Highlights from The Museum Game during last Friday’s Night at the Museum, showing the teams, some crafty connections they made and, of course, who won.
This post falls into the category of should-have-blogged-earlier. I designed a board for 12 players.
It’s not one for the faint-hearted. This game has four rounds rather than the usual three, and rating all the sembls would be a four-part marathon – note that in Round 1 you only fill one node, and you never rate the sembls you create:
(Round 1: 11 nodes x 1 connection =) 11 +
(Round 2: 11 players x 6 nodes x 2 connections =) 132 +
(Round 3: 11 players x 3 nodes x 3 connections =) 99 +
(Round 4: 11 players x 1 node x 4 connections =) 44 =
286 sembls to rate
Wow, in total, each game played with this board could generate 12 x (1 + 12 + 9 + 4) = 312 sembls created – 26 for each player.
So now this is the full suite of boards – including a double-quotes form, which could be non-competitive.
A sample of images already in the Sembl system, and some notes on openness, of both cultural heritage material and of Sembl.
In selecting seed material for Sembl, I look in collections that are:
- openly licensed and
- available to download in high-resolution
with a preference for those that also provide:
- a persistent identifier – to link back from Sembl to the source image, and
- plenty of context – date, place, a description and notes on its significance
I choose images that appeal to me but I also seek out material that matches up with keywords – of people, places, events and concepts – extracted from the Australian Curriculum for History and Geography.
So far there are about 800 images in Sembl. Collections I have tapped are:
- State Library of Victoria (125) – photographs of colonial Victoria, product labels and other illustrations collected as part of the copyrighting process
- Getty Institute open content program (142) – objects, paintings, drawings and sculptures, photographs, botanical illustrations, Greek and Roman material
- National Gallery of Denmark (17) – mostly paintings
- Rijksmuseum (105) – artworks, photographs, objects, a 1635 map showing the edge of Australia, diverse other material
- Walters Art Museum via Stanford University (26) – illustrations from medieval manuscripts
- Wellcome Library, London (159) – World War I photographs, extraordinary illustrations and paintings on health-related topics, John Thomson photographs of 19th-century China, amazing maps, lithographs and engravings
- Wikimedia (3) – two Arcimboldo paintings and Rodin’s The Thinker
- Te Papa Tongarewa Collections Online (52) – World War I photographs, landscape photography and art, some Europen art
- Los Angeles County Museum of Art (119) – Asian art and objects, portraits
No doubt, there is plenty more material available that could be in Sembl. Here are some that I have my eye on:
- material from the Biodiversity Heritage Library – eg Ernst Haeckel illustrations of microscopic organisms – as per the header of this blog
- Paul Gervais’ 1844 Atlas of Zoology
- much, much more from Wikimedia
- more from Te Papa Tongarewa – the number of available images grows steadily
- the Library of Congress
As soon as the games themselves are available (and that will be soon!) the process of selecting material to include in games will also be open. Game hosts and players will be able to upload their own material in advance or as part of a game, so you really will be able to play on any subject or problem you care about. (I’m also very interested to hear of collections you would like to play with, so don’t hold back from commenting or contacting me.)
Quite wonderfully, it seems like every week another museum opens the door to a collection to share its treasure. On a dimmer note, many collections are released with a non-commercial re-use licence, which means (I presume) I would have to seek permission to use them in Sembl. Suffice it to say, I will avoid those for now and hope that repositories find a way to become completely permissive as time goes by.
In the same spirit of optimal openness, I want to share the treasure of Sembl. Here are my thoughts on Sembl as an open platform:
- It will always be free to play against random opponents or at the invitation of a game host.
- The system should work on tablets as well as desktop, and meet AA or AAA accessibility requirements.
- Standard rates for game hosting will be flexible for educators and venues who lack the resources to pay them.
- Sembl data – resemblances between collection items – will be available to source repositories to use in their own databases and interfaces.
- Ultimately, my plan is to make Sembl source code available so that the system can be adapted, refined and extended for the benefit of all patrons.
[ cross-posted from Zenpundit — briefly picking up a strand from an earlier ZP (religio-political) post & running with it ]
I just wanted to reiterate an Einstein quote that I slipped into the middle of a post on the Black Madonna and iconography recently, where some readers more interested in the Sembl / HipBone games and their applicability to analytic work and creative thinking may have missed it:
The words or the language, as they are written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in my mechanism of thought. The psychical entities which seem to serve as elements in thought are certain signs and more or less clear images which can be “voluntarily” reproduced and combined. There is, of course, a certain connection between those elements and relevant logical concepts. It is also clear that the desire to arrive finally at logically connected concepts is the emotional basis of this rather vague play with the above mentioned elements. But taken from a psychological viewpoint, this combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought – before there is any connection with logical construction in words or other kinds of sign, which can be communicated to others.
