A jabbing forefinger showed the way to Stewart Brand. He was the tiny figure with the white wings on the far hilltop. It was a trudge to get there, kneecaps stinging on brittle thistle blossoms, lungs gasping much too soon, forehead beaded, back sore from the slap of the tape recorder. But there, finally, within talking distance, the fair man turned at the heaving hallo. Vivid blue eyes, beaked nose, slashing grin, he was indeed an arresting man. "Hi," Brand said. And then, returning his beak to the breeze, he took three sure strides and lofted himself over the brink. Irritating.
There were other hang gliders over the valley that day, but Brand, characteristically, had the only white rig among the resplendent wings. He worked a pop of air and gained lift. Beyond him was his mysterious creation, the New Games Tournament. Brand, who gave the country the Whole Earth catalogs, was impinging on the public consciousness again.
For two weekends last fall the tournament was held in a natural bowl on the Pacific headlands just eight miles from downtown San Francisco. The weather was chancey, but thousands came. They roamed the valley, experimenting with such scattered diversions as earth ball, people-size Parcheesi, boffing, monster tug-of-war over a creek, exotic board and computer games, a gentle martial art called aikido, new Frisbee and the old Indian bone game. Further they were encouraged to create new sports. The U.S. Army supplied drinking water in combat field tanks. The Hog Farm Commune catered the food. Admission for adults was $2.50.
The money behind this nurtured affair came from Point, a spectacularly nonprofit foundation. Point was established to handle the $1.5 million that the sale of Brand's The Last Whole Earth Catalog, winner of the 1972 National Book Award, brought in after the staff decided to fire itself. Dipping unrestrainedly into capital, Point directors have dispatched eco-activists to Stockholm for the U.N. environmental conference and encouraged such odd endeavors as recording techniques of Tibetan bell casting. It was not surprising, therefore, that the foundation was prepared to drop $12,000 to invent new kinds of sports.
It was the shakedown day of the tournament when Brand launched himself from the hilltop and descended toward his creation. The lift gave him a long reach, but deposited him in a patch of thistles which was—well—satisfactory. The downhill pursuit of Brand, a jarring, backslapping lope, still was too late. He was unharnessed at the bottom and had begun supervising play in the boffing area. He is a lithe, broad-shouldered man of 34. Still, there is something about him that reminds one of the kid on the block who would get you off roller skates to play kick-the-can, his game. "He always had a knack for planning things and pulling them off which a lot of people wished they had," a friend said.
Brand has been a pioneer, if not the catalyst, in almost every fad of the past 10 years. He took part in LSD research (1962), investigated American Indian culture (1964-1966), designed and organized the Trips Festival (1966), which was a precursor of Woodstock.
The catalog business was founded mainly because Brand again stepped aside from the enthusiasms of his contemporaries. "My friends were doing communes then," he explains. "I had the design problem of how to be of use to them without actually living in a commune." He showed them which tools were best. It turned out, when Brand finally stood still for an interview, that the New Games Tournament was simply another kind of tool he was offering the whole earth. He explained, "You can't go to a guy in the middle of a football game and say 'Hey, you ought to be playing softball, you know.' I mean he's already suited up for football. If he is interested as a youngster in a game that is going to lead to a more serious game, which may lead to professional football, which may lead to Nixonian international politics, which may lead to whatever—that's a very narrow street and it turns out to be one-way.
"The thing we found out in the '60s is that you can change the game by turning your back on it and going away and starting a new game, and if that is a more interesting game, then people come over to play it. Evolutionary tactics seem to apply. The more diversity, the healthier everybody is. Rather than getting caught on one dinosaurlike path, you have a labyrinth of things going on constantly.
"You cannot change a game by winning it, you cannot change a game by losing it, you cannot even change it by refereeing it. Changing games seemed to me to be a useful thing to do, a way to be, a set of metastrategies to learn. And not just for one person to make a career out of, but for a lot of people to start living with. It is a way they can better deal with their lives.
"Kids invent games. Grown-ups mostly don't. Kids are flexible. They are not hardened into thinking. The New Games Tournament might help change some adults' attitudes.