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Why Play?

League was conceived in all seriousness as a forum for playing invented games and sports. (Note: next play date is Sunday 30 December.) Why this focus on play, you ask? Isn’t it a frivolous pursuit? This reaction isn’t unexpected. On one hand play might be dismissed a useless luxury, and on the other it could be characterized as trifling because of its concern with rules.

Yet on the contrary, many have argued that play is a fundamental human impulse, even one of our highest achievements. Thinkers from the realms of psychology, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, education, and theology, have argued for the importance of play. Their varied defenses of play do not deny the characterizations of play as both free and rule-bound, and in fact argue that these properties are part of what makes play one of the great human goods.

Play is fundamentally tied to human culture
In an important early definition of play, Johan Huizinga identified play as free and set apart from ordinary life, a sacred activity that unfolds within a delimited sphere — the “magic circle” of play. Play creates and respects order, is utterly absorbing for players, and is unrelated to material interest.(1) With these characteristics of freedom and order, play precedes — and indeed is one of the conditions that generates — human culture. “Civilization is, in its earliest phases, played. It does not come from play(…) it arises in and as play, and never leaves it.”(2)

Anthropologist Roger Caillois buit on Huizinga’s work, describing play as “an occasion of pure waste: waste of time, energy, ingenuity, skill, and often of money.”(3) Yet play is an essential component of human society; many social structures and behaviours can be viewed as forms of play. Caillois outlined fundamental forms of play, each of which also range between structured and spontaneous: games of chance, role playing, competition, and vertigo (altered perception). These forms of play tend to be institutionalized within societies: for instance, games of chance take cultural form in lotteries, institutional from as the stock market, or appear corrupted in the form of superstitions. Play is embedded throughout human culture.

Play is an ultimate human goal
Some might wish to dismiss play as inconsequential because it is constrained by rules. Yet in the philosophical work The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia, Bernard Suits undertakes to define what a game is, and finally concludes that play is central to human ideals, and thus to any conception of Utopia. Suits provides the very useful definition that “playing a game is a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles”(4) and a “lusory attitude” as a psychological will to accept rules in order to enter a state of play. It is the voluntary acceptance of limitations — the uncoerced freedom of play — that marks its exalted nature. In Utopia, we would be free to play.

Play is central to a meaningful life
Is luxury really the best way to characterize play? Since Aristotle, happiness has often been thought of as an ultimate goal of humans. However, as Mihály Csíkszentmihályi elaborates, it is not material luxuries that produce happiness or satisfaction, but rather the cultivation of conditions of “optimal experience.”(5)

In his primary work Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csíkszentmihályi describes states of flow in the realms of physical activity, ritual, thought, creative play, and work. These are all activities that, like games, involve action within rules. “What makes these activities conducive to flow is that they were designed to make optimal experience easier to achieve. They have rules that require the learning of skills, they set up goals, they provide feedback, they make control possible. They facilitate concentration and involvement by making the activity as distinct as possible from(…) everyday existence.”(6) Certainly, these activities also can be pursued without attaining a state of flow, but the implications of Csíkszentmihályi’s arguments are that flow is important for these activities to feel meaningful.

A psychologist largely concerned with questions of creativity and joy, Csíkszentmihályi outlines flow as a satisfying state of concentration, engagement and absorption in an activity. Importantly, to achieve a state of flow requires a balance — play, in other words — between challenge and skill: “a sense that one’s skills are adequate to cope with the challenges at hand, in a goal-directed, rule-bound action system that provides clear clues as to how well one is performing. Concentration is so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant, or to worry about problems. Self-consciousness disappears, and the sense of time becomes distorted. An activity that produces such experiences is so gratifying that people are willing to do it for its own sake, with little concern for what they will get out of it, even when it is difficult, or dangerous.”(7)

Play is transformative
Poet Diane Ackerman builds on Csíkszentmihályi’s concept of flow. Ackerman sees the possibility of “deep play” in myriad human endeavours, including experiences in face of nature, during extreme pursuits, in dramatically isolated situations, and working with language. “Deep play arises in such moments of intense enjoyment, focus, control, creativity, timelessness, confidence, volition, lack of self-awareness (hence transcendence), while doing things intrinsically worthwhile, rewarding for their own sake, following certain rules (they may include the rules of gravity and balance), on a limited playing field. Deep play requires one’s full attention.”(8)

