In playing Animals, we return to the realm of primordial game. There’s no telling how deep this one runs: it spans all the ages of human culture, in children’s play and totem-spirits. The researches of S. Grof suggest that each of us has, deep in our “own” consciousness, a whole storehouse of archetypes of animal consciousness, which we may mobilize, or which may mobilize us, at extraordinary times, and perhaps more subtly in more normal circumstances. Be that as it may, Animals is grand fun to play, and powerful enough to be more than fun – though here again adults are sometimes a problem, because they hate getting their clothes messy. In its first phase, Animals also gives us an example of a group game that people play alone.
The gamekeeper has people loosen their belts, take off their shoes, and lie as they will on the floor. A carpet is a definite plus, and so is a flute or guitar, for slow gentle music, more active later, helps people into and on with the game. Lighting control is useful too. In phase I, the gamekeeper asks them to become rock, or inorganic matter; or to sink inward and be very still and centered, living substance without identity; or to sink empty-minded into the feelings of their bodies. She gives them a few minutes, and then begins quietly to talk them into life and motion – mindful that less guidance supports more freedom.
She may lead them into a process of evolution: “Be the first vegetable cell drifting in the sea . . . develop mobility . . . grow complex . . . emerge on the land . . . evolve rapidly until you are an animal that seems right to play in for a while.” Or she may lead them through a different metaphor, having them lie until an autonomous impulse of motion arises somewhere in their bodies, then move with it, let other impulses follow, move with them until one assumes significance, repeat it, feel the animal it expresses, become that animal, explore its motions more.
Other ways into animal being are possible, as by starting by making sounds; and there are many styles of leading the game. The gamekeeper may give a few suggestions at just the right times; she may talk-through almost continuously, “feel where your body presses on the floor . . . let motion run down your limbs . . . make sounds when you have found your animal.” Either way, she is guiding their awareness from outside, and had best do it quite slowly. Less time than twenty minutes makes phase I cramped. For people to get well into their animals, it helps to space them widely apart at the beginning, to encourage them to move slowly, and to have them keep their eyes closed as long as possible.
Phase II is a period of private exploration of the animals the players have become. Its rule is that there be no active interaction among them; they may recognize each other’s presence, but not react. The room becomes an aloof jungle. The gamekeeper suggests ways of focusing into one’s animal, watches everything, and either stops the game when discussion seems ripe (perhaps another 10 to 20 minutes), or leads it by plan into a next stage.
In phase III, the animals are freed to interact, perhaps under the rule of slow motion. The gamekeeper needs to be vigilant, for raw energies are unleashed, but in practice she rarely has to blow the whistle. What she watches may be as simple as comic-book “cat meets dog,” or as complex as can be with a score of players inventing characters to express emotions and states of mind. She judges when to cut off the play and turn to conversation.
One time I was doing a workshop on sexuality, and flipped my co-leader to see who had to gamekeep Animals and who got to play. We were asked to focus on some aspect of our own sexuality as we lay on the floor, and to grow into an animal who symbolized it for us. I was surprised to find myself becoming a pack-rat, and spent phase II scuttling behind chairs, collecting purses and coke bottles to bring back to my nest under a table, where I arranged my treasures fetchingly. As phase III started I kept on, unregarded while the clamor of interaction rose around me, knowing a scurrying contentment. Suddenly I was chilled by a screech meant for me, and looked up from my clever paws at an eagle flapping, crouched on the table. My nest was clear across the room. I scrabbled from one hiding place to another as the eagle followed, feeling my heart pound and all the helplessness of the meek. At last I made a long dash across an open place, almost in blind panic – only to look up at the end to meet the gaze of the eagle as she sprang from her chair. I knew an instant of sheer terror, and died before she struck, leaving her a limp body. I was still shaking while we sat in discussion. Only at its end did I recall the birds that had died that way in my own hands, the man Eagle and Packrat at once.
The play of Animals is usually lighter, but I give this example for two reasons. It suggests how a simple “unspecialized” game can be modified as a tool for a specific investigation. And, in the shift from phases II to III, it illustrates the difference between a safe game and a risky game. Of course, every game involves some risk of embarrassment or of “not doing well,” but the games up through Animals Phase II have been pretty much low-risk, in the sense that they demand no serious exposure of the self, no physical contact, no direct conflict, no real emotional interaction. Even so, some people feel real anxiety in them, and so for riskier games it is well for the gamekeeper to bear in mind the kinds of risks people are being asked to take, the fears they are likely to have, and so on; and to speak about these while setting context for the games. It is better to move from low-risk games to higher-risk games, with some extra care, as Animals suggests; and often to give players the option to bypass risk situations, as the door does in Animals.
The discussion after Animals must suit the context as well as the game. Played without a context, some things to inquire into are: What was it like to become dead/empty? How did life feel, stirring? What stages did you grow through? How did you come to be what or who, and why? What did you learn about being that? What did your body learn? What of you was expressed in this? And so on, through all the complexities of interaction and of what was learned. The invocation of stillness at the beginning, and the closed eyes and body meditation, tend to send the players into a mild trance state which may not be broken by self-consciousness until late in the game; and perhaps for this reason the depths of personal material that surface are often surprising. As with all games, this material takes better shape, individually and collectively, when there is a broader context – e.g., inquiries into sexuality, into competition for resources, into cross-cultural interaction and cooperation.
Animals can be played with a few players, or with as many as the space will allow. The subsequent discussion groups should not be too large for intimate discussion. These can be followed by combinings of groups, and reporting to the full group particularly interesting learnings. A minimum time for the first two phases and discussion is 45 minutes; the full game well provided-for takes an hour-and-a-half or more.
Animals is a prototype of the broad spectrum of role-playing games, in which one represents another. As every person is an animal, Animals can be thought of either as a variant or as a generalized version of the game Impersonation, in which one plays another character at a level of identity determined by the context: a grandmother, a Zulu grandmother, your grandmother. To imagine or act as anything else is to endow it with consciousness, and so Animals also is a prototype for even such role-play games as are now used in schools to dramatize arithmetic and act out the Brownian motion of molecules.
Often, in other role-playing games, the first two phases described above in Animals are scanted, or left entirely to be the private and immediate responsibility of each player. But the gamekeeper should do as much as possible to guide and help the players to assume their roles. There are too many possible ways to help them generate personally-useful information, objective and subjective, to summarize here. As in Animals, some of the most powerful ways involve leading each to recognize or feel the modeled Other genuinely in himself.