August 28, 2017

Playfulness is a Gift

The phone rang.

He wanted to leave behind a reminder of his life’s work, his mission to help people of all ages enjoy play together.

That got our attention.

Then he told us the rest of his story, and his mission became our mission. We were all in with Bernie.


Bernie De Koven, also known as “Blue”, spent his entire life devoted to helping people realize the value of play in their lives. In the early Seventies, he ran a farm for adults to gather and play. Later that decade, he was a pioneer in the video game industry, designing the earliest and most beloved games, and authored a best-selling book on how to create games that provided play value. That book, The Well Played Game, is still used by leading game developers as a guidebook for designing some of the most popular console games today.

As Bernie told us story after story about the fun and playful moments in his life, the 75-year-old play advocate’s voice took on a more serious tone as he began to tell us the reason for his call. He was recently diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Faced with his own mortality, he decided to leave behind a legacy that represented his life’s work that went beyond popular lectures, books and games. He wanted to leave behind something that would bring joy to the next generation of families and promote a love of play for decades to come. He wanted to provide two Expression Swings® to his neighborhood park in Indianapolis, Indiana. He was working with the Indy Parks Foundation and private donors to raise the $10,000 - $15,000 to prepare the site, purchase and install the swings, and provide any additional work that would be needed.

Tom Norquist, Sr. Vice President of GameTime, and inventor of Expression Swing, remembers that phone call vividly. “When we first released Expression Swing, Bernie wrote an article about the swings that allow parent and child to swing while looking at one another, saying the swing epitomized the joy of play. And he did that just because he discovered the swings on his own, and loved them. So when Bernie called me, I immediately told him ‘I will donate the swings to you and the park.’”

Richard Sinclair of Sinclair Recreation, GameTime’s exclusive representative in Indianapolis, recalls the conversation with Bernie, as well, “People are always looking for a donation but Bernie wasn’t looking for that. We were just really struck by his sincerity and his genuine desire to do something lasting for those who were going to survive him,” Sinclair said. “His story struck a chord in my heart and we wanted to go above and beyond to help him with this idea and to do it quickly, as his time was running short.”

GameTime’s donation of Expression Swings, and Sinclair's donation of site preparation and installation helped to expedite the campaign. The Indy Parks Foundation, along with De Koven’s family and friends raised about $6,000 to cover the rest of the associated costs.

For Bernie, the ribbon cutting at Ellenberger Park was a beautiful moment. “I’ve lived a beautiful and playful life. Now, as I near the end of it, I am very happy that my family will be able to remember my life when they come here to play, and that everyone who plays here will know that playfulness is a gift.”