Importantly, though, these activities are not categorically playful, but rather deep play is a state of absorption in a situation irrespective of its character. It is ecstatic, rapturous experience. “Deep play is the ecstatic form of play. In its thrall, all the play elements are visible, but they’re taken to intense and transcendent heights. Thus deep play should really be classified by mood, not activity. It testifies to how something happens, not what happens. Games don’t guarantee deep play, but some activities are prone to it: art, religion, risk-taking, and some sports”.(9)

Ackerman describes deep play in terms approaching religious, making clear that the transformative experiences she’s talking about have little to do, or are even impeded by, the proscribed habits of religion, although ritual delimitation is part of what creates the sacred space of play. “For humans, play is a refuge from ordinary life, a sanctuary of the mind, where one is exempt from life’s customs, methods, and decrees. Play always has a sacred place— some version of a playground — in which it happens. The hallowed ground is usually outlined, so that it’s clearly set off from the rest of reality. This place may be a classroom, a sports stadium, a stage, a courtroom, a coral reef, a workbench in a garage, a church or temple, a field where people clasp hands in a circle under the new moon. Play has a time limit, which may be an intense but fleeting moment, the flexible innings of a baseball game, or the exact span of a psychotherapy session.”(10)

Play connects us with great ideas
Theologian Michael Novak has also written of the great passions that we are willingly drawn into when engaged with sports in particular. Novak explains the impulse to play and follow sports in terms of their conversation with ritual. “Even in our own secular age and for quite sophisticated and agnostic persons, the rituals of sports really work. They do serve a religious function: they feed a deep human hunger, place humans in touch with certain dimply perceived features of human life within this cosmos, and provide an experience of at least a pagan sense of godliness.”(11)

Novak’s classic The Joy of Sports is a convincing exposition on the religious character of sports that is reminiscent of early definitions of play as foundational to culture. “Play is the most human activity. It is the first act of freedom.”(12) “Play is not tied to necessity, except the necessity of the human spirit to exercise its freedom, to enjoy something that is not practical, or productive, or required for gaining food and shelter. Play is human intelligence, and intuition, and love of challenge and contest and struggle; it is respect for limits and laws and rules, and high animal spirits, and a lust to develop the art of doing things perfectly. Play is what only humans truly develop.”(13)

Novak notes that only certain ideologies privilege work over play, and provides an alternate view of play as the ultimate ideal. “Play, not work, is the end of life. To participate in the rites of play is to dwell in the Kingdom of Ends. To participate in work, career, and the making of history is to Labor in the Kingdom of Means.(…) Work, of course, must be done. But we should be wise enough to distinguish necessity from reality. Play is reality. Work is diversion and escape.”(14)

Play is a survival skill
Within Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (in which fundamental physiological and safety needs must be fulfilled before questions of self-esteem), play is one of the concerns that are attended to once basic needs are secured.(15) Or is it? One could argue that strategic thinking and competition are survival skills, as we see in the branch of economics known as game theory. Problem-solving, socialization and learning through play are also recurrent themes of childhood development theories. Indeed, as Caillois described, play extends to many aspects of human activity.

Tellingly, animals also play. “Evolutionary psychologists believe that there must be an important benefit of play, since there are so many reasons to avoid it. Animals are often injured during play, become distracted from predators, and expend valuable energy.” The evolving theory is that play helps animals prepare to survive in their own particular environments.(16) The parallel to children developing motor- and social skills seems obvious.

Play is pervasive
As computer gaming becomes ubiquitous, as video games become the dominant form of entertainment in contemporary society, and as game design has become big business, it seems ever more pressing to understand the compulsions and potential of play. Experimental game designer Frank Lantz succinctly summarizes the promise of games: “Games can inspire the loftiest form of cerebral cognition and engage the most primal physical response, often simultaneously.(…) Games are capable of addressing the most profound themes of human existence in a manner unlike any other form of communication — open-ended, procedural, collaborative; they can be infinitely detailed, richly rendered, and yet always responsive to the choices and actions of the player.”(17)

We have reached a point where games are approaching ubiquity, a point where businesses are looking to “gameify” their offerings in order to attract consumers and cash in on those compulsions.(18) Given the pervasiveness of gaming, Lantz states simply why it is important to take play seriously, to push for the best that play can be: “If enough people believe that games are meant to be mindless fun, then this is what they will become. If enough people believe that games are capable of greater things, then they will inevitably evolve and advance.”(19)

