spirit – including some of the games in this collection, put in perspective
Fantasy games – playing with the imagination
Not Laughing Games – you’re not supposed to laugh, but that’s not the point
Touching games – loving fun of the more touching kind
Hangout Games – games to play in a Google Hangout
Ye Olde New Games Two Hour Game Session Games List
Playing for laughs – games like these, only more suited to smaller groups in smaller places
More Playful Games of Dubious Purpose – as requested by various workshop participants
Still More Playful Games – in case you run out
Dramatically Playful Games – pointless games that engage the imagination
Jim Moskowitz’s Parlor Game colletion
Games to play at the retirement home – a collection of pointless games, not too much moving or thinking, just a lot of fun
Lifelong Games – games to play through your ages
Playing with the Grandkids - a smattering of games for loving fun
Sweet Silliness for playful couples
Audience games
Food Games
Playing with losing

Sports for All of Us

Junkyard Sports – very unofficial sports
New Sports (a proposal)
Mega Soccer
Mondo Croquet
Bocce Drift
Free Form Frisbee Golf
Debauchery Ball
Subversive Golf
Urban Golf
Shore Shoes
Free Bowl


See the Collection of collections of games

Bernie and his play/work

Interview with Bernie in the American Journal of Play
Lots and lots about Bernie
Bernie at TEDx Asheville
Free download of A Playful Path

Articles about The Play Community

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