Hide&Seek – inventing new kinds of play

Filed Under (Defender of the Playful) by Bernie DeKoven on 08-03-2011

Hide&Seek describes itself as “a game design studio dedicated to inventing new kinds of play.”

I was first introduced to their work when I learned of their Boardgame Remix Kit “turning games you own into games you love” – a booklet, app, deck of cards to help people bring new life, and new fun, to traditional board games. I was so excited by how this simple concept could empower players to create their own board game variations, how effective their execution was, and how much I personally believe in giving people the permission and guidance they need to focus on their own sense of fun, that I gave them an enthusiastic endorsement on my Deep Fun site.

This led me to wanting to learn more about the inventors, and their organization. I discovered that the Boardgame Remix Kit is only one of many of their projects combining many different forms of play (game design, theater, social games, board games), and that each project invites social interaction, creativity, and joyful personal engagement. Hide&Seek being an organization who’s purpose is, as they claim, to “expand the boundaries of play” and the people who get to participate in them.

This is the first Defender of the Playful award going to an entire organization. And Hide&Seek seems to me to be indeed the very kind of organization that merits the establishment of this precedent. They are far more than a game design company. They are a company of “artists, game designers and players” who work together, and obviously play together. They “…founded the UK’s first festival of pervasive games in London in 2007, which is now the Hide&Seek Weekender, taking place every summer on London’s South Bank…run the Sandpit, a series of events around the UK and a thriving network of artists, game designers and players. And…create social games and playful experiences for clients in the commercial, public and cultural sectors.”

I was especially moved by their value statement, probably because it so clearly echoes the thinking behind my personal dedication to making the world more fun: “our values are centred around our belief that play, as a theme, a way of being, and design tool, is integral to understanding how culture will develop in the 21st century.”

They’ve made a lovely little film (about a half-hour) to describe at least some of their work/play. If you can take the time to watch it, their mission, and playfulness, will both become a bit more vivid.

Not only are they helping understand how culture will develop, they are actively engaging in changing the culture – helping to create a more playful and playworthy future. Hide&Seek – Defenders of the Playful.

Dr. Madan Kataria – Defender of the Playful

Filed Under (Defender of the Playful) by Bernie DeKoven on 31-01-2011

Think about laughing. About laughing out loud. A lot.

Dr. Madan Kataria has thought about it. Also a lot. He thought especially about how tired you can get from laughing, about how much of your body you use, about how you breathe when you laugh, how you move when you laugh, how your eyes tear, your heart beats, how thoroughly engaged your whole body gets, how much exercise you’re getting just by laughing.

He lives in India, where most such exercises get categorized as yoga. And so he invented Laughter Yoga.

See, laughter is easy. It’s fun. And you can make yourself laugh, especially when you’re with other people, and when you make yourself laugh with other people, they laugh too. Which makes you laugh louder and harder. Which makes them laugh louder and harder.

So he started doing just that. And then he developed more exercises, adding yoga bits here and there, meditation, even. Teaching what he came to call Laughter Yoga. Here, for example, is his latest, and deepest – a five day “Laughter and Silence Retreat.”

Laughter Yoga is fun. Sometimes it’s hard fun. Often, it’s very, very deep fun. And it’s playful. Dr. Katarian has devoted much of the last 15 years exploring, developing, teaching, encouraging the people he trains to play with the whole concept, to create new exercises, to take his ideas further, while he focuses on taking them deeper.

Laughter Yoga has become deeper and richer as he has taught it to people from all over the world. He is constantly planning new ways to evolve his message, and to encourage others to evolve it along with him. Currently, he is planning to open a Laughter Yoga University in India, to launch Laughter Yoga globe-spanning cruise, and on, and on.  In every way, by every definition, proving himself a Defender of the Playful.

Vi Hart – Defender of the Playful

Filed Under (Defender of the Playful) by Bernie DeKoven on 11-12-2010

Vi Hart makes food into platonic solids, and does similar platonic stuff with balloons, and while in math class, doodles, mathematically. She also makes music with burning paper instruments that she also makes, along with paper-tape music boxes; and creates hyperbolic beadwork (don’t ask, click).  I could tell you about her Harry Potter Septet, her Storia podcast, herpublications, her comic, wire, charcoal, and hyperbolic planes art – but what do I know?

