Saturday, January 18, 2014

Shall we play a (Glass Bead) Game?

One thing that's been a constant refrain on this blog since its inception in 2011 has been my wistful (and/or whingy) musing about someday wanting to construct a real-life version of Hermann Hesse's Glass Bead Game.  See here for a summary of those initial thoughts.  I haven't had any major insights about how that might come about, but I have realized that progress can come in many guises.  Why wait around for those elusive A-ha design moments?  Instead, I should get down out of the ivory tower and just start playing!

Despite the fact that I'm not sure what my own chimerical game-to-beat-all-games will look like, there are plenty of perfectly fine "game variants" out there that can be used in the meantime.  I've also realized that getting more experience working with them will also help me to build up a database of possible game moves that can only help when I'm designing my own forms.

I've blogged before about a few of these other game variants, and today I'm going to use Charles Cameron's Hipbone rules.  The basic idea is to lay down a pattern of inter-connected regions, like this one...

...then start composing a game by "placing" specific ideas in each circular cell.  The challenge is to make sure that neighboring cells, connected by lines in the diagram, correspond to ideas that can be inter-connected (in some way), too.  The ideas can be words, images, pieces of music, logical arguments, or references to whole other works of art or science.  The connections between the ideas can be whatever you want them to be, but it's best when the connections are interesting or even surprising.

(Seems simple, right?  The initial moves may be... but then it gets progressively more difficult to think of ideas that will mesh well with the ones already on the board.  The last few moves that bring the game to completion can be real head-scratchers.  But when done right... sublime!)

So here's what I'm planning:  Today I'll start the ball rolling by filling in three cells.  What comes next?  I don't know!  Please feel free, dear readers, to make suggestions about new ideas to add, or to point out connections between existing ones that I missed.  As of right now, I have maybe one or two additional thoughts about what to place in some of the other empty cells.  Beyond that, I have no idea how this game will be completed.  The future is wide open.

Okay, here are those first 3 ideas:

In the central spot, which is connected to all but one of the other cells, I place Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.  So many superlatives have been spilled in praise of this masterpiece that I hesitate to add more.  Maybe my use of gold for the image of the cell says it all.  I first discovered it as a kid, when this toy came packaged with some pre-programmed bleep-bloop music pieces that included the main leitmotif of the Ninth.  In college, it was like a religious experience to hear the whole thing for the first time.  I memorized the first few stanzas of the choral poetry (Schiller's schmaltzy but earnest Ode to Joy) when taking German.

In the cell "southeast" of the central one, I place the Japanese New Year's tradition of "Daiku."  I just learned a few days ago that it's grown into a pretty core tradition for millions in Japan to listen to, or also to sing along with, the Ninth Symphony in the final days of December.  It's very similar, I think, to the western practice of putting oneself in a hopeful frame of mind by crafting resolutions for the new year.  I used a deep verdant color for the cell because I found a list of Japanese symbolic colors for each month of the year:  January's new beginnings include pine and sprout green.  The connecting link between this cell and Beethoven's Ninth itself is an obvious one, but this phenomenon seems to be a quite unique thing of its own.

In the lowest spot -- which I don't mean to imply is low in importance, but instead can be a firm foundation to all the rest -- I place Aerosmith's 1973 song Dream On.  It was one of their first major hits, and its emotional lyrics still -- after decades of repetition on classic rock radio -- have the power to make you re-examine your life.  Songwriter Steven Tyler once said that he came up with much of this song by thinking about his childhood.  When still just a toddler, he would crawl beneath his father's piano and listen to him play classical music.  The links to "Daiku" are the passion and hopefulness of living one's infinite dreams in a finite world.
Sing with me, sing for the year
Sing for the laughter, sing for the tear
Sing with me, just for today
Maybe tomorrow, the good lord will take you away
For the cell image I used what I think is the most iconic logo from an Aerosmith album, stylized wings that evoke the band name's origin from pictures of aerial ballet, and also may symbolize the flights of dreamy fancy brought to mind by this song.

