Friday, August 28, 2009

What Is Style?

We picked up a great game, bananagrams. Don't let the cutesy name fool you, it's a good one. It's really just two sets of scrabble tiles with no point values. Each player gets 21 random tiles and it is a race to make a complete board out of them. When someone finishes, everyone gets another tile and the race continues. Sometimes you get an "s" that you can tack on quickly, other times, you get a "q" forcing you to dismantle and rework everything under pressure. It's easy enough that the kids can play, but complex enough that we have a good time too without running over them to a degree that it stops being fun for them.

The shorter of the short people had an epiphany while playing. At first, you could see him getting a little frustrated at not winning, but then there was a change, he realized that there were two games inside the game. Everyone was competing in the normal sense of doing their best to win according to the rules, but he caught on that there was something else, style points. He found that other players were making words and garnering appreciation for moves that were not necessarily maximizing the likelihood of victory, in some cases actually making it harder for the person to win. But if it is a really interesting word, a particularly long word, or one that is unexpected and uses up tricky letters, the person didn't mind losing the round and had a sense of pride in doing something that seems antithetical to the point of playing a competitive game. He came to have some sense of style.

This isn't the arrogant "I'm so smart I can beat you with one arm tied behind my thesaurus" sort of thing, but an appreciation of something or other. The question is what. It seems like style points require a sense of strategy where things become abstract. It seems like a second-order appreciation in some sense. It's like a joke. it's not just playing the game, it's understanding how something is unique or playful strategically.

but it is certainly not something that is peculiar to games. I see students on assignments try to go for style points. It's a tricky thing because if you miss, it just looks cheesy. Style involves risk. It seems to convey mastery in some sense. I can not only do it and do it well, but i can do it in a clever way you didn't expect and have to be hip enough to appreciate.

What is style?