Actually, I do know fun when I see it. And Vi Hart is fun. And I know playfulness when I see it. And Vi Hart is most definitely playful. So playful that in my personal lexicography, I would call her a virtual Defender of the Playful, in deed and fact I did.

I often whine to myself about the state of education, elementarily or secondarily speaking. And when teachers ask me how they can make things like Math more fun, my internal whining is all but deafening. Math, I say, mostly to myself, but occasionally to someone who is actually listening, is already fun. You don’t have to make it fun. You have to make the fun of it apparent, accessible. You have to meet people like Vi Hart, who, when she finds herself suffering through yet another math class, doodles herself into realms of pure, abstract, mathematical whimsy.

Thanks for this fine, fun find, funson.

Marc Bekoff, Defender of the Playful

Filed Under (Defender of the Playful) by Bernie DeKoven on 02-06-2010

You read my review of Marc Bekoff’s children’s book Animals at Play: The Rules of the Game.

Here, from his The Animal Manifesto: Six Reasons for Expanding Our Compassion Footprint – a brief excerpt:

If animals can think and feel, what do they think and feel about the ways humans treat them? What would they say to us, and what would they ask of us, if they could speak a human language? Here is what I believe their manifesto would consist of:

  1. All animals share the Earth and we must coexist.
  2. Animals think and feel.
  3. Animals have and deserve compassion.
  4. Connection breeds caring, alienation breeds disrespect.
  5. Our world is not compassionate to animals.
  6. Acting compassionately helps all beings and our world.

Read more:

Hence, it is with similarly wholehearted delight that I nominate Marc Defender of the Playful.

Bob Gregson – Defender of the Playful

Filed Under (Defender of the Playful) by Bernie DeKoven on 09-11-2009

There’s a work of art hanging on one of the walls of Bob Gregson‘s studio. It’s a framed letter that Bob had notarized. It reads: “Bob Gregson has never done a work of art in his entire career or anything that remotely resembles one.”

With this, he has managed to transform what anyone else would consider to a profound insult into what, oddly enough, is a testimony to the playfulness that he has brought to art – or is it the art he has brought to his playfulness?

In an earlier post, on Deep Fun, I called Bob an “artist of whimsy and delight.” Most recently, Bob’s nephew produced a short documentary that made me realize I need to write about him again – this time to grant him the much-deserved honor, benefits, and privileges of the title “Defender of the Playful.”

The video is just long enough to hint at the depth of his playfulness – a clear enough hint to allow me to demonstrate why I have such a deep appreciation for his work, his lifelong struggle to share it, and his many delightfully provoking accomplishments.

Upon learning of this award, Mr. Gregson responded: “I am humbled at this honor. As you’ve taught me (and I think you said) ‘play is a terribly maligned word.’ And it is true – and when you make ‘art’ (or ‘fart’ which is ‘fun art’ as one 13 year old called my work) it is really hard to get people to understand. But then again, if they understood they would be very self-conscious of the subtle decisions that one makes to create a comfortable and safe play-space. But with all that said, it REALLY comes down to my selfish desire to have fun – and the more I can twist the rules around, the more I can get people to play – and thus allow me to play too. This reminds me of a student paper that someone did a few years ago when I was a guest teacher at a ‘Creativity Class’ (whatever that is!). At any rate, I had college students working in teams to make buildings in which the team could fit. Newspaper was the medium. One student wrote in her report that ‘it was clear that Mr. Gregson could hardly restrain himself from participating.’ And it’s true. I can’t help myself. “

Bob Gregson is gift. And here he is, for you to enjoy.

Kim and Jason Kotecki – Defenders of the Playful

Filed Under (Defender of the Playful) by Bernie DeKoven on 16-09-2009

First, take a minute to read how Kim and Jason Kotecki explain their passion for play:

“…we’ve made it our mission in life to uncover the secrets of childhood and share them with others. We’ve written books, conducted interviews, experienced exciting adventures, and traveled all over the place inspiring and encouraging audiences to live life with less stress and more fun.”

Sure, they’re being funny. They’re inventing silly words like “Adultitis” (they even have a “test” you can take to see if you are a “carrier”). They’re cute. They’re talented. They’re very much in love. They have tremendous energy. And they’re channeling all of that into helping people embrace life.