Play can do good
We see, then, that there is a long tradition of believing in the good of games and play. Understanding the power of games, there is also emerging a domain of critical game design that takes the social practices of gaming seriously. Game designer Jane McGonigal is concerned with alternate-reality games intended to improve real life, with “pervasive games” that use game imagery to disrupt the conventions of public space, and with ubiquitous computing that imagines game-like interactivity in the real world. She has argued for the collective intelligence of online computer gaming as a powerful engine for solving problems, human evolution, co-operation and trust, producing optimism, and creating meaning. McGonigal goes so far as to say that “playing games is the single most productive way we can spend our time.” Her book Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World argues that game mechanics, particularly of massively collaborative projects, can be harnessed to make the real world a better place.(20)

It is uncertain whether the types of game that McGonigal proposes will ultimately prove compelling enough to generate continued play. And as play practices evolve and the social stakes are raised, we certainly should ask what games can accomplish, what good they might bring about. But fundamentally, play in itself is a good. Why do we play? Because it is part of what makes us human.

Germaine Koh
Vancouver, December 2012 (21)

Playing “Wicket Awesome” at League

1.    Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: a study of the play element in culture, original Dutch 1938 (Boston: Beacon, 1955), pp. 8-13.
2.    Huizinga, p.173.
3.    Roger Caillois, Man, Play and Games, original French 1958, trans. 1961 (Chicago: University of Illinois, 2001), p. 5-6.
4.    Bernard Suits, The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia, original 1978 (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview, 2005), p. 55.
5.    Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (New York: HarperCollins, 1990), p. 1-3.
6.    Csíkszentmihályi, p. 72.
7.    Csíkszentmihályi, p. 71.
8.    Diane Ackerman, Deep Play (New York: Vintage, 1999), p. 188.
9.    Ackerman, p. 12.
10.    Ackerman, p. 6.
11.     Michael Novak, The Joy of Sports: End Zones, Bases, Baskets, Balls, and the Consecration of the American Spirit (New York: Basic Books, 1976), p. 20.
12.    Novak, p. 32.
13.    Novak, p. 33.
14.    Novak, p. 40.
15.    “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”, Wikipedia, saved 28 December 2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs.
16.     “Play and Animals” in “Play (activity)”, Wikipedia, saved 28 December 2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_play#Play_and_animals.
17.     Frank Lantz, “Foreword” in Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman, Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals, MIT Press, 2003), p. x.
18.     Nick Wingfield, “All the World’s a Game, and Business Is a Player”, New York Times, 23 December 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/24/technology/all-the-worlds-a-game-and-business-is-a-player.html?hp&_r=0.
19.    Lantz, p. xi.
20.     Promotion at http://realityisbroken.org for Jane McGonigal, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World (Penguin, 2011).
21.     Thanks to Ian Verchere for reading and editing.

Upcoming play 30 December

Next play date: Sunday 30 December, from noon.

Going in circles

The world hasn’t ended, and a new year looms, so this date will honour all things cyclical: circles, looping, turning-about, maybe snowballs. Reach out if you have ideas, or just come prepared to improvise.

The Kerrisdale Village News just wrote about this aspect of League:

…artist Germaine Koh is looking for the sports-minded who like a little ‘improv’ in their games.

What do you get when you mix the origins of an established sport with a healthy dose of improvisation? Well, you get “League”.

[full article]


December: Toy Hacking Tuesdays

Germaine Koh, "Call" in progress

Germaine Koh, “Call” in progress

Get into the spirit of the season by giving new life to an old toy or or new meaning to a broken gadget.

League is toy hacking Tuesday evenings in December, from 5pm on.

Bring toys and gadgets we can crack and rewire, electronic tools and components if you have them, and other materials we could use as grafts.

Disclaimer: we have limited knowledge and equipment, and specialize only in voiding warranties.

Barbie Liberation Organization: in 1993, RTMark switched the voice boxes of 300+ Barbie and GI Joe figures and placed these into stores, in an act of “shopgiving”.

Some links:


Weekly highlights: play in urban space

A bunch of projects crossed our desk recently that are all about re-imagining the potential of urban space.


