Play Hard. Play Fair. Nobody Hurt – Overview of “New Games”

Play Hard. Play Fair. Nobody Hurt.  Ever played a game where you are part of a human knot? Bounced balls up and down on a giant parachute?  Or been part of a “human pinball machine?  In the 1970s, my parents used to have large barbeque/picnics in our yard in the 1970s with these types of games that focused on participation and interaction, and were part of the “New Game movement.”  With the recent talk about the “gamification” of things around us – I recently ordered a used copy of The New Games Book, which has a brief history about the games as the introduction of the book.

“New Games” was a movement that began in the late 1960s.  It was built around some ideas that challenged the traditions of games.

Some of the key ideas included:

  • No one should be left out, eliminated, or unable to play
  • Games are living culture, adapted and changed as required
  • Games should require no or little equipment
  • The rules should be easy and fun
  • Play and physicality were as important to adults as they were to children
  • Competition and cooperation should co-exist; but while competition can be important, winning and losing is not

The overall philosophy of New Games was: Play Hard. Play Fair. Nobody Hurt.  The New Games Foundation was founded to promote these philosophies after some New Games events were held in California in the early 1970s. Out of this came two successful books: The New Games Book and More New Games.

The origins of both the New Games movement  started with Stewart Brand who was a member of the Merry Pranksters, Ken Kesey’s communal, hippie, group.  Brand published The Whole Earth Catalog, which provided a toolkit of practical instructions people could use to construct environmentally conscious and socially sustainable lifestyles.

When an anti-war group in 1966 asked him to create a public activity to oppose the war, he created the game Slaughter. Slaughter was a game physical combat with nearly no rules except: throw everyone else out of the ring, and dunk the six foot ball over “the other side of the field”. The ball was painted like a small Earth. Teams were not organized, they naturally formed. When the ball got closer to one side of the field, people spontaneously switched sides to defense.

In many ways, the games were part of the anti-war movement.   Similar to a  sit-ins and be-ins, this was a “play-in.”  Out of the Slaughter game experience, Stewart teamed up with George Leonard, an Aikido master and proponent of Eastern thought, and Pat Farrington, a community organizer, to develop and propose the first New Games weekends in October, 1973.   At the first event, 6,000 people came to play.  The next New Games tournament were held outdoors.  Several thousand more people came to this event, as well as the third and fourth ones.

What was unique about the events was that while playing the games, everyone was included.  Some of the games were classics, such as Tug of War, but with several hundred players all playing at once and switching sides whenever one side was winning.

Some of the games were totally new. Organizers showed a group how to play by gathering and playing with them. Then they picked someone else to organize the next group.  Players became organizers, and organizers were players.

Most of the games required no equipment.   Some special equipment was used for some games: a large rope for tug of war,  giant six foot cloth-covered and painted Earth balls,  and parachutes for an assortment of cooperative activities and games.

Out of these events came the New Game Foundation and The New Games Book.  It contains dozens of games for two to two hundred or more players. Many of the games are more like activities rather than games but are physical and competitive.

The games were popular in the 1970s at camps, recreation centers, churches, and other groups.  The New Games foundation closed in 1990s, but the philosophy of New Games lives on in modern cooperative games, team building activities at workplaces, and other formats. Several of the original directors and trainers continue to promote New Games activities in their current lines of work.

If you are in one of my classes this Spring – get ready to play.  I ordered a used copy of New Games book – and we will be playing some of these games this semester.    Play Hard – Play Fair – Nobody Hurt!

Image Source:


New Games – History and Overview (

New Games Book

Leave a Reply