Fun and Threat

Keva TowerIn preparing one of our upcoming Major Fun Award reviews, I came across a short video of the construction of a world record tower constructed out of Keva planks and its subsequent destruction. There are all sorts of videos out there documenting the destruction of things: buildings, bridges, bunkers, and virtually anything ever associated with Mythbusters.

The Keva tower took around 10 hours to complete and consisted of over 4000 blocks of wood. It stood over 50 feet tall when complete. It is a testament to human ingenuity, patience, and play. It served no purpose outside of the challenge of creating such a structure (OK—and probably the promotion of Keva planks but as advertisements go it’s very restrained). The video is short, compressing the entire process to just over 3 minutes.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2j5zEj9gDw[/youtube]What struck me was the part at the end when they were trying to knock the thing down. Instead of just pushing it over, the creators allowed kids to swing a plumb bob at the structure to knock out the planks that comprised the base. At this point in the video, you can see the crowd that has gathered. You can hear their cheers and gasps and laughter. It takes many swings to bring the structure crashing down and the tension is palpable as is the joy. When the tower ultimately topples over, there is a swell of noise not just from the collapsing blocks, but also from the assembled witnesses.

The tower falls as if it has fainted. It happens quickly but with a fluidity that gives the impression that it was held up with wires. The Keva planks pile up in a drift across the floor like a wave that freezes the moment it strikes the shore. Destruction markedly devoid of violence.

We often talk about violence in games and the media. And rightly so. There is a distressing amount of interpersonal violence that permeates much of our culture. What I want to note here is that there is perhaps a fine distinction that should be made between violence and destruction. That our fascination with destruction—with the undoing of static order—can devolve into a morbid nihilism is probably not surprising, but every so often it is good to observe closely as things fall apart.

exploded toiletI have always loved those exploded-view diagrams of common objects. And high-speed photography of events that occur between the blinks of my eyes. In these examples we get a peek at the complexity below the placid surface of mundane matter as well as the elegant order at the heart of even some of the most confusing phenomena. I would love to see a slow-motion, high-resolution video of that Keva tower as it succumbs to gravity. Even in the few seconds that we have in the video you can discern some of the logic behind the collapse.

stick bomb - andreOne of my daughter’s friends set a world record recently for longest stick bomb (click on picture for video). That’s STICK bomb, not STINK bomb. And before you alert DHS agents, there are no explosives. By weaving popsicle sticks in a specific pattern, you can create a mat that looks a lot like a trivet you would make in elementary school. Remove one specific stick and all the kinetic energy that went in to bending the sticks around each other is released. The sticks jump up off the floor with surprising force. It’s like a domino topple as the woven line of sticks unravels down the length of the construct. And here we find ourselves back at the undeniable fun and fascination that adjoins acts of destruction. Very few people want to watch, let alone participate in, the creation of large scale domino installations, but they will come out of the woodwork if it means they can watch the whole thing fall down.

I think, to a certain degree, fun is contingent on threat. There must be a chance of failure. There must be a tension in the construction of something, no matter if that is something physical like a stick bomb or something abstract like a chess strategy. For there to be fun there must exist stakes. And as those stakes are raised and challenged the tension mounts until it must be released, either tragically when a careless elbow destroys the tower before a record can be achieved or triumphantly when everyone has had a chance to admire their handiwork before they enthusiastically swing a plumb-bob until the tower is nothing but a pile of wooden blocks.[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pmhvy2gW5kc[/youtube]

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