Cath Catherine Styles admin 1



Hey thanks for subscribing to Sembl. As soon as possible, I’ll upgrade your account and you can begin hosting games.

Here’s the slightly clunky thing: so I’m sure which Sembl account to upgrade, I need you to tell me the email address you used to sign up in Sembl games. Your real name is also good to know.

For school teachers

Structured play, incidental learning

In each move, Sembl players take a mental leap to form a bridge between two concepts. This act of likening is how we think, intuitively; we do it instantly and unconsciously as we process new information. Encountering a problem, we find a solution by drawing on relevant experience – however distant in time, place or circumstance.

Sembl is a fun, social way to hone this associative skill. The more your students play, the more creative and resilient they become. And they acquire content knowledge incidentally.

Explore any subject

Each game starts from and returns to a single image. As a game host you can choose which image will be the centrepiece of your game.

Choose an image to focus your game

The suggested seed images (above) represent subjects including Indigenous Australians, imperialism, exploration, slavery, war, Federation, bushrangers, the French revolution, the industrial revolution, China, Egypt, Gallileo, the Renaissance, medical technology, pastoralism, migration, species extinction, geography, geology, and art.

If none of those fit the focus of your study, you can search all the images for a match, upload your own, or let me know and I’ll endeavour to add something for you.

Think creatively

As well as teaching content knowledge, school students need to develop skills they can apply to any subject they are studying. Creative thinking is a critical 21st-century skill. In the Australian Curriculum it’s defined in part by the ability to ‘imagine possibilities and connect ideas’. Sembl is extremely useful in this regard.

Below are some connections made by 11-year-old children in their very first game – with no instruction or scaffolding.

How maps shape the world

Rigid discipline – to mould and to kill

Posture and gesture – universal expression?

Every ‘sembl’ is saved so the teacher can review the moves – about maps, discipline and expression – and work with her students to extend their thinking. Something interesting happens when you think about an object not as itself but in relation to something else. Your perception shifts.

Teachers of English and other languages know the importance of metaphor and other kinds of analogy in communicating ideas. Sembl can be deployed to inspire students to create and evaluate metaphors in their own compositions.

Whatever the subject of study, Sembl games are a great way to:

  • explore the scope of a topic
  • generate ideas
  • become aware of your mental approach, loosen it up, and see things anew

Understand systems

Here’s an important point. Identifying connections is the key to understanding systems – whether the subject of study is a science, a society or a language. For example, a game about war can weave together issues of agriculture and land, goodness and darkness, enemies and fear, propaganda and monuments.

In fact, a single move can sometimes bring a complex system of relationships to light, as in the sembl between the objects below: body-labelling.

Metal breastplate inscribed with the words "Timothy, Chief of Merricumbene"

Breastplate – given to an Aboriginal man by a white settler

branding iron

Branding iron

Both the breastplate and the branding iron label bodies; breastplate as brand. This simple analogy reminds us that white settlers in Australia imposed their authority on Aboriginal people.

Value what children do best

Children love to play, and in Sembl, playful thinking is recognised and valued as a skill that tends to submerge as we grow up – overtaken by forces that favour logic and discrimination over play and likeness. The games empower children to learn on their own terms.

How to host games for your students

Peruse these slideshow walkthroughs to see:

  • how to play – also useful for students before they play
  • how to set up a game – it works best to set up a game and in the process, invite your students to create an account

Of course, if you stumble, I’m more than happy to help.

Start hosting now

  1. If you haven’t yet, create an account.
  2. Send in the details requested below and I’ll upgrade you quick smart (and if need be pass you an invoice for payment).

Note – you are not obliged to pay anything; but every dollar you contribute goes toward further development. I want to make this game fabulous!

I will only use your information to manage your Sembl account and liaise with you about it. I won’t share it with anyone.

For museums

Collection engagement

Sembl players are challenged to craft interesting connections between collection items. In accepting the challenge, they are motivated to look closely at collection material and to think carefully about its many and varied aspects and meanings. If they are remotely successful, players gain insight into cultural and historical dynamics – which some would say is the ultimate purpose of a museum.

In more prosaic terms, Sembl can help a museum fulfil its mission to engage people with its collection – deeply, meaningfully and measurably.

A reason to browse your images

Collection material is presented beautifully in the array of images that players peruse as part of every move they make.

A selection of images from the Wellcome Library, London

A reason to visit your website

In the course of each move, some images are examined in detail, within and beyond the game – because the more you know about an item, the more possibilities emerge for making an interesting connection. Sembl stores the persistent URL for each collection item, and displays a link to ‘View item’ – on the source website.

