Games to the Rescue

Games to the Rescue is a philanthropic project of the Center for Ludic Synergy and Seattle Cosmic Game Night. The aim of the project is to provide game equipment and a book of game rules (GamesToTheRescueBook) to hospitals, for use by patients and visitors. We have a mailing list to coordinate the volunteer work.

The project was conceived in early March 2003, when the following conversation (paraphrased freely) took place on the seattle-cosmic mailing list:

How It Started

Ron_Hale-Evans?: Hey gang, good news! Our Funagain affiliate program has finally paid off, and they're cutting us a check for almost $60! What should we do with the money? (1) Buy prizes for the Prize Bag? (2) Buy games for the GameLibrary? (3) Donate the money to a charity? Or (4) something entirely different?

(Lots of people chime in for either (1) prizes for the Prize Bag, or (3) donating to charity, plus some other suggestions.)

Dave_Howell?: Why don't we combine #2 and #3 and buy GermanStyleGames for children's hospitals?

Ron_Hale-Evans?: I like the basic idea, but we couldn't buy many for $60, and kids tend to lose cards and game pieces, which would probably ruin the games. Instead, why don't we buy a lot of copies of Sid Sackson's book A Gamut of Games (we could buy at least eight at $6.95 each) and donate them to hospitals? Almost all of the 38 games in the book can be played with things you're likely to find around hospitals anyway, like a StandardDeckOfCards and Checkers sets, and the book contains rules for classic games, such as Focus (Spiel des Jahres 1981) and Lines_of_Action? (which has international tournaments and dozens of web sites). Plus, we can paste in a bookplate reading "In memory of Sid Sackson, 1920-2002."

Meredith_Hale?: I like that idea, but let me expand on it. Why don't we donate a complete EmergencyGameKit to each hospital, with both the book and all the bits needed to play the games in the book? The group can donate old decks of cards, Checkers sets, and so on, that they have at home or find in thrift stores, and the hospitals can replace them as necessary. After all, who needs an EmergencyGameKit more than someone in a hospital? Any kind of hospital?

Almost everyone else: Huzzah!

Why Are We Doing This?

Whether patients or visitors, people in hospitals are often panicked, grief-stricken, bored, or all three. Once after my mother was in a serious car accident, I spent about ten hours in a hospital room with my sister and her fianc\xE9, waiting for my mother to regain consciousness, with nothing to distract us but old copies of People magazine. Some good games would have been very welcome.

Further, as someone with bipolar disorder, when I (Ron_Hale-Evans?) have been hospitalised after a psychotic break, games and books about games have provided a safe focus that helped me "put the pieces back together". In a real sense, games have saved my life. Therapists also recognise the value of games, and many hospitals provide recreational therapy. (I will personally see to it that some of the EmergencyGameKits we make go to psychiatric hospitals and psychiatric wards.)

Solitaire games, not all of which are card games, can make the lonely time before visiting hours pass more quickly for patients.

In short, games can ease the suffering of people in hospitals. That's why we're doing this.

Our New Focus

In our initial discussions, outlined above, we had planned to give away copies of the book A Gamut of Games along with all of the equipment needed to play the games in the book. However, A Gamut of Games is now out of print, and it is hard to find enough inexpensive copies of the book for our needs.

What we are planning to do now is publish our own collection of great games that can be played with ordinary gaming equipment, such as a StandardDeckOfCards or a Checkers set. Depending on how large the final collection turns out to be, we will either use a Print On Demand (POD) publisher for the book, or print it ourselves.

Under current copyright and patent law, as long as a game is not patented, we can rewrite the rules in our own words and print them in a book of our own without much fear of prosecution. Copyright protects only the expression of an idea (the actual text), not the idea itself (the design of the game). Of course, we will give full credit to the game designers because it is the ethical thing to do, and will attempt to get their blessings wherever possible, to maintain friendly, polite, and respectful relations with them, and to avoid nuisance lawsuits even if a designer has no legal basis for a challenge.

Publishing our own book has several advantages:

  1. We can limit the games in the collection to those that are easy to learn.
  2. Limiting the number of games is useful in itself, so that stressed-out hospital patients and visitors are not faced with "overchoice", which could cause them more stress.
  3. We can also tailor the book to stressed-out people, laying it out with a large, friendly "START HERE" message (for example, "Do you like Checkers? Then try Focus!" or "Here are the four best [or easiest to learn] games in the book.").
  4. Since we are choosing the games ourselves, we can ensure they truly require no special equipment. For example, the GamutOfGamesEquipment requires things like two decks of cards with matching backs. We would probably have had to buy these new for a few dollars. However, if the games we choose need only a single deck of cards, we can pick these up at local thrift stores for 25 or 30 cents apiece.
  5. We can make the rulebook free (i.e. open source, not gratis), releasing it under a free license such as the GNU Free Documentation License and making PDF and source files freely available on the Web, so that other people can make their own copies.

Note: We can "free" or "open-source" the book without giving up a revenue stream from it. Not everyone has a laser printer, let alone a printer period, and even if someone has a nice printer, it doesn't mean they're willing to waste ink, toner, paper, time and/or effort printing their own copy. They might be happier to buy a "real" copy online. As a case in point, I recently bought an original edition of a rare book even though I had already made a photocopy from a library copy, because I wanted the "real" book, and my friend had a spare copy. Don't underestimate the power of the "real book".

For a list in progress of the games we propose to include in the book, with information on where to find the rules (on the Web, if possible), and links to the rules rewrites in progress, see GamesToTheRescueBook.

Equipment Needed

We're not quite sure of everything we need yet, but we can definitely use copies of the following:

The next time you're out "thrifting" for a big score like Adel_Verpflichtet?, why not pick up a 99-cent Checkers set or a 25-cent deck of cards and donate it to Games to the Rescue?