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A general movement in the 1960’s to create and play games that were not based on competition, winners and losers, but on group fun, shared experience and enjoyment, and cooperation. Knots is a ‘New Game’, as are Giants, Wizards, Elves, and Snakes. At a very basic level, even Tag, or It, is a New Game as it continues indefinitely and the person being the chaser does not remain the chaser. (I guess that Plague probably is one as well, but it seems rather a gruesome addition to the cannon).

The sixties in general seemed to be about love, peace and cooperation (although I appreciate that that’s rather a generalisation), and, I suppose, people began to suspect that children’s games (and games in general) were centred rather too firmly on aggression, winning and ‘fighting’ (in whatever sense). If kids’ minds are busy being shaped by whatever goes on in their childhood, they must have reasoned, then what is playing these sorts of games going to do to the way their personalities are going to develop? I can see the thinking behind this sort of assumption, and, in general, I’m inclined to agree with it. Johan Huizinga asserted, in Homo Ludens (1955), that play should be defined as any activity that is entered into voluntarily by all participants, does not occur in ‘real’ time or ‘real’ space (that is, it makes its own time and space outside of the everyday), and that creates its own feelings of tension and enjoyment totally within itself. It’s a persuasive definition, and, beautifully, it seems to have a good go at hinting at why we find some activities particularly pleasing. Going to the theatre falls nicely into Huizinga’s definition, as does being in a play. Creating music is play, and, in an odd sort of way, so is reading a book.

The definition though, and this is, I suspect, what appealed to those concerned with the New Games’ Movement, doesn’t mention competition, aggression or winners and losers (although, of course, it doesn’t preclude them either). So, whilst football, boxing, chess and so on are undoubtedly games, the things that make them enjoyable to participate in are not necessarily what we might first think.

All this struck me today as I was looking for PC games. Battle games, first person shooters, fighting games dominate the shelves – what are they doing to our heads, I wonder. Someone’s been shot today in the northwest (of England) – does such a casual attitude towards life come from, at least in part, a casual attitude to life in computer games? Or is the latter just a result of the former? I don’t know. But to make the New Games point again: how many of us were addicted to Tetris? Or Roller Coaster Tycoon? Or (still are to) The Sims? Aren’t these just New Games? How about a New PC Games’ Movement?

The next time a group of you are together – play Knots: it’s a blast! Or if the mood at a party becomes rather bleak, play Plague all around the house. It’ll scare you silly. Snakes is a great way of getting rid of excess energy. And, if you’ve got twenty bored kids, there’s nothing better than Giants, Wizards, Elves – except maybe joining in.

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