Jay White walk

Walking East

First off, here’s a project that is underway right now, for an undetermined length of time — perhaps a few days, perhaps more. One of our own, Jay White started out from downtown Vancouver yesterday, November 28, on a long, rule-based walk. You could help him along in some way by giving him a call at 1-778-319-2405.

This is the second of a series of walks he plans to undertake, heading eastwards from downtown Vancouver, according to certain rules, which in this case are:

  • Start at Emily Carr University and walk Eastwards.
  • When I don’t know which route is more East, choose between them completely randomly.
  • A route can be any linear trace created by human and/or non-human: road, sidewalk, deer trail, stream bank, ridgeline, gully.
  • Do not knowingly trespass.
  • Buy food along the way, but do not stray from the random route to buy food.
  • The walk ends when I miss a meal or become exceedingly uncomfortable.

In the first walk he did, he experienced a new connection to, but also estrangement from, the familiar urban environment:

In the first walk, I was struck by the vastly different perspective I had of an area that I’ve lived in for so long. I was also struck by the complete distance I felt from the people in my vicinity, and of my inability to share what I was experiencing in an immediate, direct and personal way. So this time around, I am inviting you to give me a phone call.[...] My cellphone number is 778-319-2405. No pressure!

He also reflected upon what he is ‘accomplishing’ through the walks.

The walks have a variety of meanings for me: They are an excuse to get outside, a means to use my whole body and mind to learn, to come to new understandings of the landscape and the beings that surround me. I’m also seeing it as a part of my art practice, as a means to create art, as art in itself, and as a program of research[...]. Above all, it is something I enjoy more than I ever would have imagined.

It’s a brave idea, putting oneself into a vulnerable situation in order to bear witness to the collective landscape. The project has all kinds of potential for observing transitions in how space is used as one moves from a dense urban landscape into suburban and then agrarian ones: a kind of moving through time and models of social organization as well as through space.



Dude Chilling Park

In other Vancouver news, last week another citizen took it into his own hands to help reshape our public space in the name of how it’s actually used. One day a new, seemingly official, Park Board sign appeared in a modest East Van park, renaming it from Guelph Park to “Dude Chilling Park.” The Vancouver Province reported on it, gamely describing the park as “a place where dudes and dudettes can presumably go to, you know, just chill — like the relaxed figure depicted in a sculpture on the park’s grass.” Apparently Park Board vice-chair Aaron Jesper praised the handiwork of the counterfeiter(s), and the Province‘s polling of passers-by also revealed acceptance of the new moniker: “Wendy Stewart, who takes a lunchtime walk around the park every day, was also surprised by the sudden renaming. Given the park serves as a hangout for the homeless, she thinks the renaming might be a form of social commentary. ‘You can see them there, sitting on the bench — they don’t have much,’ she said, adding a lot of families also come to the park to chill. ‘Dudes chilling is OK.’”

Then came the social media campaign. People posted pictures, and a dude named Dustin Bromley started a change.org petition to Mayor Gregor Robertson, to permanently change the park’s name, arguing that it has been “under appreciated, and mostly occupied by empty bottles of mouthwash”, but that could become a destination. Within a few days, the petition had gained 1500 signatures, and the fate of Dude Chilling is now being debated in local and social media. (We sent a suggestion that it could come live in the yard of the League field house in Elm Park.) According to Park Board commissioner Sarah Blyth, it’s on the agenda for the Park Board’s December 10 meeting.

It turns out that the sign was the work of artist Viktor Briestensky, as the Province reported in a follow-up article.

Whatever the eventual fate of Dude Chilling, it succeeded in playfully reminding us that we could all have a part in shaping public space into the forms we’d like, that communal space comes to have its own meanings through use, and that there’s nothing fixed about the space around us.



Improv Everywhere, “Black Friday Dollar Store”

New York City “prank collective” Improv Everywhere was at it again on Black Friday. Masters of twisting expectations and disrupting habits in urban space, this time they had 100 people camp out in front of a 99-cent store in the early morning of Black Friday, the biggest retail sales day of the year in the United States. “When the store opened, the crowd rushed inside and made purchases, buying 99 cent items with glee. Actress Cody Lindquist posed as a local NBC news reporter and conducted interviews with confused and delighted store employees and passersby.”

Thank you, Improv Everywhere, for creating one joyfully absurd moment to balance the make-you-despair-of-humanity stories of consumer greed that are otherwise the annual Black Friday news fare.