It was their most recent book, There’s an Adult in My Soup, that made me realize that these people really aren’t kidding. Every little story is their little book is funny, touching and freeing. No matter how playful you think you might be, each story brings you insights into yet another dimension of playfulness. No matter how important or responsible or hard-pressed you are, Kim and Jason show you that it’s still OK to play. You can object to their depiction of what it means to be “adult.” You can argue about their definition of maturity. But you can’t deny that Kim and Jason are genuine Defenders of the Playful.

Arvind Gupta – Defender of the Playful

Filed Under (Defender of the Playful) by Bernie DeKoven on 14-09-2009

Arvind Gupta, teacher, physicist, maker of toys from trash, has received world-wide recognition for his “outstanding contribution in designing science teaching aids for young children.”

His website features an incredibly generous (more than 600) collection of toys, made mostly from found objects, each exemplifying the intrinsic fun of science. Each toy pictured includes easy-to-follow, well-illustrated instructions for making your own.

He has written extensively, and been written about even more extensively. He has been recognized by “several international organisations such as UNESCO, UNICEF, International Toy Research Association, Halmstad University, Boston Science Centre, MIT (Media Lab), Walt Disney Imagineering and Research, Auhof Rehabilitation Centre, Hilpolstien, Germany and the International Play Association, Finland. As a UNESCO consultant on science education he has been invited to share his experiences in science teaching with teachers of several developing countries. He has been actively associated with the Bombay Natural History Society, Conservation Society of Delhi, Spastic Society of North India and the Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti. He is an advisor to the National Book Trust on popular science books. He has received several awards for his outstanding contributions. These include Eklavya Award (1982), the inaugral National Award for Science Popularisation amongst Children (1988), Hari Bhau Mote Award of the Marathi Vigyan Parishad (1988), a special award given by the National Association for the Blind for designing teaching aids for pre-school blind children (1991), Granthali award for his book Khel(1992), Ruchi Ram Sahni Award for science popularisation(1993)and the Hari Om Ashram Award by the UGC (1995).”

Arvind Gupta comments: “I work in a Children’s Science Centre in the City of Pune in India. I have been making simple science toys for children for over 25 years. The Internet provided me with a tool to share them with children all over the world.”

On behalf of the children of the world, Mr. Gupta, allow me to express our respect and gratitude, adding to your copious honors the title Defender of the Playful.

A Book of Lenses, A Game of Lenses, and Jesse Schell, conceptual optician

Filed Under (Defender of the Playful) by Bernie DeKoven on 29-07-2009

Dear Jesse Schell,

I know, I know, you sent me a copy of your book and your card deck. Me. That was no business card. It was a sizable gift. And by it, I am honored you thought my opinion worth the investment. And I’ve been honored now for maybe a half year and I still have written barely anything about your work. Not about how deep it is, how thorough, how it touches the very same things I would hope to touch upon if I were writing about the art of game design. How it goes further, even, instantiating and substantiating, almost tangibly building the sensibilities that are central to the art of designing for fun.

The Art of Game Design, a Book of Lenses. Exactly. A book of ways to look at games, through different perspectives, through different paradigms, like, for example, fun.

If I hadn’t been so busy with moving and traveling and redefining my pschyo-ecological niche, I’d have told everyone about what you have accomplished here, how even the “game” you made up, with that beautifully rendered deck of cards, each acting as a “lens” (very deep concept here, lens) through which you can see and even judge the nature of the game, as it were. How you actually made an genuine game that can truly be played for fun. And yet, with serious import and surprising value…A game that can be fun to play and still border everso closely on what one would call “serious” – full of purpose and significance and learning objectives and messages, even – fun of a very useful kind.

This in itself is an accomplishment that would send especially me into paroxysms of praise and public cavorting. And yet, until now, I remained silent.

Alas for the exigencies that kept me from this for so long. I embrace thee, Jesse Schell, with gleeful noise, and hereby, for as long as the connection lasts, bestow on you the Defendership itself.

Jesse Schell. Author of the Art of Game Design, a Book of Lenses. Designer of The Art of Game Design: a Deck of Lenses. Industry veteran. Leader of a “highly talented group of artists, programmers, and game designers.” Defender of the Playful.

Helena Kling – Defender of the Playful

Filed Under (Defender of the Playful) by Bernie DeKoven on 28-07-2009

I only met Helena Kling a few years ago, though we’ve been corresponding for what seems to be at least a lifetime. Each time we’ve managed to get together (she’s in Tel Aviv), I’ve been astounded at her energy, her vision, her generosity, her passion for play.

