Six Degrees of Game Creation


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Picture courtesy of barnraisersllc.com

Assuming that you’re a fan of our podcasts, then you might be aware of a fun game that we play on Nerd’s on Film from time to time (by that I mean twice) where we connect two actors by way of their movie appearances. This game is essentially known as Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, though we don’t use Kevin Bacon. But we can’t deny where we got the game, and that it is ridiculously fun for us movie nerds to play in our off time and on road trips.

So I was thinking to myself, “Denise, may I call us Denise?”

“Our name is Sarah.”

“Denise, when did the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game start? And is Kevin Bacon truly the most connected person in Hollywood?”

The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon started around 1994 when three college students, Craig Fass, Brian Turtle, and Mike Ginelli, were sitting around watching Footloose, followed by a trailer for a Kevin Bacon movie, then Quicksilver. They realized that when it comes to Kevin Bacon,

He’s in everything. And that was kind of the statement that we made. And then it was sort of like, well, has Kevin Bacon ever worked with Robert De Niro? This was before the movie “Sleepers,” which has subsequently put the two of those together in one movie. But before that we said no, but Robert De Niro was in “The Untouchables” with Kevin Costner, and Kevin Costner was in “JFK” with Kevin Bacon. And that was kind of the light bulb statement right there.(NPR)

And thus a party game was born. The students wrote letters and a book, getting them on The Howard Stern Show and The Jon Stewart Show (You see, kids, Jon Stewart had a show on MTV in the early 90s. You learned something today), where they got to hang with K-Bac himself. There was even a board game for it in case you felt like turning it into a real competition as opposed to a party trick.

Bacon himself was originally offended by the idea of this game, but has since turned it into an opportunity, like the creative genius he is. You can visit his website at SixDegrees.org to learn all about his assistance with Network for Good’s social media connection of charities. The front page has an embedded video of a TED talk from Mr. Bacon describing his experience from the game to the charity.

Since the 90s, the game has ingrained itself into pop culture, and my favorite demonstration of this is that Google included the game as a search tool last year, utilizing an actor’s Bacon number.

But what’s a Bacon number? That’s the number of degrees it takes to get from Actor A to Actor Bacon. There is a website and a good use of one’s time called the Oracle of Bacon that consistently pulls information from IMDB and uses an algorithm to link actors by movies and to figure out who the center of the Hollywood universe is at any given time. The results are fascinating.

You see, much like the shocking fact that Sean Bean does not have the most onscreen deaths (Bean has 25, while John Hurt has 40), Kevin Bacon is NOT the most connected actor in Hollywood. In fact, he’s 444thTopping the list is Dennis Hopper, with an average 2.802166 degrees to link with anyone in Hollywood, but that was based on the last update in 2011.

What’s interesting to note is that based on the math, the most connected actors are prominently white males. There is a lot that can be derived from that. The creator of the Oracle (I want that title), Patrick Reynolds, says that those in the top have had long spanning careers and a range of work that expanded across several studios and companies. The numbers are also very telling of the disenfranchisement of minority and female actors of Hollywood, particularly in the first 80 years of major movie making.

So the next time you feel like challenging yourself, put away the IMDB app on your phone and play the Six Degrees game from your mind’s database. Or if you’re feeling so compelled, buy the board game, donate to Kevin Bacon’s charity, and run the statistical analysis of minorities in film based on their Bacon numbers. I bet the three college kids never thought their party game would go on for this long, but it goes to show how much of an impact a little bit of film nerdery can have.