In Search of the Meaning of Games in Life

A Journey to the Circumpolar World

Throughout history the games we have played have been a testament about who we were, and
are. From early Inuit bone and hunting games, to the gladiator contests of Ancient Rome, to
the modern American game of baseball, the games we play have served as a statement of and a
rehearsal for the life-world of that period and place. By reconnecting with and understanding the
games of our past, we can build meaningful bridges between our past and present, and hopefully
gain a better understanding of the meaning and importance of the modern games we play. The
aforesaid are timely and important, especially as they relate to indigenous people throughout
the world who are trying to preserve their traditions in our modern world. Israel Ruong (1953)
called the preservation of indigenous Sámi traditions, “active adaptation.” He said, “Active
adaptation means that Sámi cannot alone and without criticism adopt modern culture, casting
aside their culture’s irreplaceable values, but that they hold fast to their cultural traditions in the
new conditions (Ruong cited in Lehtola, 2004: p. 60).

For much of my adult life I have had a passion for trying to understand the deeper meanings of
the games we play. This passion emerged during my tenure as a graduate assistant to then Head
U.C.L.A Basketball Coach Larry Brown, and was strengthened with my position as an assistant
coach (Dance Conditioning) with the 1982-84 Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers Basketball Team
(1983 World Champions). Moroever, my passion was sharpened with my research and practice
of games in the circumpolar world, first with the Inuit of the Eastern Arctic of Canada, and most
recently with my sabbatical study (2011) of the early games of the Sámi in the Arctic of Norway.
My experiences have been documented in my book, Running With Zoe: A Conversation on the
Meaning of Play, Games, and Sport, Including a Journey to the Canadian Arctic (2009). With
this web site I hope to share my experiences on/about my journey. Like Running With Zoe, the
site will be a progress report on my passion for trying to understand the deeper meanings of
the games we play, with specific emphasis on the Circumpolar World. There will be a link to
Running With Zoe on this site.

In addition to the above my hope is for the web site to serve as a resource guide, a sort of
clearing house, for others who have an interest in games in the Circumpolar World. The site will
provide links to other web sites, films, videos, and documentation. In addition, my hope is that
others will share their work, including additional resources, etc. that will enlighten and inspire
further inquiry, discussion, and practice of Arctic games. A link on the web site will provide
information about how to comment, ask questions, and submit information. 
While the site is currently only in English, I hope to have it translated into Inuktitut and Sámi .

Learning about and understanding the games of the Circumpolar World may help us in our
understanding of the modern games we play. At present, especially in America, there seems to
be a lack of understanding or awareness about the meaning and significance of our games. This
lack of awareness is evident in every arena where games are played, from youth to professional.
It is reaffirmed almost daily as we witness the personalities, behaviors and deportments of team
owners, team administrators, athletic directors, coaches, athletes, parents, agents, television
announcers, and marketers.

We are all too familiar with the pandemonium that surrounds our
modern games, from National Football League owners and players fighting over how to divide-
up nine billion dollars in annual revenue, to 250 million dollar, guaranteed, ten-year player
contracts (one player’s annual salary equals the salaries of 700 entry level school teachers), to
the violations of college and university coaches and players, to the illegal use of performance
enhancing drugs, to the legions of parents who loudly and sometimes violently protest coaching
and referee decisions. On too many levels the games we play are simply not aligned with the
natural and intrinsic characteristics that have been integral to their practice and evolution. By
searching for and uncovering the natural and intrinsic characteristics that are at the root of our
games, we may be able to enlighten others to help bring better balance to the games we play.
The important lessons we can learn from the games of the Arctic World can be an important
starting place to begin this enlightenment.

John Kilbourne, Ph.D.

Professor Movement Science

Grand Valley State University