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5.0 out of 5 stars An unconventional classic with great insights about how we play together, 4 Dec 2013
This review is from: The Well-Played Game: A Player's Philosophy (Hardcover)
If the title sounds familiar, it might be because 'The Well-Played Game' was first published in 1978 and was followed by a revised edition in 2002. Its re-publication in 2013 gives these playful insights a new lease of life. The 2013 edition also includes a new foreword by Eric Zimmerman and a new preface by the author, Bernie de Koven.

'The Well-Played Game' is difficult to classify because it is so original and unconventional. For example, it ends with a 'Nonconclusion' comprising four 'Inklings'. The three main reasons that I enjoyed re-reading this unique treatise are:

1. It is a detailed forensic analysis of how games (of all kinds) work - providing clear insights into the social 'DNA' of a well-played game.
2. The style is entertaining and playful - making the journey wonderfully consistent with the subject of a well-played game.
3. There is an unrelenting focus on the experience of a well-played game.

As with all good books, it can be enjoyed at many levels - as a player of games, as a play leader, as a game designer, or as a designer/facilitator of any activities (educational or recreational). By the end of the book I could even accept the author's "Inkling # 3" that "If we can create even larger games that we can all play together - all of us - then there will be no separation between us and others, no we and they. We will all be one community. All one species."

The well-played game is a process. Details of the process include intriguing concepts like 'The Well-Timed Cheat', 'The Fair Witness', 'The Practice Game', 'The Bent Rule', 'Restoring Balance', 'Quitting' and 'Quitting Practice'.

As an example, the logic of 'Quitting Practice' goes something like this: to be sure that we are playing with people who want to be playing, we need to be sure that people feel able to quit the game whenever they want to. So practising quitting makes it easier for people to leave and serves to increase our confidence that everyone who is playing is playing because they still want to play and not because they feel obliged to play. Playing a game that you no longer want to play is clearly not a recipe for a well-played game.

But what if a quitter wants to rejoin the game? That should be OK too, so there is a section on 'Getting Back In'. And there is a section on 'Being Left Alone' - which is how someone who quits may prefer to be treated by former playmates.

This is just a taste of what you will find. There are many more such angles on playing well that may not seem that relevant when first encountered, but soon turn out to be yet another essential feature of a well-played game. Every new angle triggers my own memories of game playing or other life experiences that would readily support its inclusion in this treatise on the well-played game.

And then there are things that happen outside the game itself - such as 'The Prelude', 'The Interlude' and 'The Postlude' (such as the 19th hole) - which all deserve consideration. Even within a game there are rituals which may not be strictly part of the game but can still contribute to a game being well-played - such as the stories or theatre games that precede a game of tag.

And in case my examples make this book seem to be all about children's play, I can assure you that the concepts and practices apply to all ages. There are also some more adult-like games considered: 'The Con Game', 'Poker', 'Dangerous Play' (such as war games), and 'The Well-Struck Bargain'.

Bernie's writing makes me smile and brings me many 'aha' moments. It has been a considerable influence on my own approach to designing (and playing) debriefing games, such as making it easy for people to opt in and out, designing half games that leave space for participants' creativity, and always keeping the Joker (wild card) in play - giving everyone the right and opportunity to change the game.

As in 2003, I thoroughly recommend this book - it is still full of fresh insights that are credible, playable and strangely familiar. (Roger Greenaway, 2013)

The author, Bernie de Koven also has a very active and playful presence as Major Fun at [...]
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