Everyone knows how to play Patty-Cake: you sit face-to-face and clap out an ancient rhythm. I include it next because it is a simple, two-person game which is very much like Mirror, and yet quite different in the way the gamekeeper and an audience play their roles. As described here, it is used for a specific rather than a general investigation; and though Mirror may be too, Patty-Cake can surface some material that Mirror cannot.
I first used it seriously in 1969, at Humboldt State College, while sitting around after a workshop with some student activists who were talking about the difficulties that two were having in working with each other. I asked them to play Patty-Cake, and ever since have thought of it as a diagnostic game. But it is also primeval fun in itself, and I don’t know any other game that works up people’s energy so rapidly.
The gamekeeper has two players sit comfortably and close facing each other, in chairs or cross-legged on the floor; the rest of the players are an active audience. She demonstrates the pattern they are to clap together, tells them to maintain eye contact, and says go. They clap. If she doesn’t interrupt them, or they don’t break off midway, they work out a rhythm together while accelerating and in a short time come to some steady pace; after which she stops them, or lets them run till they falter and stop by themselves. That is all. But the interaction of Patty-Cake is so intense and fleeting that the discussion must go on almost simultaneously, and the gamekeeper must choose among unlimited possibilities of intervention.
Even so, her gamekeeping can begin methodically. The first time through, she lets them clap till they reach a stable pace, to let them get used to clapping, stops them, and asks how they feel about the pace. One may feel it too fast or slow. How did they come to that pace? Did one set a limit and the other agree? How do they feel about the process? She starts them again, they clap more rapidly at first, then comes a break in their rhythm; she stops them if they continue. Did one falter or both? Was it loss of eye contact, resistance, inattention? She says to start again, they do, she stops them almost immediately. Which one signaled “go,” and how? Who set the first pace? She starts them, lets them go on. The intimate texture of their interaction is perfectly audible. She stops them. Each one by himself claps a slightly different dialect of the theme; what is the dialect they clap together, and how do they work it out? She lets them clap to a steady state again; it is faster. This time they see more clearly into the process of their agreement on a pace, though all the details will take many repetitions to capture.
From the start, the gamekeeper is modeling the kinds of questions that can be asked about this experience; and as play goes on she encourages the audience to ask, to report what they see, and even to stop the play when that’s right. Always the order is the same: the players are asked about their perceptions first, the audience contributes, and the gamekeeper says what’s left, though she may instead run them through it again to realize it themselves. For what she is teaching, beyond the specific material the game surfaces, is awareness, a special way of seeing inside action and of seeing one thing in another. In some ways the audience is more able to attend this than the players are, for the players are occupied also with another sort of awareness – the awareness of the Mirror game, of intense and responsive attention to one’s partner, which often leads into a mild trance state, high with body energy.
When the usefulness of the first pattern is played out, the gamekeeper claps out another for the players, or tells them to arrive at a different one themselves. There are many patterns to be clapped, they are part of child culture. Sometimes a kid will clap me a dozen, most new to me, along with their taut sing-songs or chants, which we usually suppress in Patty-Cake. So finding a new pattern is no problem. What is interesting is the process two people go through in moving out of the old and coming into the new – or three people or four, for any number can follow or generate patterns, and so the game may be used as a diagnostic for larger teamworks.
Inventing and learning a new clap pattern, a richer and more individuated structure of roles becomes revealed by the same process of watching, intervention, and immediate questioning. For body-music is a complex art even in small etudes. Often one person will be better at figuring out the cognitive aspect of a permutation, and another better at grasping the kinetics and making them smooth. One will need help in keeping time, another finds it hard to teach what he knows. Over this complex of individual skills is stretched the basic fabric of their relation: their ways of leading and following, of listening and supporting, the dialectic of their disagreements. The gamekeeper leads them to see when and how skills are recognized and used, or used without recognition; or how inflexible leadership can defeat their mutual ends. The strategies of their mutual limitation can be explored; and the way they negotiate a strategy to deal with mistakes without breaking the flow to start over, or fail to negotiate such a strategy.
In all of this, the gamekeeper is careful not to be judgmental about what comes out, and asks the audience and players to keep their objectivity; for the use of the game is to see beneath the surface of interaction, and only then to modify it by choice.
What is central to this use of Patty-Cake, as to many other games, is the idea of macrocosm in microcosm -- the idea, or observation, that whole spectrums of interaction can be recapitulated in small open forms. Indeed, this seems the natural tendency; and such simple game-forms give rise to dense, primordial experiences whose details can be explored almost endlessly, in almost any direction one chooses.
Patty-Cake goes so fast that its exploration must be almost simultaneous, and the frequency of intervention makes the game’s phases pretty fuzzy. It has no clear end. Rather, the gamekeeper takes players through as much material as seems useful; and she must beware of letting them clap themselves out after investigation is over, for this can go on for an hour. The game demands from her continuous, intense, high-quality attention, and she well may find it more taxing than the players do. It is hard to pay such attention to many couples in turn, and impossible simultaneously. A whole group can pattycake at one time, by twos, but then it is a different game played for other purposes; or they can split up into foursomes to practice clapping and watching. But unless a group is well-practiced, it is hard to diagnose more than a couple of cooperations well in a session. Of course, Patty-Cake can be played with partners who are strangers to each other, but for such diagnosis to have a point, rather than just be interesting, it is better done with people who have been working together, or who will be, and who have good reason to understand the dynamics of how they do it together. In such circumstances, each round of Patty-Cake takes half an hour or so to complete.