Guillotine blade that killed Jean-Baptiste Carrier in 1794

Unique descriptions of your material

Something interesting happens when you think about an object not as itself but in relation to something else. You see things differently. Here are some examples of data about collection material generated in the course of sembling:

Let’s talk

To discuss any particular arrangements, please be in touch – for example:

  • Would you like to see your images and data in Sembl? Champion!
  • Do you have a great space to host games in real-time? Brilliant – do you need any customisations to make that idea fly?
  • Are you keen to crowdsource connections for a particular project? (Fabulous! Let’s talk.)
  • Are you interested in embedding a sembl links widget into your item view pages? (Great idea :)

I won’t share your information with anyone.

Charles Cameron

Vagabond monk

Charles Cameron and three others in India circa 1975

Charles in India in 1971

Born 1943 in Portsmouth, England, Scottish in name and heart, Charles Cameron is a vagabond monk traversing religious traditions.

He was nine when his father, a naval officer who’d fought in the Battle of the Barents Sea, died, and shortly thereafter decided that religion might offer a more reliable version of ‘family’ than biology had, and applied to an Anglican / Episcopalian monastery in Yorkshire to join the community.

Trevor Huddleston, CR

Trevor Huddleston, with Louis Armstrong, left, and Nelson Mandela, right

Unsurprisingly, they weren’t quite ready for an eleven-year old monk, but his application landed on the desk of the remarkable Fr. Trevor Huddleston, CR, recently returned from South Africa, who took young Charles under his wing, mentored him in monastic values – and introduced him to the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Charles went up to Oxford with a love of the arts and liturgy and read theology under Reverend AE Harvey at Christ Church.

Chögyam Trungpa Rimpoche

Chögyam Trungpa Rimpoche

While at Oxford, Charles met the young Tibetan lama, Trungpa Rimpoche and widened his interests to include the monastic and contemplative traditions of the East.

In 1964 or thereabouts, Charles took Trungpa on a semi-formal visit to Prinknash Abbey, a Benedictine Catholic monastery in southern England. Trungpa later wrote that this visit ‘strongly encouraged him’ and that it ‘demonstrated that the contemplative life could be carried out in the West’. Shortly after, Trungpa founded the first Tibetan monastic community in the West: Samye Ling, in Scotland.

Maharaji plays Holi

Maharaji plays Holi

Charles was taught to meditate in 1969 by the follower of an Indian guru – the young Maharaj Ji, seen here showering his followers with the colors of Holi festival – and spent a number of years in ashrams and traveling to talk about the guru and his meditative techniques. Always interested in interactions with followers of other traditions, reading Sufi poets and Zen tales, he wound up at one point interviewing the Lakota shaman Wallace Black Elk.

Wallace Black Elk

Wallace Black Elk

In 1978, Charles introduced Black Elk to Dr William S Lyon, professor of anthropology at Southern Oregon State College, Ashland, Oregon, and the trio co-taught an award winning course in the construction and ceremonial use of the traditional Lakota sweat lodge, a course which was repeated for several years. Participants soon began to request Black Elk to guide them on personal Vision Quests, and Ashland quietly became a native American ceremonial centre. For many years, a Lakota Sun Dance was held there each year under Black Elk’s direction.

Bringing his focus back to contemporary western spiritual thought, Charles spent some time studying and undergoing Jungian analysis, followed up with an extended study of the game Jung’s friend Hermann Hesse described in his Nobel-winning book, Magister Ludi / The Glass Bead Game.

Playing Hesse’s fictional game itself involves building a virtual architecture for the great thoughts of humankind, and the elite players in Hesse’s book were members of the ‘Castalian’ monastic order — albeit a non-religious one. Charles set out to make a version of the game that would be playable with a pencil on a paper napkin in a coffee house – the vagabond’s version of Castalia – as a means to the end that Hesse proposed for his game:

a direct route into the interior of the cosmic mystery, where in the alternation between inhaling and exhaling, between heaven and earth, between Yin and Yang, holiness is forever being created

And so the HipBone Games, antecedents of today’s Sembl games and Sembl thinking, were born…

Charles Cameron, 2012

Charles in 2012

Charles currently sits zen, writes poetry, corresponds with sufis, contributes on topics of philosophy (yes!) and religious warfare (you guessed, I’m against it!) on Mark Safranski’s Zenpundit blog, and hosts events for social entrepreneurs on the Skoll Foundation’s Social Edge.

Whatever next? Who knows…

> See all Charles’ posts