If one day a stranger asks you to play the Mating Game, before you sensuously narrow your eyes or widen them in shock, ask him if he has read The New Games Book (Dolphin/Doubleday, $4.95).
Not all of the 60 games included in editor Andrew Fluegelman's compendium are as startling as this one. Some might even be old enough to stir a schoolyard memory or two. For instance, Flying Dutchman, one of the "New Games," is also known as Goosey-Goosey-Gander; Bola is a variation of Jump-the-Stick; Hagoo by another name is Stone-face; Islands is an outdoor version of Musical Chairs; Human Pinball is Dodgeball with a bend to it; Ooh-Aah was previously called Pass-the-Squeeze. The real old-timers are immutable, however: Tug-of-war, Egg Toss (with water balloons) and Pie Throwing (no aerosol whipped cream, please).
No matter. What makes New Games new is not that they have never been played before, but that they are played with a new sense of purpose zealously promoted by the New Games Foundation, a nonprofit institution based in San Francisco and dedicated to encouraging mass participation in playing, period. New Games are not just for schoolyards; they are for everyone, everywhere.
The subtle purpose of New Games was generated 10 years ago, the brainstorm of Whole Earth Catalog creator Stewart Brand who believed that pacifist sentiment in the anti-Vietnam-war community had estranged large numbers of people from sport. Lest the peaceniks get pudgy. Brand invented a war-analogue called Slaughter.
The exuberant participants in the first game of Slaughter satisfied Brand that aggression is primal, even in pacifists, and that directed aggression—what Brand came to call soft-war—is a necessary human release. Softwar, of course, is competitive sport. Brand's observation can hardly be applauded as original; the subtlety is that the newness of Slaughter attracted people who considered themselves anti-sportsmen.
In October 1973 Brand staged a spectacular New Games extravaganza at Gerbode Preserve, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. (The event has been held annually since and has spread seeds across the country. A full-scale tournament was held in Brighton, England this year.)
The original New Games Tournament proved extremely popular because Brand and his associates were successful in de-emphasizing the importance of winning without destroying the spirit motivating the participants. Those who were afraid to lose still played. When necessary, new games were invented so that everyone could play, regardless of size, age or skill. There were no experts, no hard and fast rules, no memories of past humiliations or recollections of disappointed coaches and parents. There was no expensive equipment to be purchased, no country club dues to pay, no cliquish teams to be penetrated; no ribbons, just banners and balloons; no spectators, just players.
Brand insisted that the games be changeable: always new, and always, as far as possible, fit for everyone. New Games is a whole community act, a celebration whose sound rule is the New Games Foundation credo: "Play Hard, Play Fair, Nobody Hurt"—onto which one might affix the less somber tag: "Fun for all, and all for fun."