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Obituary: Game design pioneer Bernard 'Bernie' DeKoven

Obituary: Game design pioneer Bernard 'Bernie' DeKoven

March 26, 2018 | By Chris Kerr

March 26, 2018 | By Chris Kerr
More: Design

Veteran game designer, teacher, and theorist Bernard "Bernie" DeKoven has passed away after struggling with an illness. He was aged 76. 

The news was confirmed on social media by friends and colleagues, including fellow designer Richard Lemarchand who said DeKoven was "an inspiration to all who knew him."

DeKoven had been working in games since the early '70s, when he created an institution called The Games Preserve to explore and teach others about the relationship between games and play. 

It was one of the first institutions to acknowledge the value of game studies, and was attended by everyone from prison officials and therapists to teachers and members of the clergy. 

Dekoven was also a keen author, and further established himself as a leading voice in play theory with the launch of his 1978 book, The Well-Played Game, which has become a standard text in game study courses around the world.

He put many of those ideas into practice when designing physical toys and computer games for companies including Mattel, CBS Software, Children's Television Workshop, the Ideal Toy Company, and LEGO. 

His many contributions to the games industry earned him the affectionate nickname "Shaman of Play," and he was viewed by many as one of the most progressive minds in the world of game design.

"The impact of Bernie's life is all around us in games culture today. His work with the New Games movement, creating games to unite people, facilitate collaboration, and open up new emotional and intellectual landscapes of play, paved the way for much of what is most exciting in game today," wrote Lemarchand. 

"From art games and activity games to interactive theater and games education, he had a direct and very profound impact on the curriculum and teaching in our program. He made the first digital art game.

"We love you and will always remember you, Bernie. We'll let ourselves be sad for now -- you believed in feeling authentically and deeply -- but we'll always keep playing a better world into being, in your memory."

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