Urban transit

Inhabitat reports on a prototype trampoline sidewalk “built by Estonian firm Salto Architects for the Archstoyanie Festival this summer in Russia. During the festival Fast Track was used for both play and transport, giving visitors a different way to get from one place to another.”

That brings to mind the slide installed at the Overvecht train station in Utrecht. As described last year by the Pop-Up City blog, “the slide offers travellers the opportunity to quickly reach the railway tracks when they’re in a hurry. But above all, the slide is a great instrument to make the city more playful. The ‘transfer accelerator’ was designed by Utrecht-based firm HIK Ontwerpers, and installed as the final piece of the renovation of the Overvecht railway station.”



DoTank chair-bombing image by Aurash Khawarzad



Here’s a project by Brooklyn collective DoTank, who are working to improve the commons through “tactical urbanism” projects. It’s a sort of recipe for improving the livability of public space.

Chair-bombing is the act of building chairs out of found materials, and placing those chairs in a public space in order to improve its comfort, social activity, and sense of place.

DoTank’s chair-bombing process began by building adirondack chairs made from discarded shipping pallets. The DIY chairs were placed in public areas that were in need of street furniture. These places included sidewalks in front of coffee shops, transit stops with no seating, and other areas with potential to become quality public spaces, but were suffering from a dearth of public amenities.

[Thanks to Maia and Andreas from Grey Sky Thinking for the lead.]



Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam

ArchDaily posted a profile of artist Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam, who makes brightly coloured, hand-knit installations and public spaces. Inspired by natural architectural forms and her own background as a textile designer, her practice has developed through a sensitive observation of materials and forces. Her approach sounds like play: “Most of my artwork involves architectural ideas or references. I am interested in how form is created through tension and the force of gravity including the weight of the material itself and textile structures. It is the intersection of art and science – like geometry – which we observe in nature. ”

[Thanks to architect Carla Smith for the lead. Go check out her coaching project Roller Derby Athletics.]




And lastly, here’s a Kickstarter campaign for 9-Man, a feature documentary directed by Ursula Liang, about an extremely localized street version of volleyball played in Chinatowns since the 1930s. Playing against stereotypes and segregation of Asians, it was a game that developed in isolation within large cities.

  9-MAN is a streetball game played in Chinatown by Chinese-American and Chinese-Canadian men. It’s fast, chaotic, unpredictable, grueling; the rules are distinct and exist no where else in the world—imagine volleyball with 18 guys, dunks, and bloodied elbows. This is a sport that is completely unique to Chinese-Americans and therefore something very special to those who play it. Why haven’t you heard of it? Because it’s played only by men. And two-thirds of the players have to be “100% Chinese”. And perhaps because good things are often kept secret. If you’re not part of the 9-man community, you may have no idea what an incredible scene it is. We’re trying to change that.

The documentary promises to reveal something of the particular social conditions that this particular sport grew out of. If you want to help the film get made, head over to their Kickstarter page before December 21 to give them a hand.


Played: Sunday 25 November 2012

Everyone was asked to bring a stick of some kind, and it was a funny sight to see people arriving at the field with brooms, umbrellas, lacrosse- and hockey sticks, branches, a mop, and a piece of bamboo. Others pulled out chopsticks and sticks of Juicy Fruit.

The idea behind the vaguely-worded stick request was to start us thinking about how games can stand in for real life activities like probing, battling, moving things, or navigating; how sports and game equipment might have originally been adapted from tools or objects at hand; and about the potential for all kinds of things we have lying around our homes.

After warming up by trying to figure out the mechanics of the traditional native game called Double Ball, we started by thinking about a game suitable for people of all ages.

Sonic Pick Up Sticks

League - Sonic Pick Up SticksI’ll tentatively call it Sonic Pick Up Sticks, but if someone has a better name, please suggest it.

The basics:

The basic idea is to sneak around a blindfolded person, collecting objects from around him or her. You are safe unless s/he hears and points at you.

The iterations:

This game changed a lot, as we figured it out, even reversing its basic direction.

