Bernie De Koven

Wanna play a game?


I'm thinking of someone ... who made contributions both to the breadth and depth of New Games.


It's hard to decide in which category Bernie had the most impact, breadth or depth. For breadth, I couldn't say how many of the games that I still play I learned from Bernie, or from someone who learned them from Bernie. Wait a minute, as valuable and fun as those games are, I'm going on record to state that even more important was depth. Blue's introduction to Mihaly Csikszentmihaly's research on flow has been more significant. The value of these ideas and how they relate to New Games—and just about everything else—is immeasurable. It even outweighs the years of spelling challenges posed by that Hungarian nomenclature. Exposure to Brian Sutton-Smith's body of work only added bonus points.


While Blue and I had already met at several staff retreats, the first time we co-led a New Games training was in Virginia Beach, in the spring of 1978. There was a certain tension in our planning session that Friday. Things became easier when Bernie stepped back to offer a meta-planning observation. He explained that his wife, Rocky, believes there are two ways for artists to cover a canvas. One style of painting is fairly straightforward; the artist works on one section of the image until she is happy with it, and then moves on to the next. A different artist may employ a more random style. The second painter daubs oil on one part of the canvas and may stay with that area for a while. Before finishing with that sector, however, she may suddently choose to add some paint to a completely different section. Blue pointed out that both methods work; the end result in each case is a finished painting. He also let me know that he preferred the first, and could we (meaning me) please be a little more systematic while planning the next two days. Having those two styles so clearly laid out has proven useful many times. It was also one of the kindler, gentler criticisms—coupled with advice to please stay focused—that I have ever received.


The workshop went well, of course. I'm sure I learned several new games and discovered new ways to present games from Bernie. What I'd like to share, though, is how adeptly he handled a situation that arose during the final wrap up.


Attendees were in high spirits as they shared their stories about the weekend and the just-finished public festival. A stranger introduced himself, thanked everyone for putting on such a wonderful event, and asked if he could make an announcement. He then proceeded to kidnap the training by re-framing it as a prelude to some workshop he was sponsoring in the near future. A thank you turned into an unexpected, unscreened, unwelcome, unending advertisement.


I sat there stunned and helpless. I couldn't see how to cut the interloper off without negatively affecting the positive atmosphere in the group. Bernie stepped up with masterful control. A series of succinct questions to our guest kept him on task. "So you would like to invite folks to your event. What are the dates and time? What should they bring, and where is it? Thank you."


Our bearded hero then thanked the gatecrasher and got back to moderating the wrap up without letting this sap sap[1] any more energy from the group. Bernie's manner throughout was polite, caring, and professional in a way that equals any group facilitator I have seen.


A few weeks later Bernie invited me to stop off for a few days at the Games Preserve before I was to head off to finish my tour in the muggy heat of late spring in the Midwest. Strangely enough, I don't recall any problem finding the place.


A legendary story of the never-ending game of Ping Pong was often related at a New Games Training. I got to live it during that visit. (Thanks, Bill, for that wonderful game.) Of all the memories of those happy, exciting days I'll share an additional two. The first was not being able to sit down without having to move some game or toy out of the way. The second was your and Rocky's introduction to Simon®, that annoying, electronic, mulit-sensory, bloated-Frisbee, memory game. Prominent on my To Do list after leaving the Games Preserve was to acquire my own Simon and share it with all of the attendees at the rest of the trainings on that tour. If there were justice in the world, Simon would have said to Milton Bradley, "Simon, says, 'Make a considerable donation to the New Games Foundation'."


Finally, I'd like to also point out what an exceptional writer Mr. Bernard De Koven is. His A Million Ways to Play Marbles (at least) should be included in the Appendix of every book that discusses creativity. It's also among the finer examples of writing I've ever read.


Thank you, Blue, for your knowledge, wisdom, experience, playfulness, and friendship.


Bernie was a prominent blogger. His deepfun web site is a valuable resource. Deep Fun with Bernard De Koven.


[1] Sorry for the double entendre. I've been waiting years to plant this one.




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Date Website Was Last Updated: July 2, 2019