Arendse Løvind, Jonas Schneider, Kristian Ahm, Kristian Kjær and Ole Stobbe
In the following essay, I will mainly focus on how we came up with our core idea and how we chose to focus on social and ritualized aspects of the sport rather than fine tuning rules and playtest them. There was no need to define what a sport is, which our group mostly ignored. Based on two game definitions we thought about differences between these definitions and our groups common understanding of sport.
“A game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome.” (Salen & Zimmermann, 2003)
“Games are objects which consist of components and rules and have certain criteria: rules, a goal, always changing course; chance; competition; common experience; equality; freedom; activity; diving into the world of the game; and no impact on reality.” (Kramer, 2000)
In my opinion the there are two significant differences between sports and game.
First, both are embedded differently in everyday life. Sport originates in a game that became a social event and then got more and more ritualized. (That is a clear contradiction to Avedon and Caillois, whom I do not aggree upon, in my opinion they defined training as sport and sport as a game.) Sport not only allows for spectators but takes a lot of its social impact out of spectatorship, fandom, and identification with a particular team. The spectator may not be a direct part of the event of the game but still partakes on an immediate, personal level. The sport is no longer only a game but a ritualized form of event, it is entertainment and can even the center of everything in the spectator’s life. Spectating is part of participation.
Second, sport has a direct impact on reality. Players earn money and fame by playing. Fans are forming social communities, and fandom becomes part of the fan's identity, even outside of the event itself. In some cases, sport seems to fill a basic human need. The need of participating, of belonging to a community and of supporting something seen as bigger as oneself. It becomes a religion for some people. Which I strongly consider as having real life consequences.
While talking about real life consequences and artificial conflicts, the next question was if artificial conflicts could be used to replaced actual conflicts, and if so how that could look like. This lead the discussion towards a dystopic vision of the world where a sport replaces wars. But the future left to many unknowns that distracted our thoughts. Therefore, we created our sport for African tribes that lived more than thousand years before now.
The sport is an annual ritual happening at the start of the rain season, creating a status quo of power for opposing tribes without decreasing the tribe’s population. Nobody dies, yet there are a winner, a loser and a transparent distribution of authority granting social stability. It is called Enkai which borrowed from Maasai. It means God, and also rain. Notably an unusual pairing of meaning.
We came up with seven laws of Enkai that I will further elaborate later:
Law 1: The field and duration of play
The game takes place on the first day after rainfall on a muddy river bed. The playing field is framed by the spectators on all sides in a circular shape. While standing and forming the boundaries of the playfield, no two members of the tribe may stand side by side to prevent unfair changes in the play field’s dimension. At the same time, this serves as a symbol for the tribes to United take part in the ritual/sport and accept the outcome. The game begins when the spectators start chanting the ritual chant. For each few verse, the viewers take a step closer, thus making the playing field smaller. The chant is repeated until the one team loses.
Law 2: The number of players
The game begins with the same number of players in each team, in relation to the smaller tribe’s population.
Law 3: The players’ roles
Each team consists of some defenders, attackers, and one water bearer. It is the job of the defenders to protect themselves and the attackers, while it is the job of the attackers to attack all opponents. It is the responsibility of the water bearer to keep from dropping the water jug and spilling its content. The tribe may freely choose how its players shall be divided into attackers and defenders, but once the game has started the may no longer change the number of each role.
Law 4: The players’ equipment
The attackers are each equipped with a wooden scooper with which they may ’scoop’ mud from the playing field and fling it at their opponents. The defenders are each equipped with a large hide shield with which they can deflect mud shots. The water bearer carries a water jug on his or her head filled with rainwater from the previous day. All players are wearing a mask made from bone or light tree covering their whole face. All equipment may be decorated in team colors. Materials may vary between tribes.
Law 5: Objective of the game
It is the aim of a match to tip over the water bearer of the opposing team, thus spilling their water. That is to be done by a push, kick or by making a player of the opposing team accidentally tip him or her over. In the case of the water bearer slipping, losing condition is also met.
