Garry Shirts – Defender of the Playful

I’ve known Garry Shirts for at least 35 years. I first became familiar with his presence in my particular universe when I was running the Games Preserve and writing for a rather esoteric publication called Simulation/Gaming/News.

When I was early in the process of gathering a rich enough collection of games to give people a direct experience of the scope of all things gameful, Garry was kind enough to send me two of his simulation games: BaFa’ BaFa’ and Star Power. These games added a playfully profound dimension to the entire collection and purpose of the Games Preserve. I and the people who came to play with me learned so much from experiencing each of these games – not only about a very important genre of games (now known as Serious Games), but also about the depth and truths that can be revealed in a well-designed invitation to reflective fun. So Garry became a valued resource and friend. And later, when I moved to California, even more valued.

Very recently, Garry happened to be in Indianapolis. He was here as part of a multi-leg tour, teaching his Ba’Fa Ba’Fa game to help people understand a little more about the underlying dynamics of diversity. He invited us (my wife and myself) to breakfast, and our meeting was delicious in every sense. I brought him a copy of Junkyard Sports, as a gift, a token, a tribute to our long-standing friendship. He thumbed through it for a few minutes, and then looked at me with such love and understanding, and said: “You know, Bernie, the person who learns the most from a game is the designer.” And in that one sentence summed up pretty much everything I’ve been teaching about games and play for the last 40 years.

This insight and understanding suddenly coalesced for me. I was able to put all those years of knowing him together, and give his remarkable presence in my life a title. Garry has been, and is, in every sense, a Defender of the Playful. He plays from the heart. He teaches from the heart. He is as wise as he is loving. His games have taught and touched the hearts of thousands of students and teachers and business leaders – vividly, playfully. His presence is a gift to all who receive it.

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