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Hermann Hesse and Glass Bead Game Design

Hermann Hesse won the Nobel Prize for Literature with his 1943 novel Das Glasperlenspiel, variously known in English translation as The Glass Bead Game or Magister Ludi.

Hesse weaves his futuristic tale of Joseph Knecht, Magister Ludi or Master of the Game, with consummate artistry, while his description of the luminous Glass Bead Game itself both invites and defies attempts to create a playable equivalent.

There are now a small number of game designers who have variants on Hesse's GBG either in development or up and running, and the members of this small community often comment on and play each others' games. This section of the HipBone site addresses some of the many issues they face.

Materials on Glass Bead Game design:

To begin with, here's a wonderful quote from Hesse's own Magister Ludi, followed by a quote from Michael Heim's The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality explaining why Hesse's GBG is a crucial metaphor for understanding the nature of cyberspace (and the world our children are about to inherit)...

My most recent piece on Glass Bead Game design is...

Hermann Hesse's Glass Bead Game: A Game Designer's Holy Grail... Written primarily for interested members of the game design community, this piece lays out the essence of the game genre called Glass Bead Games, and suggests why the development of successful, playable Games in this genre can serve as something of a "holy grail" for designers. The GBG is outlined here without quotation from Hermann Hesse's writings. This should permit game designers to grasp the essence of the Game itself, without getting bogged down in the specifics as Hesse described them for his own novelistic purposes -- and should also allow those who are already familiar with his work to see the Game in a fresh perspective.

Those who are interested in the various current attempts to design playable variants on Hesse's Glass Bead Game can also read my earlier pieces:

Summary of Approaches to Glass Bead Game Design, is a very early attempt to distinguish between "natural language" games and those that involve "hieroglyphic" languages or complex graphic presentations.

Considerations for those who would build variants on Hermann Hesse's GBG is a longish essay for those who are seriously committed to designing variants on Hesse's Game.

Glass Beads and Hieroglyphs offers a "visual supplement"...

Relations, analogies, correspondences in Hesse's GBG, a longish piece about a varieties of relations used in Glass Bead Games, proposing my perhaps idiosyncratic theory that metaphor is conducive to meditation.

Eliot's dove, John's revelation, written as a follow up to my "Relations, analogies, and correspondences". This piece discusses TS Eliot's "The dove descending" and Luther's interpretation of the book of Revelation, in search of insights into the nature of analogy and the uniqueness of the Glass Bead Game.

Other pieces about the GBG

Explaining the Glass Bead Game... It's not always the easiest thing to "explain" the GBG to those who haven't read the book -- this piece offers some quotes and suggestions...

Hesse's Glass Bead Game: a non-trivial pursuit proposes that the attempt to devise and design Glass Bead Games is an attempt at an intellectual synthesis comparable to other such attempts in the sciences.

Games "not unlike chesse" is basically a preview of the "chess-like" section of a forthcoming Magister-L FAQ -- some interesting quotes strung together, some web-links...

Why a Requiem in the form of a Glass Bead Game? quotes a comment Jung once made to Laurens van der Post about the importance of games and game design, and explains which a Glass Bead Game might be an appropriate form in which to write my Requiem for Sir Laurens...

A Test Case for Glass Bead Game Design describes a sample "move" which would be possible in some -- but not necessarily all -- variant Glass Bead Game designs. I suggest that this particular move could be used as a sort of bench mark, allowing GBG designers to demonstrate how their own games might handle it...

A GBG Test Case Move: Responses contains the comments I received from Mark Line and William Horden in response to my proposal of a "test case" move.

About Terence MacNamee's Game:

I hope to include comments and analyses of a number of Glass Bead Game variants on the HipBone site eventually, and these pieces are a start...

Terence MacNamee is a friend and colleague who has been working on his own Approach to "Glass Bead Game" design, which is based in linguistics.

His Jewish Cemetery Game is a fine example of his work, and I am happy to present it here with his permission. Please note that this Game is not played on a board, and that a fuller version exists in HyperCard format.

A Defence of Poetry offers an extended commentary on Terence MacNamee's "Jewish Cemetery Game", showing why I consider this beautiful work to be a worthy instance of Hesse's Game.

GBG Reference:

You might also like to learn more about Magister-L, a fairly low-volume mailing list for the discussion of games and spirituality in general, which often carries posts about Glass Bead Game design.

or to visit my annotated Yahoo Glass Bead Game listing, for links with other sites.

Finally, no Glass Bead Game section could be complete without a direct link -- outside these HipBone pages, I warn you -- to Gail Sullivan's Glass Bead Game site.


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Andy Warhol's portrait of Hermann Hesse is reproduced here with the kind permission of 1996 Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main. All Rights Reserved.

HipBone Games rules, boards, sample games and other materials are copyright (c) Charles Cameron 1995, 96. See Concerning Copyright for full copyright details.