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The New Games Movement and Life. Be In It.

by Sayraphim on March 15, 2012

This is one of those detective stories, uncovering facts and hints bit by bit. It’s the thrill of the chase and the satisfaction of the find that I love about this sort of stuff.

Last year I discovered the New Games Movement, an American movement in the early 70s to get adults out and playing games again. It was created by Stewart Brand, and there’s a beautiful explanation on Bernie DeKoven’s (a later member of the New Games movement) website which reads: In many ways, it was part of the anti-war movement. There were sit-ins and be-ins. This was a kind of play-in. A demonstration of community and solidarity.
You can read the rest of that history here: http://www.deepfun.com/newgames.htm

But I was dreadfully enthused about New Games. I bought the two books they wrote about their games, New Games Book and More New Games, second hand from Amazon for only a couple of cents each. When they arrived, I devoured them, taking in each game instruction, pouring over the photos and reading the essays that are interspersed throughout the two books.

I’ll admit, I was so fascinated by the photos that I checked them all out before diving into the book properly, and on one page there was a photo of a bunch of people standing on vans holding up a big banner proclaiming “NEW GAMES TOURAMENT, 4pm-8pm”

Photo from the New Games book, P 22

I didn’t take a lot of notice of that photo, there were a number of more interesting ones of people involved in the actual games and falling about laughing.

But, so, in one of the essays is this amazing phrase: “New Games is also developing an international reputation. The Ministry of Youth, Sport and Recreation in Melbourne, Australia, invited Pat Farrington to develop a New Games program for the state of Victoria. The government provided her with a staff of twenty-five referees and a fleet of four vans to roam the countryside like modern version of Johnny Appleseed, planting New Games as they go.” (P19, New Games Book, 1976)

Good god! I thought, and I went back to the photo. The title next to the photo says “New Games, Melbourne, Australia”. How on earth could I have missed that? Someone in the state government of Victoria in the 70s found out about the New Games somehow and invited them over to my home town to play! If you look carefully, you’ll notice that the number plates on the vans all conform to Victorian plates.

I was thrilled to find that we have a connection to the New Games Movement, and that there is precedent not only in Australia but in Melbourne for what we are doing. Usually this stuff only happens over the other side of the world!

But, the story does not end there!

R was talking to a very wise and well connected gentleman in-the-know the other day and he mentioned New Games. The gentleman dropped a hint about the fact that New Games was somehow connected to Life. Be In It.

Holy nuts! For those of you who don’t know, or are too young to remember, Life. Be In It was a government initiative to get people off the couch and outside to get active that was big in the late 70s and through the 80s while I was growing up. At our primary school we had a number of Life. Be In It events and my mum had a Life. Be In It calendar up in our kitchen that I used to read while waiting for dinner. It was a massive and influential movement in Australia and I’m still thrilled to find out that it was somehow connected with the New Games Movement.

But how were the two connected?

So I went on the hunt. I wanted to find some evidence of the link between the New Games Movement and Life. Be In It. Several internet searches provided very little in the way of information. The Life. Be In It website’s history page says: ‘Life. Be in it.‘ was established in 1975 by the Victorian Government and because of it’s popularity and rapid rate of public awareness – was adopted by the Federal Government in 1978 and subsequently launched in the States from then on. http://www.lifebeinit.org/standard.php?id=879  But no mention of the New Games Movement.

We have in our games library a Life. Be In It Games Manual which I’ve only just started reading. The New Games book was published in 1976 and is chock full of different games they adapted from older games or made up on the spot. The Life. Be In It Games Manual, published in 1980, shares a number of the same games, same title and word for word instructions. That suggests that someone writing the Life. Be In It Games Manual had access to the New Games books, but neither books mention the other movement.

Ooo! Frustrating!

So, going back a little further, I find that “In late 1972, the Victoria government established the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Recreation.” http://www.yacvic.org.au/aboutus/items/2010/11/238656-upload-00002.pdf  The Ministry of Youth, Sport and Recreation was the body that bought out the New Games movement, so it must have been after 1972 that they came to Melbourne. But if the New Games visit sparked Life. Be In It, then it had to be before 1975.

While preparing to write this, I decided to scan in the photo (above) to include with the post. As I opened the book to put it in the scanner, I noticed for the first time what was sticky taped to the open car door just under the banner. A Life. Be In It poster! You can also see in the photo itself (but maybe not the lo-res web version) that a number of the people holding the banner are again wearing Life. Be In It tshirts of various designs.

Ta Daa! Evidence that the two were linked, or at least connected. Life. Be In It was indeed somehow involved in bringing the New Games Movement out to Australia. I couldn’t believe that it was right under my nose this whole time. But that right-in-front-of-your-face makes for the best mysteries…

So I’d love to find out more, maybe next I’ll email Life. Be In It and ask them. But however it happened, it’s still so exciting that a movement that’s such an influence on my games design practice now was so influential to my life over 30 years ago, and I just didn’t know it.

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