  •  First, we spread out a bunch of sticks around the blindfolded person and tried to pick them up without being heard. Because they were spread out, it became a kind of free-for-all instead of a turn-based procedure, and it was quite hard to distinguish a single person.
  • Then, we thought that perhaps we would hear better if instead of picking up, people put sticks down around the blindfolded person, trying to get each one as close as possible without him hearing and pointing. So we tried that, but it was still quite chaotic, as multiple kids tried to go at once and the blindfolded person ended up pointing almost at random.
  • Then we realized we could make the action more challenging by making it like classic pick-up sticks, with the various kinds of sticks piled up around the blindfolded person. (That person looks a bit like someone about to get burned at the stake, which wasn’t intended but is an interesting perception combined with the vulnerability of their being blindfolded.) This iteration started to work well, although we needed to introduce some traffic control to ensure that only one person at a time was trying to pull a stick.
  • Lastly, with a bit more order established, we tried a version in which the blindfolded person was told when someone was coming, and they could point only three times. This iteration worked very well, making it quite difficult to pick up any sticks successfully.

League - Sonic Pick Up SticksNote that the advantage may have been more with the blindfolded person if this game were played in a quiet space rather than a city park.

Emergent strategy:

Most people naturally tried slow sneaking, but League regular Bruce did successfully pull off one run-and-grab. Wyatt tried faking out the blindfolded person by throwing his hoodie to a different part of the circle. As with regular pick-up sticks, placement makes a difference to difficulty, but in this version the shape and material of the sticks also was a factor.

Character of the game:

This game came about by attempting to craft something that would be suitable for young children and adults. It was interesting that it ended up creating what felt and looked like a vulnerable situation for the person in the middle, physically hampered and blinded. It was also somewhat unusual in that it privileged slow, quiet movement and careful listening. Perhaps the advantage of young ears was balanced by the elders’ patience.

League - Sonic Pick Up Sticks


Field Pong

League - Field PongField Pong was a partly-formed idea brought by Germaine. The idea is that, like Pong, players form blocking lines to deflect balls — in this case runners — who are trying to score points.

The basics:

Two teams face each other, with a number of other people as runners. The teams form walls by holding any of the sticks. A wall must include at least two people holding the stick at all times. A number of cones are set on the end lines, representing points to be scored by the runners. The runners have to stay in bounds, and must change direction (running towards the other end line) when they are touched by a wall, or they reach an end line, or they grab a cone to score a point. They can move side to side but cannot backtrack. They can score points on both end lines.

League - Field PongEmergent play:

There was some very intense running, dodging and diving, with not everyone following the guidelines about running direction. Semi-cooperative strategies emerged when runners approached simultaneously, so that the walls had to choose one or the other.

Character of the game:

The way we played it, this game has an unusual structure in that there are essentially three teams: one defending each end, and the runners trying to outscore each other. If played again, we could try to make those fixed teams that rotate between the positions.

The verdict:

It has potential, but the functions would need to be clarified. We could further the rare situation of a team game involving three teams by finding a way to make it worth it to play effective defense. Alternately, we could modify it so that there are only two teams, with runners from each team.

League - Field Pong


League - Wicket AwesomeWicket Awesome

Ian brought this idea for a cross between Ultimate and cricket. The goals were three sticks of equal length propped together as a tripod. First we tried short sticks, but quickly switched to hockey sticks. One point was given for knocking over the tripod with the frisbee, and five for landing the frisbee on the ground inside the goal. There were no field boundaries, but when you had possession of the frisbee you couldn’t take steps.

League - Wicket AwesomeGame play:

This initial play was a lot of swarming around after the frisbee, but would probably develop into something more positional (and more efficient) with more play. We started with a soft, kid-friendly, but erratic frisbee, but as soon as we switched to a standard frisbee the positioning spread out.


Played: Sunday 28 October 2012


A new game that organically emerged from goofing around with the equipment at hand, as we realized that everyone was up for some fairly physical play. It was very fun and natural and completely unrelated to the games that were vaguely planned. Brave soul award goes to Bill (age 73-and-a-half), who was just walking by and gamely joined in.

The basics:

A line of diverse equipment is laid out some distance from a goal. Gölstrom is a game for a flexible number of people. In each round, the players shoot the equipment at the goalie, in whatever order they want, repeating until all the equipment has been shot. The equipment must be more or less delivered as it is commonly used (a dodgeball thrown, a tennis ball struck, etc.). The goalie is the one who scores points, for pieces that are stopped or miss the net. Two lines, closer and farther, mark the limits for shooting slower and faster-moving equipment. The way we played, all players took turns in goal, but it could also be played team vs team.

