Hey y’all, Vick here. My heart is still palpitating from the electrifying conclusion of a game I just finished playing with some of my friends here on farm. (You WILL get your comeuppance, Oliver!)
You know, gaming of one sort or another is a favorite winter pastime here at DR, given that not one of us owns a television/cable subscription, and even on sunny days like the ones we’ve had lately, when funny white stuff is scarcely to be found atop the weather rock, many of us turn to games as a way to strengthen connections with our fellow villagers.
I’ve been doing my fair share of gaming lately and the wiseacre in me can’t resist drawing parallels between Dancing Rabbit and the games that keep us so well entertained. For instance, this village is chockfull of jokers, Jacks/Jills of all trades, and plenty of people who are aces in my book – just like a deck of cards.
Even though there are only fifty-two cards in a standard pack, there are approximately 8 x 1067 possible combinations that can be achieved when they are shuffled together. This means that each time you shuffle a deck you’ve just made history, because that particular configuration of cards has probably never existed on this planet before, and, statistical jamais vu aside, the number of possible configurations is no less staggering when you shuffle a few dozen people together like we do in our intentional community – all those different ideas, preferences and life experiences… Try doing the math on that one.
Dancing Rabbit is also a lot like a chess board – every piece is unique and brings a different skill to the party, and while some pieces are arguably more powerful than others, they all work best in cooperation together, and even the lowliest of pawns can become a queen once it’s reached the end of its journey, before continuing on in the game with a higher level of capability.
Chess is one of the oldest and most dynamic games in history, and every single match that’s played progresses a bit differently than all others – that’s why they call it the black and white jungle. There’s an interested term in chess: zugzwang – it derives from German, and refers to a situation where one is compelled to make a move, but cannot do so without losing material or damaging one’s current position.
Where the chess player strives to apply strategic creativity to the quest of placing their opponent’s king in the ultimate case of zugzwang, checkmate, at Dancing Rabbit our strategic interest is in educating the public about human-caused global climate disruption and sharing some of the ways that each of us can make a positive impact, before our climactic chess-clock ticks down and zugzwang forces us to forfeit the game.
Games are a peculiar phenomenon, anthropologically – we don’t really need to play them in order meet our most basic needs for survival (unless you get invited to play a round of Ōllamaliztli, the mysterious ancient Mesoamerican ceremonial sport involving kicking a human head through a stone ring mounted on a wall, whereupon the players of the winning team receive the dubious reward of being sacrificed), but we still devote huge amounts of time and energy to the endeavor.
Animals play too – they do it to prepare their bodies and minds for the circumstances they will encounter in their daily struggles, and much like a kitten learning to hunt by batting a beetle around, children can learn a lot about problem solving, successful social interaction, and cooperative behavior by playing all sort of games.
In other words, playing games helps us learn how to meet our needs, as in Maslow’s hierarchy. Researchers Cooke and Gordon discovered that juvenile rats, when placed in cages with adult rats that refused to play with them, developed into adults with smaller brains, higher levels of anxiety throughout their lives, and even died at an earlier age. This has led to the hypothesis that play is crucial to formation of smarticles in the brain. Granted, equifinality might indicate that the same development can occur through teaching and/or interactive learning exercises, but, come on, playing is more fun.
Let’s back up a bit – what exactly is a game, anyway? One of the founders of video game design, Chris Crawford, breaks it down like this: if it’s fun, interactive, and involves other agents/players who can proactively influence the outcome of a challenge, then you’ve got a bona fide game. Interactive, goal-oriented, and involves any number of co-influential participants – that sounds a lot like life to me, real life.
Alas, the rules of life aren’t as clear as they are in chess, and the rewards for winning aren’t always what we expect. I’m sure a global version of Monopoly is a barrel of monkeys for a few folks, but for the vast majority of us, it’s more like E.T., The Extra Terrestrial (which came out on the Atari 2600 back in the 80s – this game was so terrible they buried innumerable copies of it in the desert so no one would ever have to play it again).
Playing a game requires what’s known as a lusory attitude, a mental state on the part of a participant whereby they consent to accept the pre-determined rules of a challenge in order to enjoy the experience of play. At Dancing Rabbit, our lusory attitude about life is that life is a game everyone should get to win, so we’ve agreed to a slightly modified set of rules: first we agree to abide by six ecological covenants and a handful of corresponding guidelines, we agree to interact with each other in ways that are empathic and non-violent, and we agree to strive to be as inclusive of others as possible.
In the real world, the outcomes of choices are seldom clear – we don’t know if taking a new job will really be better for us, or whether our relationships with others are genuine, or how much of an impact any one of us can have on climate change by swapping out a lightbulb or walking that tenth of a mile to Starbucks instead of driving – but I’m not disheartened because we each get to determine what winning at life means for us, and as Dancing Rabbit’s newest full-fledged Member, I can say that I feel a flush of victory after striving to make my own life a little more sustainable in the rolling hills of northeast Missouri.
So, let’s all encourage more games in our lives and play them every chance we get – it’s good for us! I’ll even get you started by suggesting you try out one of our favorite games here at Dancing Rabbit: wait for it… the GREATEST GAME IN THE WORLD!
The Greatest Game in the World (also known as The Best Game Ever) relies solely on the creativity of the participants involved, and all you need to play is a sheet of paper and a writing utensil for each player involved. It works like this: each player starts a story on their sheet of paper by writing a sentence – it can be anything – and passes it to the person beside them.
The next person to receive the sheet has to silently read the sentence written by the person before them and draw a picture that conveys the same information. The paper is then folded so the prior sentence is concealed, and the sheet is passed to a neighbor once again. The next player reviews the drawing they have received and writes a new sentence conveying the same information as the picture, without knowing the content of what came before. They too fold the paper to conceal the earlier parts of the story and pass the sheet along.
You keep going around like this until everyone has their original sheet of paper back (you can go around twice if you’re working with a smaller group), and then everyone reads the first and last sentence on their paper aloud (though I much prefer to go through the whole thing). I’ve played this many times at DR and it’s ALWAYS been a blast. Play it on your earliest opportunity and you’ll see what I mean.
For those who want to know what folks did this week: at Tea and Conversation we discussed how different people on farm relate to making ecological choices in the game of life, La Casa de Cultura has become the winter movie theater scene, and the newly re-established Women’s Circle met once again to converse, connect and commiserate.
By the way, if you know your Caro-Kann Defense from your Ruy Lopez, stop by some Thursday and check in with Kurt, the friendly bartender at our very own Milkweed Mercantile, and ask to play a match or two, and enjoy a beer.
Ciao for now – I’ll see you at the winner’s circle!
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Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.