Okay, that's it for now.  If you'd like to help make this a crowdsourced Glass Bead Game, please chime in with ideas.  Like I said, I've got a few thoughts about my next few moves, but nothing definite.  Play on!


  1. I always imagined computers with powerful artificial intelligence would be needed to facilitate the GBG to played in the kind of way imagined in the book.

    1. It's been a while since my last reading, but I do recall some subtle mentions of multimedia displays and computerized archives. Hesse tried to underplay such science-fictiony aspects and tried to make his vision of the 30th century (or whatever it was) feel almost medieval and monastic.

      Still, a fully realized GBG will need a huge library of ideas, all neatly translated into the game's universal language. These early (impatient?) steps are designed to get the ball rolling with the clumsy and limited tools we have now.... :-)

    2. AI would ruin it.

      I loved this post and am not finished reading the comments so I will before I say more.

    3. In Hesse's novel, the GBG became quite antiseptic and disengaged with the real world -- far from the fecund artistic medium that some of us imagine it could be. Maybe, in that alternate future, they relied too much on the AI... :-)

  2. I sometimes have silly or redundant ideas or I don't really understand the point of something, but this sounds really cool! I can't wait to see how it turns out. I was thinking a peace sign for John Lennon's 'Imagine' that could link to 'Dream On', or is that too cliché?

    1. John Lennon would be a great addition -- thanks! Lately, I've been very much a fan of his Double Fantasy era thinking, even moreso than his most fertile musings a decade earlier. I have an old battered paperback full of interviews that he gave to Playboy magazine a few months before he died... I should give that a re-read.

  3. So, in the circle above daiku, connecting also to the IX for the Ninth, I would put Olympic rings, as my strongest association with the Japanese obsession with that piece of music is from its performance at the opening ceremony of the Nagano Games in 1998.

    1. Oh, yes, I think Schiller and Beethoven would have found much to admire in the ideals of the modern Olympic movement.

      "Alle Menschen werden Brüder," indeed! :-)

  4. Well, let's see. This is even better than what I imagined when you first started hinting around about OtJ. I have to say that, at the moment, my impulse is watch and see how the game develops until it is at its most challenging and potentially sublime end. Maybe a better word would be consummation.

    The Aerosmith took me by surprise. I was just reading yesterday a bit of Carol Miller's memoir online and she mentions Tyler in the intro. I had a very positive visceral response to that portion of your post. I find that when articulation fails me, my midsection knows how to pick up the slack. That was a proper and right connection. The parts of me that don't speak but do communicate seemed to 'think' so. :)

    Very much looking forward to the next post.

    1. Wow. Came across this just hours after posting this comment.

      'When a man behaves in such a manner one may rightfully say that he is a warrior and has acquired patience. When a warrior has acquired patience he is on his way to will. He knows how to wait. His death sits with him on his mat, they are friends. His death advises him, in mysterious ways, how to choose, how to live strategically. And the warrior waits! I would say that the warrior learns without any hurry because he knows he is waiting for his will; and one day he succeeds in performing something ordinarily quite impossible to accomplish. He may not even notice his extraordinary deed. But as he keeps on performing impossible acts, or as impossible things keep on happening to him, he becomes aware that a sort of power is emerging. A power that comes out of his body as he progresses on the path of knowledge. He notices that he can actually touch anything he wants with a feeling that comes out of his body from a spot right below or right above his navel. That feeling is the will, and when he is capable of grabbing with it, one can rightfully say that the warrior is a sorcerer, and that he has acquired will.'

      From the teachings of Don Juan to Carlos Castaneda. (The Yaqui Way.) I think I'm going to have to rescind my earlier statement and suggest we add him/his teachings to one of the cells. I vote for Steven Tyler. :)

    2. I'll have to think more about Don Juan... I've seen Castaneda's paperbacks on the bookstore shelves since the 80s, and always kind of dismissed them for some reason. But these quotes are downright... shall I say... Crowleyan? :-)

      FYI, I have radio randomness to thank for the Aerosmith: after hearing about the Daiku new year's singing on NPR, I clicked around the dial a bit, and there was Liv's dad, singing for the year.

    3. Either that, or nothing is truly, madly, deeply random. ;)