Notes Toward an Inter-GBG Protocol

Many people today are striving toward Hesse's vision of the Glass Bead Game. Some call all the different versions of the GBG that people are working on "Glass Bead Game variants"; I think it was Charles Cameron who first used this term. Perhaps we should call them "glass bead games," uncapitalised, or "little glass bead games"; and perhaps working together we can approach the One True Glass Bead Game.

Obviously all our glass bead games have something in common. Wouldn't it be interesting to synthesise all our little gbg's into one great big GBG? I have an inkling of how to play the Kenning Game on Charles Cameron's TenStones and WaterBird boards, to create a form of "two-dimensional language." And it is also possible to combine my gbg with Terrence MacNamee's Ludus Sollemnis, it seems to me after some preliminary thought. Perhaps working together we could combine all three.

Now, I know everyone working on this has their own vision of what the GBG is like. But as I said above, in Hesse's GBG, collaboration is of the essence. And his GBG is nothing if not huge and complex. I have the feeling that the One True GBG is beyond any one of us to develop alone using a single approach. Even Joculator Basiliensis built on what came before him.

Even the Castalian Glass Bead Game qualifies as an artform, though a lot of Castalians in the novel protest it isn't: collage is an artform, and the GBG is a sort of intellectual collage. When you realise that, from one way of looking at things, everything can be represented by ones and zeroes, yin and yang, anyway... "There is nothing new under the sun."

About compromising the integrity of individual approaches: I don't think we would have to. At its simplest form, a "synthesis" of all our approaches could simply state in its ruleset: "If you are X, use X's rules. If you are Y, use Y's rules. If you are Z, use Z's rules, etc.. If you are anyone else, choose whose rules you want to use." Look at this minimal possibility as a proof of concept that it is definitely possible to create a larger gameform which encompasses all our smaller gameforms in a formal way -- and in a way that preserves the integrity of the individual approaches.

In practice, we would want to have something more than this, of course, and that's where a Board or Council comes in. But what we need is more along the lines of a protocol for combining gameforms while at the same time leaving them alone. We do not want to make impossible new, individual approaches and gameforms, or destroy the old ones by "diluting" them, since it is from such as these that the Big GBG may eventually arise. Just as in Teilhard de Chardin's theology, God's love and true human love do not erase differences between individuals but rather individuate, so would an Inter-GBG Protocol protect the uniqueness of the individual gameforms while permitting fruitful collaboration. In reply to this idea, Charles Cameron wrote on MAGISTER-L:

I guess what I'm saying overall is that I feel we need to safeguard our own projects, and to have proper concern for the intellectual property rights of others -- but that we're all benefitting from Hesse's game, which in turn was partially derived from his own informal meditation practice as well as from the game of optics whic his friend Max Bucherer devised, and that all kinds of other influences are at work, too. So if each of us makes it clear what we hope for from our individual games, and what we regard as our own "intellectual property", we can also mix and mingle ideas in an effort to come up with a grand synthesis Game. And perhaps we can begin that process here, at Ron's invitation, on Magister-L. My own assumption is that what we're looking for in the "grand synthesis" is a Game which comes as close to Hesse's original as possible -- which means it needs to include a glyphic language, some kind of glass bead display on which to present it, and somehow the ability to use that language to make cross-disciplinary juxtapositions visible to third parties...

Combining Games: Some Examples

I mentioned combining my game with the Hipbone Games and Terrence MacNamee's Ludis Sollemnis. How is this possible?

For Terrence's gameform, it's pretty simple. As a first approximation, one would simply expand the "content words" in one of Terrence's "sentences" or "tropes" to an arbitrary degree with kennings.

Combining with Charles's TenStones Game, say, would be more challenging, but here's how I would do it:

Look at the Trinitarian Game at Charles's website. It shows a diagram of four circles that looks like this:

                   PATER -- NON EST -- FILIUS
                     \ \_            _/  /
                      \   EST     EST   /
                       NON  \    /    NON
                       EST   DEUS     EST
                         \     |     /
                          \   EST   /
                           \   |   /
                            \  |  /

What we have here in effect is a group of propositions that can be meditated upon in turn. "PATER NON EST FILIUS" -- "The Father is not the Son." "FILIUS EST DEUS" -- "The Son is God."

What is important to take from this, in game terms, strictly apart from any mystical significance it might have, is that in each of the "circles" is a content word signifying an object, if they may be called that (PATER, FILIUS, SPIRITUS SANCTUS) and on each of the "links" is a content word indicating a relation (EST, NON EST).

The same sort of thing can be played on Charles's TenStones Board. On each of the Spheres (circles) can be placed a content word which can be expanded into a kenning, and on each of the Paths (links) may be placed a content word indicating a relation between kennings. Given the nature of Lojban, the formal language of the Kenning Game, the relation words can also be expanded, but this is not necessary. When you read circle-link-circle, you get a sentence, like "The Father is not the Son." You could even have whole sentences, mini-games, in each of the circles, which would serve as clauses in the sentences created by linking them.

Note that while this approach is aided by Lojban, it could in principle be played in pretty much any language.

Nomenclature and a World Commission

Although it is easy to overlook because the novel is set in Castalia, Hesse makes it clear at the beginning that there are other "Pedagogical Provinces" throughout the world where the Glass Bead Game is played, each with its own Archives and Magister Ludi. At one point, Hesse mentions the Archives in London, and there are hints scattered throughout the book that the narrator is writing his biography of Knecht at the Archives in Cologne. He tells us,

It was first organized as [a public institution] in France and England; other countries followed fairly rapidly. In each country a Game Commission and a supreme head of the Game, bearing the title of Ludi Magister, were established.... The World Commission of the Magisters of all countries alone decided on the acceptance of new symbols and formulas into the existing stock of the Game..., on modifications of the rules, on the desirability of including new fields within the purview of the Game.

