In New Games No One's A Loser
by Joan Murray Naake
Reprinted in part from California Parks and Recreation, Official Publication of California Park and Recreation Society.
Glinting in the sunlight, the ball soars over the eight-foot white net. Eager bodies spring into action; bent knees uncoil, crooked arms stretch high into the air, and expectant hands slap and thrust the ball to the other side. As the ball flies back and forth over the net, 150 crescendoing voices excitedly shout, "forty-eight!" "forty-nine!" "fifty!" Which side is losing? Neither. Which side is winning? Both. This is a game of infinity Volleyball—a New Game. Differing from volleyball in two essential aspects, Infinity Volleyball does not limit the number of players and the final score is shared by both teams. Everyone is included, both teams win; in this and any other New Game—no one's a loser!
New Games is a revolutionary concept; in fact, it is a challenge to Webster's Dictionary and to recreation programs. Webster's defines "games" as: "...a physical or mental competition conducted according to rules with the participants in direct opposition to each other; ... a situation involving opposing interests given specific information and allowed a choice of moves with the object of maximizing their wins and minimizing their losses." In New Games, there are no rigid rules; rather players are encouraged to make up their own rules, to create their own games. The object of New Games is not rigid adherence to a prescribed set of regulations, but imaginative play in an atmosphere of spontaneity and fun. The emphasis in New Games is the cooperation and participation of all players, regardless of age, sex, or ability.
New Games was originally the brainchild of Steward Brand, former member of Ken Kesey's original Merry Pranksters and winner of the 1972 Book Award for his Whole Earth Catalog. The soft war philosophy, "Play Hard, Play Fair, Nobody Hurt," of Brand and the creative play concept of George Leonard, author of Education and Ecstasy and the Ultimate Athlete, were the central themes of the first New Games Tournament held near San Francisco in October 1973. Seven thousand people—young and old, rich and poor, minorities and majorities participated in intense physical games (Slaughter, Le Mans Tug-of-War, and Earthball), energy awarness games (Yogi Tag, Aikido, and Standoff), head-trip games, motorskill games, electronic computer games, and board games (Chess, Monster Monoply, and Parchesi).
Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, and young adults all participate in this game; no experience is necessary and no pre-established age pattern prevents either young or old from joining in the circle. Of course, once the circle is completed, it usually begins to totter and everyone ends up domino fashion on the ground. The fun of the game is in everyone's cooperating to create the lap circle; everyone wins the joy of touch, unity, and participation. In fact, in all New Games rampant spectatorism is discouraged, participation is fostered.
Even in those games in which one side does win, the emphasis is still on cooperation and participation. It begins with the selection of teams; everyone participates, no one's excluded, no one's a loser. Beginning games in the spirit of playfulness rather than competitiveness seems to carry over into the games themselves. For example, people playing Le Mans Tug-of-War often ran to the aid of the other side, or vice-versa, in order to prolong the game and the fun. Obviously
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cooperative participation, not competitive winning, was the participants' prime objective.
While there is an emphasis on cooperation, New Games does not deny the need to compete or the need to release hostility; however, the player's competitiveness is usually directed against his own limitations and his hostility is released without harm to others. In New Frisbee, for example, the player concentrates on perfecting his own skills, not on defeating his partner. While New Frisbee looks very much like Old Frisbee, it is philosophically quite different. The player gets no points if he catches a good throw; on the other hand, if he catches or even misses but makes an all-out attempt for a difficult throw, he gains a point. Since the catcher calls his own points, each player is competing against the limitations of not only personal skill but personal integrity.
In Boffing, a form of fencing, pent-up emotions are released but no one is harmed. The participants, wearing both ear and eye protectors, "whop" or "boff" each other in a free-style swing with styrofoam swords.
Because New Games nurtures creative invention of new ideas rather than passive dependence on physical props, equipment needs are minimal; certainly a welcome idea in a time of economic recession! Simple equipment—such as a piece of canvas, a rope, a pile of straw, or a number of colored sticks—encourage players to create numerous games. Because participants are encouraged to change existing games and equipment is minimal, New Games are readily adaptable to any number of people.
While the Earth Ball is a simple, highly portable piece of equipment, perhaps the simplest and most highly portable equipment on which New Games depends is the human body. A favorite "body" game is The People Pass. In this game, people line up two abreast and stand very close to the person in front of them and beside them; one member of the first pair is then lifted up and passed down the line by all the players whose hands are raised in the air; this continues until each person has been passed down the line. In this game trust is developed among the players and there is the exhilaration of physical contact. Nose-to-nose and fanny-to-fanny relay races and human pyramids are especially delightful body games.
Protecting the environment is an essential element of the New Game concept. As Steward Brand states: "In the New Games you try to go to that point where there is price and there is real contest, but you stay short of the point where you are doing in the system—human, ecological, social, or governmental." Pat Farrington, President of New Games Foundation, reinforces Brand's point of view: "The concept of a joyous and harmonious interaction between urban people and suburban land resources is one of the foundations of New Games . . . One of our major goals is to make people aware of public lands and to promote public interests in maintaining them and using them in an ecologically sound manner."
New Games' concern for the environment is evident not only in its preservation of public lands but also in its restoration of underutilized, often heavily vandalized, existing urban recreation facilities.
Aware of New Games potential for neighborhood parks, intrigued by its philosophy of cooperation,
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and impressed by its emphasis on minimal envirnomental impact, many recreation leaders at all levels are discussing and implementing New Games. They are a new dimension in recreation, an alternative to games requiring special skills, league schedules, and denned playing areas.
In sponsoring local New Games Tournaments, it has been found that both tiny tots and older folks participate. The highest response to the tournaments comes from those who do not normally participate in recreation programs. New Games, a process of helping people focus on recreational alternatives or operations, offers a concept which fosters a creative approach to forms of play."
There is room in New Games for everyone doing his best; people are not intimidated about playing because there are no fixed team numbers; everyone joins in the fun. One special appeal of New Games, is that not requiring specialized equipment, it does not discriminate against low-income people. While recognizing that New Games does not create instant interaction among Blacks, Chicanes, Indians, and Whites, participants playing and sharing together do gain a new appreciation for people of other cultures.
Therapists and elementary school teachers are also becoming aware of the possibilities of New Games. Woody Woodaman, director of therapeutic activities at Western Institute in San Diego, has incorporated New Games into his therapeutic program. He supports the use of New Games with emotionally disturbed adolescents because it emphasizes success not failure, and the participation of everyone instead of the few. However, he foresees New Games not only as therapy for the disturbed but as preventive medicine for the whole community.
Seymour Gold, associate professor of environmental planning at the University of California, Davis, stated that "We still measure program effectiveness in participation hours rather than what happens to people as a result of participation, and we offer relatively little in the way of meaningful non-competitive and innovative activities such as New Games." In further discussing New Games' potential, Professor Gold writes, "If human development is what recreation program is all about, New Games provides a meaningful noncompetitive, positive, and low-cost experience that people can share with each other. Most important in a time of scarce resources and competing needs for urban leisure services, it can provide an energy-conserving, inexpensive, and joyful alternative to traditional recreation programs. New Games is a touch of the past and wave of the future with a sense of the present."
From the above comments it is evident that New Games has made and is continuing to make its impact on many aspects of the park and recreation movement in California and in all states.
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