Purveryor of Playfulness

She calls herself Danna Bananas. Clicking through her online store, also called Danna Bananas, is an adventure in whimsy. She has assembled a collection of some of the most novel novelties I’ve ever encountered on one site – page after page of wacky, funny, laugh-provoking, and often genuinely playworthy tchotchkes.

Take, for example, Airfork One, “made of sleek stainless steel encased in food-grade, dishwasher-safe silicone. Just the thing to bring those mashed potatoes and peas in for a safe landing…Packed in a recyclable clear PET box.” It’s a fun thing. It’s a functional thing. It is sensitive to the realities of child-rearing – embodying a game that hundreds of thousands of parents have played with their babies as they often desperately try to get them to finish their food.

It is for these reasons, and others manifesting themselves throughout her website, that Ms. Bananas joins the ranks of the select few, to be known now and forever more (or less) as a Defender of the Playful.

Danna Bananas, DotP, has managed to share with us her gift of playfulness. She offers us and the rest of the known universe access to silly, sometimes remarkably inexpensive (c.f. Finger Twister), sometimes the semi-miraculous (c.f. the bouncing-on-water Waboba Ball), and often the actually somewhat practical (c. also f. the Banana Handle. Again I quote: “…very appealing non-slip handle grip! You’ve never seen a chimpanzee burn himself on a hot pan, have you? Of course not! That’s because Banana Handle‘s heat-resistant silicone construction protects hands, both human and primate. Slide the ripe yellow peel onto any pan handle and you are fully protected, hands down.”) – inviting laughter, paving the way for play. And US residents don’t pay tax! What more, I ask you, could you ask?

Tweet her on Twitter.

Games Above Board – An interview with designer/entrepreneur Martin Samuel

I was contacted by Martin Samuel of a company called Games Above Board. As I looked at his site, I got the impression that this game company was created by someone with a real passion for fun. I responded to his email, asking to know more about him, and his games. His response very much confirmed my suspicions:

Born and raised in Kenya, without the dubious benefit of TV, my Grandmother taught me all the classics (chess, draughts/checkers, backgammon, Ludo/Parchcheesi, Monopoly, Scrabble and any number of card games) and, as an only child, I played games with adults more often than with kids my own age.

It was a 1994 New Year’s Day Resolution to accomplish something (anything) and by 07.01.94 I self-published Eclipse, my first 2-player abstract strategy board game, which went on to become Hijara courtesy of the now defunct Great American Trading Co. and listed in Games Magazine Top 100. Here’s what the The Scottish Boardgames Association have to say.

My company, Games Above Board is a shop-window for my creativity and its wares are (possibly) for the enjoyment of others. I am also a drummer (professional for 20 years) and (published/recorded) lyricist. One of my song co-writes, “Turn To Me”, is soon to be released on a new CD by my co-writer Lisa Nemzo.

My company’s goals: It (hopefully) may inspire others to look within themselves, find their own forté and pusue such as, there is no guarantee of financial reward but in doing so, the sure sign of success is the satisfaction… and happiness happens!

And you may quote me on the following:

What is the yardstick of your success? I measure mine in happiness.

The Homemade Games Guru

Luanga Nuwame, the Homemade Games Guru, has dedicated considerable effort to teaching people how to make their own home made games. A professional game designer himself, Lue has produced a series of instructional videos on the design and production of personalized toys and games using only household materials. For example, a homemade beanbag toss, and, for another example, a set of magnetic refrigerator checkers.

For Lue, the making at home part of the homemade game, regardless of what game gets made or whether or not it’s actually made at home, is key. Because, he explains, if you make a game, you can make it your own. You can embed pictures of family members or photos of last summer’s vacation, making the game into a unique expression of the people for whom it is designed. The people at home. Yourself. Your extended family and friends.

Lue believes that making a personalized game helps people create something meaningful for them, personally. The “deep” fun part of it all, comes from people making the game together, for each other, and from the experience of seeing each other play a game that really reflects their lives together – experiences, favorite things, silly memories.

Making a game together helps create a closer family, explains Lue. “The fun of it lies in the interaction, conversation, contact with everyone. At the same time, making a game that allows you to express “you,” means that every time you play the game, you are the star. Having something unique, that expresses me, uniquely, is deeply fun.”

As a designer and instructor, Lue sees himself as being able to give families something that is really up to them to interpret, to personalize. He focuses on giving families the basics, knowing that with this kind of clarity, families and friends will provide their own content and ensuring it reflects their own selves. And therein, in the playful and personal connection between parent and child, friend and family, explains Lue, lies the fun.

Gwen Gordon, Defender of the Playful

Last November I wrote about Gwen Gordon, and her remarkable article “Play, the Movement of Love.” Today, I am pleased to share her new website with you.

Gwen is a remarkable spirit, who has brought her profoundly play vision to as many people as she can touch, and there are many, all over the world. You can read and witness more of he work here. Download her videos, her essays, her stories. You will be inspired. And maybe even a little bit transformed. There is so much there. I leave you with a small taste, from her essay “Laughter for No Reason,” in which I am anonymously present, hence, deeply drawn to:

“I notice that whenever I lose my sense of humor, it’s a sure sign that I’ve lost my perspective. As a friend of mine likes to say, ‘the truth shall make you laugh!’ No matter how difficult and heavy the facts might be, facing them makes us lighter. The truth makes us laugh because, after all, it sets us free and when we’re free, we’re free to laugh. With every joyful breath, we assert our freedom, reminding us that even ordinary life rests inside a bigger enchanted game, a larger truth in which all things hold meaning.”