If there is an interest from the outside world in the GBG, perhaps we need a "World Commission of the Magisters" as in the novel to look after the interests of the Game, to promote it and to publish it.

Despite Theodore Ziolkowski's averral in his foreword to the Winston translation that the Glass Bead Game is "purely a symbol of the human imagination and emphatically not a patentable 'Monopoly' of the mind," I believe that Hesse knew exactly what he was doing when he seeded the world with his great idea. For he prefaced his work with his own words,

Nothing is harder, yet nothing is more necessary, than to speak of certain things whose existence is neither demonstrable nor probable. The very fact that serious and conscientious men treat them as existing things brings them a step closer to existence and to the possibility of being born.

It was Hesse's task to imagine the "technique, science, and social institution" that are the Glass Bead Game. It is ours to bring them to birth. But who would make up our World Commission of the Magisters? Who would be the "Magisters Ludi"?

Who else could be but the individual creators of the individual gameforms? Us.

It is true that our games are not as highly developed as they will be in the future; indeed, comparing what we have to what we will have is, as Hesse says, like comparing a primitive musical score from before 1500 to one from the nineteenth century with its embarrassment of elaborations. Nevertheless, just as Stewart Brand once said, "We are as gods, and might as well get good at it," I say to you: we are as the first Magisters Ludi, and we might as well get good at that.

Just as Joculator Basiliensis might have been awarded a matter-of-fact, after-the-fact title of Magister by 25th-century Castalia because he was one of the inventors of the game, so might we for the same reason. I am under no illusions that we have attained to the heights that Hesse attributed to his fictional Magisters. The title "Magister" as it might apply to us is merely a matter of fact. Basiliensis might not have been as brilliant as Knecht, for all we know, but he still should be called an early Magister Ludi as a matter of fact because he helped invent the game. The title meant more for Knecht because in Knecht's time there was so much more to the Game.)

In other words, we are fulfilling a particular function here and now and the closest analogous function in Hesse's fictional world is that of Magister Ludi. My whole argument for using the term hinges on the idea that Magister Ludi is a "value-free" role: a function or functionary, not a prize. I think Hesse saw it this way too; in Castalia, the office is more important than the individual. Fame and glory per se are anathema to the Castalian ideal.

However, others might misunderstand our de facto use of the term "Magister Ludi." Our making free with it might not sit so well with Hesse's estate, and get the fledgling "Magisters Ludi" into legal trouble. Those who know the book might also respond with ridicule, saying that we are far from the greatness of the Magisters depicted therein.

Moreover, some game developers have said that they would prefer that the title "Magister Ludi" be granted by universal acclaim among players of their games. Alas, I can't think of anything less Castalian. Can you imagine a screaming throng of hooligans hoisting Joseph Knecht upon their shoulders at the end of a successful Game, shouting "Magister Ludi! Number One!"? No, Magister Ludi is NOT a term of acclaim or affection; neither is it something that can be granted by the democracy of players. Magister Ludi is an office, and can only be bestowed by the hierarchy of the respective game. If the social institutions attached to our games are too primitive to allow for such a role, then we should do without Magisters for now. But we should not allow "Magister Ludi" to become an empty term granted by fans, like "King of Rock and Roll." If, however, the phrase bears connotations of acclaim, and I think the protests voiced show that it does, then we should not use it until we have players illustrious enough to merit it.

What can we call ourselves then? "Gamemasters," perhaps, as in role-playing games. This term has the advantage that it nicely translates "Magister Ludi" without being too pretentious. At the same time, our part is not that of someone running a D&D campaign. We are more like the original authors of D&D or Mage: the Ascension than like gamemasters of such. Still, if we consider the long-term playing of our individual gameforms, especially if they incorporate a Nomic-like "transfinite" element, this term would highlight the fact that we are doing the day-to-day bookkeeping and refereeing of the games.


Using parliamentary procedure, the Gamemasters of the individual gameforms can work on developing a set of Game rules: a protocol for harmonising all the gbg's out there with one another, and a set of guidelines for play, all without, I hope, stepping on anyone's toes or dictating that anyone must play the individual games a certain way.

I have been thinking of how to apply Robert's Rules of Order to email, with no hard and fast results. I think some sort of parliamentary procedure is critical, especially if we are serious about setting up as a real organisation.

I am also looking into creating a MUD where we can securely discuss business in real time. Advances in MUD technology (viz. Pueblo) are making it possible to add two- and three-dimensional graphics (GIF, VRML), music (MIDI), sound, video, and other features to MUDs, and so one day we may be able to have a multimedia Games Festival of our own in cyberspace. Fortunately, parliamentary law translates quite well to a MUD environment. And, of course, should we decide to have a "real-life" annual meeting, it would work well there too.

As for the objection that decisions and designs are better made by an elite than by a democracy: well, perhaps so. Probably so. But how are the elite to decide things among themselves? Should the more forceful personalities merely shout down the others, or should they employ actual gunplay? Or should all decisions require flawless unanimity? And how are we to decide which it is? Robert's Rules provide a possible "bootstrap" decision making process for any group, elite or not. Apparently the Castalian Board used something like Robert's Rules; Hesse refers to a vote being taken about the response to Knecht's "circular letter." I think that we might as well assume that we who would be on the Commission are the best suited to decide what the rules of the Grand Synthesis should be, by virtue of the fact that no one else in the world or on the Net seems to be interested.

Ron Hale-Evans
Founder, Center for Ludic Synergy
Gamemaster, Kennexions
Charter Member, Bamboo Garden of Seattle

Kennexions GBG | Center for Ludic Synergy

Ron Hale-Evans

Last modified: 23 September 1999