Emergent strategy:

Strategies of rushing the goal in waves are definitely useful, and of moving the goalie from side to side.


  • A “Perfect Strom” is when you score on all of your shots in a round. A Perfect Strom is worth an extra point to the shooter.
  • Conversely, if you are shut out on all your shots, you must shake the goalie’s hand and back away performing acts of supplication.
  • Non-standard equipment can be used. Late in our game, a fallen maple-tree branch was added as a bat.

Upcoming League play – 28 October

League play
Sunday 28 October
Elm Park, Kerrisdale

League is an open gathering for the purpose of playing games and sports invented by community members. Each game, its playing field and its strategies will evolve through trial and improvisation, and new and unusual equipment may be invented. You are welcome to drop in; bring both body and mind.

Larger gatherings are held on the last Sunday of the month. For this one, some possible games include:

  • Checkered Chess, a project by Patrick Bernier and Olive Martin
  • Doubleball, the traditional aboriginal game
  • Former Vancouver Poet Laureate Brad Cran’s tennis-soccer mod


Played: Sunday 14 October 2012

Notes from kickoff day, a rainy Sunday, October 14.
After realizing that the borrowed couch wouldn’t fit through the field house door, we strung up a tarp outdoors and tried three different activities: Couchie, Monkeying Around Training Program, and Massively Multi-Player Ping Pong.

Couchie1.  Couchie

Cedric Bomford, Mike Love and Verena Kaminiarz introduced us to Couchie, a game invented in Cedric and Mike’s apartment in college years.

Basic description:

Couchie actionPlayers take turns hurling beanbag juggling balls into an overstuffed couch, attempting to lodge them in the cracks. Different cracks are worth different points, depending on the difficulty, with the small vertical crack between the front cushions worth the most. Points are lost for missing the couch completely or stepping over the line. First team to break 750 points wins.

Modifications made:

  • When played in teams, one player from each team take turns pitching their team’s three balls, then you move on to the next matchup. Trade balls with each matchup.
  • Jay poses with his Couchie triple stackA small number of points were given for hitting the back wall and landing in the crack between frame and back cushions.
  • Large penalty added for completely missing couch and landing the ball in the washroom.
  • Clarified that you cannot touch in front of the line, even if the ball is released before you land.
  • Extra points for stacking all three of one’s balls in a single vertical crack (aka Orion’s Belt).


  • Consensus amongst first-time players: much more fun than expected.
  • There seem to be skills that can be perfected. Mike, the historic champion, was by far the highest scorer.
  • Both a light touch and power seem to be viable techniques.

Mike tallying final Couchie score

2.  Monkeying Around Training Program

Rob Larson brought an idea about an open-source exercise activity that could be done anywhere in public: Monkeying Around. The idea, somewhat related to parkour, is that we should feel free to move playfully and in ways that don’t have to follow routines, and that the repertoire might grow as users add movements. It borrowed from capoeira some movements, the surrounding circle, and some rhythmic elements and sounds. Rob had us bounce like monkeys and crab- and bear-walk on all fours, first moving on our own, then facing off by pairs in the middle of a circle.


  • There were some inhibitions to get over, partly because of unfamiliar movements, partly from feeling self-conscious about being in the centre of the circle.
  • Could be interesting to have people move in ways related to different animals, kind of like different styles of martial arts.
  • One way to get people out of their shells could be to have a goal of some sort.
  • To be workshopped some more.

3.  Massively Multi-Player Ping Pong

Nat Bailey introduced us to a game he’s used as a game-design exercise: Massively Multi-Player Ping Pong (MMPPP).

Basic description:

This is a game for as many people as you have paddles. Players are numbered, and play in order. The table is a ping-pong table without the net, or any other kind of table. Each shot must hit the table three or more times then once on the floor (rolling on the table counts as infinite bounces). If the next person doesn’t make their shot, the last person to make a successful shot gets a point.


  • No penalty for not making a shot; serve just passes the the next person.
  • Walls and other surfaces are in play.


  • The number of people changes the game quite a bit. With more people, inattention and crowding become issues.
  • Playing order makes a difference.
  • Good positioning seems to be to set up across the table from the person playing, but guile can be a factor.

Massively Multi-Player Ping Pong