CalvinBall 2007

Clive Thompson has an article up over at Wired about a new game called Whiffle Hurling, created by an “aesthletics” expert. That sounds incredibly made-up but still kind of cool. The article goes on to talk about the dearth of new (actual physical, running around- not video) games. Most grown-ups don’t play sports and when they do it is sure to be one of “the pantheon of major team-sports” or a minor variation thereof (like H-O-R-S-E). Nobody in their twenties runs around making games up as they go along.

The irony, of course, is that Russotti is merely doing what children already innately do. Children in playgrounds invent their own physical games every day. It’s a completely natural human activity, but it’s drummed out of us once we go to school and are told that the small group of advertising-supported team sports are the only “serious” ones. For the rest of your adult life, you never deviate.

It makes me think of Calvin and Hobbes, which is one of my all time favorite comics. Calvin and his pet tiger Hobbes were the world’s only players of CalvinBall, a “nomic (self-modifying) game” with an esoteric and ever-changing body of regulations that usually required more parsing of the rules than actual playing of the game. But for Calvin (and many kids) that is a huge part of the fun.

When I was a schoolboy, we had a game called “Mission Impossible” that revolved around opposing teams trying to gain possession of the high ground atop a large flat slide. It was like King of the Hill, but the strategies and variations and exceptions to the rules made every game unique. It was also shockingly violent, and we routinely did things that would permanently damage an older, less resilient body. Arguing over whether or not it was permitted to crawl on your knees over the prone form of a teammate (you weren’t allowed to use your hands) and how long was half the fun. There was no rulebook, but somehow we all knew the rules (or at least how to make them up, and make them sound authoritative).

I think what the creator of Whiffle Hurling is trying to do is get back to that sense of play. I don’t blame him.

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