There’s very little about her work on the Internet. That makes a lot of sense, given that Helen is so completely focused on participating in the experience of play. Not just writing about it or teaching it, but living it. Luckily, someone thought to write a Internet-accessible article about her. Which, at last, gave me this opportunity to learn more about her work, and a very good excuse to sing her praises, at last.

The article, written by Mel Bezalel for the Jerusalem Post, must have been a real challenge to put together. Helena is so vibrant, so enthusiastic, has such a wealth of knowledge, and is so completely playful that it’s almost impossible to convey the breadth and depth of her delightful gifts.

The reporter notes: “Kling’s mantra is that ‘play is important for families’ and increasingly, this goes well and beyond childhood.” All the way to grandparenting. The reporter notes: “‘Buy something you like that you’d like to play with” is her recommendation, as parents and grandparents should be a part of the child’s play. This idea of a shared experience motivated Kling’s introduction of English storytelling at the center five years ago for grandparents and their grandchildren.”

Kling is outspoken and unafraid. Especially when it comes to educational games. “If it’s got ‘educational’ on the box,” she says, “don’t buy it…There is so much other stuff you can buy and have fun with, why have a piece of cardboard where a child throws dice and goes round a board and doesn’t get anywhere? Besides…’educational’ games are the first to be ejected from game collections.”

Helena Kling. Defender of the Playful.

Olga Jarrett

Filed Under (Defender of the Playful) by Bernie DeKoven on 15-07-2009

You remember my article Where have all the players gone. That was the last time I wrote about Olga Jarrett.

The last time I met Dr. Jarrett was in a hotel lobby in Atlanta. She brought an oscilloscope. One that she had made. Out of a can, a mirror, some rubber bands, and a toy laser-pointer. She was radiating delight, not just because her junk-built toy oscilloscope really and truly worked, but because of the sheer fun of it all. [Olga comments: "The "oscilloscope" was really mostly invented by Bob (my husband). I was looking for a way to show how sound vibrations can be shown as light and had picked up the idea somewhere to make an "oscilloscope" that could be used in the sun. But since I taught evening classes I was looking for something that could be used at night. Bob came up with the idea of attaching a laser. We really had fun making it and it is a great experience for my students. We also made them as Christmas presents for family and friends one year."] And that moment of meeting her, was, more than any of her many accomplishments, what it finally took, maybe two years later, for me to recognize her as a true and genuine Defender of the Playful. Experiencing her unabashed playfulness was all I needed.

Here, from her manuscript “Drawing on the Child’s World: Science Made Relevant” is another example of how Olga plays:

“Science textbooks often emphasize such concepts as the parts of a flower, the difference between igneous, sedimentary and metaphoric rocks. Teachers instructing from such textbooks often stress vocabilary and facts…My first son failed a test on spiders without ever having looked at a spider in school…Make science relevant by drawing on the child’s experience. Encourage curiosity. Make learning challenging and fun, and children may be more likely to take elective science courses in high school.”

“Counting takes on new meaning when children count the spots on ladybugs to determine if they all have the same number…”

“(use) measuring sticks, thermometers, scales and timers (to) determine without guesswork who has he longest hair, how long a worm is when stretched out/scrunched up, how fast a pumpkin grows….” “see how many drops of water you can drip onto the face of a coin before it runs off. Then flip over the coin and try the other side.”

And here, from the Georgia State University, an all-too-abbreviated summary of her work`:

“Dr. Jarrett teaches science methods in the Early Childhood Education’s Urban Alternative Preparation Program. She is a University Fellow in the Urban Atlanta Coalition Compact, an Annenberg funded project whose purpose is excellence in education for African American students. She also serves as a project coordinator of Project DOVE (Drop-out, Violence Elimination), a systematic prevention/intervention program which includes mentoring and a curriculum on empathy, impulse control, and bully prevention. Dr. Jarrett’s research has focused on recess and playground behavior, bully prevention, effective teaching in urban schools, and effective methods of teaching science (pre-k to fifth grade). Her most recent research was published in School Science and Mathematics, and The Journal of Educational Research.”

Former president of The Association for the Study of Play, currently president of the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play (IPA/USA), U.S. affiliate of the International Play Association, Promoting the Child’s Right to Play, Dr. Jarrett is, in every sense of the word, a Defender of the Playful.