Patty Wooten – Compassionate Humor

Nancy Nurse is one of the three clowns developed by one of the few people I know who has mastered the art of compassionate humor, Patty Wooten. Patty becomes this particular clown as part of her effort to lighten the often overwhelmed hearts of the nursing profession. Nancy Nurse, explains Patty, “is a wild, red-headed clown, armed with a combat belt of weapons; such as, bedpans, urinals, enema buckets, and over-sized syringes used to fight disease.. Her stethoscope is made from a garden hose and a toilet plunger which is great to use on those big-hearted patients… it can also be used to relieve constipation!”

Several years ago, Patty came down to one of my seminars at the Esalen Institute. She made us laugh so hard, and so deeply, and with such a loving purpose that, for many of us, fun became even more functional, even more central to our reasons for being.

Patty’s attempt to bring a little joy to those who so desperately need it, has been a constant struggle for her. Bottom-line priorities, twelve-hour days, scant appreciation for their dedication and skills have all but overwhelmed the caregiving professions. And yet, Patty continues, when- and wherever she can, to heal with humor, to soothe with silliness.

Patty Wooten, Defender of the Playful.

Of Work and Wonder

Read this:

REJUVENILE (made) a brief appearance this (Monday) morning in the first hour of ABC’s “Good Morning America” in a story about play at the workplace. News flash: work is boring. A few office monkeys are fighting back with inter-department playground slides, break room foos-ball tables and other goofy innovations. Cue remark from yours truly on the importance of play and fun in the workplace and how these changes reflect the larger rejuvenile phenom.

One remark is unlikely to make the cut — too often, the merry chattering bosses who institute “playful” reforms are putting window dressing on salt mines. There is little more infuriating than having a Wacky Fun Day hosted by an employer who skimps on health insurnace or restricts family leave. I don’t think there’s any doubt a genuinely playful attitude toward work can benefit both worker and the bottom line, but it’s not about climbing walls or bobbleheads. It’s about doing our work with the same wonder and imagination and sense of fun that too many workers ditch in the name of professionalism.

Christopher Noxon, you, too, have earned the full panoplay of rights and privileges due to a “Defender of the Playful”

Bruce Williamson – Certifying the right to play

This is a picture of Bruce Williamson, at 2 years of age, on his way to becoming author of The Certificate of the Right to Play. With this certificate, you, too, can become “A lifetime member in good standing of the Society of Childlike Grownups.” It is a delightful thing, this significantly silly certificate, demonstrating a keen, honest, heartfelt understanding of what it should mean to be a grown-up.

It comes from a fellow named Bruce Williamson, whose remarkably mature understanding of the nature of childlike grownuphood is reflected with clarity and a certain hard-won innocence on his Society of Childlike Grownups chock-full-of-resources website. Devoted to teaching us how to become Childlike Grownups, the Society offers us a spare little website, and yet it presents a rare depth of playful wisdom which is evident just from the titles of its main pages:

Amazed that I hadn’t encountered Bruce before, I called him up, only to discover that we had met at the Games Preserve more than 25 years ago. Though we haven’t crossed paths again until now, Bruce is clearly a fellow traveler, and a gift to all of us who follow the Playful Path.

Putting a Face on Time

Of all the endearingly silly ways to watch yourself waste time, Daniel Craig Giffen’s Human Clock is by far the most of both – endearing and silly, which explains why it is a recipient of the coveted Major FUN Award.

Everything on Giffen’s site shows an almost maniacal dedication to human-scale whimsy. There are three clocks: digital, analog and text. Each mode is sillier than you’d expect it to be. To change between clocks, you go to an equally silly, but fully functional control panel that looks like something drawn by a fifth grader, and acts like a grown-up web interface. Try all three.

Then there’s artist Yugo Nakamura’s Industrious Clock. Not as human, perhaps, but it definitely conveys a certain “hand-made” humor. Nakamura’s art, and playfulness, are even better represented by his “Surface” collection. Click on the small circles on the bottom of the page to explore.

Ze Frank, Prolific Player

Ze Frank receives the Major FUN Award for being perhaps one of the most prolifically playful presences on the web.

There are so many examples of his work that he is sharing, virtually for free, that it is difficult to select any as truly exemplary. Let’s begin with this rather straightforward collection of virtual matchstick puzzles. Why? Because it’s what you’d expect from a collection of virtual matchstick puzzles: clear, challenging, easy to use, fun to solve. Not particularly playful, but respectful of play and the needs of players. Now let’s try just one more game-like experience. It’s a Memory Game. All right, it’s Concentration. But notice how each image is animated? Now it’s truly a virtual game, not just translating a card game into the electronic medium, but transforming it.

Now take a look at Ze’s Animated Snowflake. Not a game at all, but a unique bit of interactive delight. Technologically sophisticated. Easy to understand. Lovely to behold.

And here’s one more, well, maybe two more examples of yet another gift of Ze’s playfulness. It’s called “Blow.” It’s an invitation. People are asked to send in a picture of themselves, blowing. Ze adds their picture to a growing blowing collage. It’s, well, silly. It’s also an invitation to fun and sharing and community. And here’s one more: My Cat Annie. It’s a statement, is what it is, of the further reaches of Ze’s playfulness. And, for those of us who wonder whether this world can be made more fun, it’s a reason for hope.

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