Law 6: Incapacitating players
A player can become incapacitated by having his or her mask soiled with mud. Incapacitation is done by an opposing player slinging mud and hitting the mask or by slipping and falling face first in the mud. Physical contact with the opposing team is not allowed. Should a player become incapacitated, he is out of the game until the end of the next verse of the chant. While he is out of the game, it is the duty of one spectator to clean his mask. The player is not allowed to enter the game again before his or her mask is unsoiled again.
Law 7: Termination by water soiling
Should the water bearer’s mask get soiled by the slinging of mud without them falling over, the team of the mud slinger loses the match immediately.
To design for a probable sport in a tribal setting, we tried to understand aspects of importance in culture and tradition. By that we had different factors to qualify and align each new idea with our (arguably stereotypical and simplified) understanding of the tribe and its history.
A first cultural aspect of a tribal culture we identified is the position of each tribal member in society. The tribe equals community and is considered as more important than individuality. Deceased members of the tribe are still regarded as part of the tribe and can via certain rituals lead, encourage and protect the tribe. These rituals involve masks that enable one person to become the incarnation of someone else. I wear my ancestor's mask and stop being me; I become my ancestor. (This can also be considered fascinating aspects of sports uniforms: I wear my tricot. Therefore, I am no longer only an individual; I also become embodied part of the team). The second aspect we want to focus on is how rituals are embedded into people’s lives. They are reenactments of the past; their purpose is to teach and remind of events and stories that formed the tribe. At the same time, they serve as a unifying element; the tribe holds these rituals. Therefore each participant of the ceremony knows of her belonging to the tribe. Rituals are physical activities that involve all senses. They are a multisensory experience. (And what else is any sports game? Fans chant their songs in the union, they dress up and feel the emotions and atmosphere. Also, they know what will happen prior, during and after the game itself. Sport and ritual allow individual outlet in a highly-structured framework.) Last cultural aspect that we identified is a strong sense of honor and right and wrong. When I lived in Kenya, I learned how social life was dominated by rules and social contracts that are vital to uphold. Breaking these rules could even result in being excluded from society. This transferred to a secluded social construct that tribal setting includes would make a strong belief in honor and do the right things very likely. For a sport in this social context, a referee would become obsolete, as the spectators would serve as judges. The judgment of the multitude would determine what is considered fair or cheating. This solution may feel arbitrary but feels probable, as the alternative would be to give someone the unique position of judging. Elders or shamans would be suitable for that role, yet I think the whole tribe, including the sages, should be part of the game to stand together as the one. By providing some level of freedom in interpreting the laws of the sport, also there is a particular space of possibility for the gods or ancestors to influence the outcome. If one team loses, that is the will of the ancestors or gods. The same may hold true for cheating. If it is unobserved, the happened in accordance to the ancestors will. By connecting the ritual with religion, it becomes more influence in everyday life, which is of particular importance to an event that determines the course of the coming year. The last aspect we wanted to include is a sense of participation amongst the spectators. They are supposed to be participants maybe not of the sport but definitely of the ritual that encompasses it. Their chant (I imagine it is telling the story of both tribes) structures the play. The chant’s verses serve as a timer for penalties and measures progress of time. The more time the players spend playing, the more stressing and faster the game becomes because the playfield’s size gets continually decreased. The spectators also support the players by cleaning the player’s masks after being hit.
This shall encompass the sport as a social event of two tribes, it is more than a game and adds strong ritualistic elements to it. Observing contemporary sports enhancing ceremonial elements feels important in maintaining it so that it also has an impact on society.
Thank you for reading this far. In conclusion, I would just like to state that creating the sport was absorbing even though we did not even try to test Enkai. Coming from my point of view (as a white European guy living now) it feels like it could offer an adequate sport for an African tribe thousand years before now. The result still may mostly be seen as a thought experiment and provoke thoughts. If you want to discuss these ideas further, please feel free to contact me!