The above mentioned elements are, in my case, of visual and some of muscular type. Conventional words or other signs have to be sought for laboriously only in a secondary stage, when the mentioned associative play is sufficiently established and can be reproduced at will.
According to what has been said, the play with the mentioned elements is aimed to be analogous to certain logical connections one is searching for.
Combinatory play … essential feature in productive thought … analogous to certain logical connections one is searching for — these three phrases sum up pretty exactly the congitive training function of the HipBone / Sembl games.
As I said earlier, I have to wonder how many of our analysts are deeply versed in this “combinatory play” of images and kinesthetic experiences, way below the threshold of conscious thought.
[ cross-posted from Zenpundit — completing a post that began with On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: preliminaries ]
Having shown you a variety of (node-and-edge) graphs in the previous part of this post —
— I’d now like to turn to the issue of board game design, in particular as it applies to the HipBone and Sembl games with which I’m associated.
Since the basic idea of these games is to see the links between one idea and another, graphs of this kind are the simplest and most elegant boards on which to represent game moves. Accordingly our games boards, from the simplest Hop, skip and a jump board that I’d use to introduce kids to the games —
— via my standard HipBone WaterBird board —
— to the complex and still only part-played Said Symphony board —
— and indeed beyond, to Cath Styles‘ elegant Lotus Board for the Australian Museum Game —
— all our boards are graphs — and any graphs that catch my eye are potential boards, waiting for me to figure out whether they’d actually work in play, or might suggest any new ideas for board design.
I therefore felt very lucky indeed one day this week, when I ran across two striking, indeed dazzling graphs in quick succession.
Artist Ellen van der Molen makes a speciality of mandalas — those circular and often highly symmetrical images, common in Hindu and Tibetan art, that Carl Jung viewed as “the psychological expression of the totality of the self” — but it was this particular one featuring “graph” imagery, which she titles Lotus Grid, that dazzled me:
There’s an interesting and delicately balanced asymmetry to the graph in this mandala, and it makes me think of board design in less tightly controlled, more flowing ways.
So that’s from the art side of the house — while on the science side I ran across this graph at about the same time.
I have snagged it from an academic paper by Andrew D. Foote et al, titled Ancient DNA reveals that bowhead whale lineages survived Late Pleistocene climate change and habitat shifts, in Nature Communications 4, Article number: 1677, doi:10.1038/ncomms2714, Figure 3: Survival of bowhead whale lineages during the Pleistocene–Holocene transition. I have removed only the words Late Pleistocene and early Holocene, which were relevant in the graph’s scientific context, but would only have been confusing in terms of my game design discussion here:
And that, my friends, is stunning for a whole other set of reasons — it suggests what a three-dimensional HipBone or Sembl game board might be like, and frankly it leaves me fumbling for ideas.
What might the upper (blue) and lower (green) levels signifiy, in terms of play? What affordances would a 3-D board offer, that one of our simple 2-boards can’t? Where can I take my thinking about graphical board design, once I have seen this, and allowed it to sink into my generative unconscious?
I don’t know the answers, of course. I don’t know what either of these two images will do to my own thought processes — but they’re like two pebbles dropped fortuitiously and almost simultaneously into my mirroring pool, and their ripples are surely spreading.
My grateful thanks to both Ellen van der Molen and Andrew D. Foote and his co-authors.
One idea leaps to another, and so the games proceed.
[ cross-posted from Zenpundit — on graph theory, and the background and history of HipBone / Sembl gameboards ]
First off, a graph — at least the way I’m using it here — is a diagram of linkages. The items linked, which may be people, places, phones, ideas, quantities, whatever, are represented by dots or circles, known as nodes, and the links between them by lines, known as edges.
Here’s a simple graph diagram with four nodes and seven edges:
That diagram represents — elegantly, with topological accuracy — the seven bridges connecting the banks and islands of the city of Königsberg — which gavs rise to a famous math problem, which in turn gave rise to that branch of mathematics we now know as Graph Theory.
Graphs are thus pictures of networks, and networks are the non-linear, feedback-capable basis for an astonishing variety of interesting things such as the internet and your and my brains…
And they can get pretty complex. I’m a simple soul, and not a great network maven — but here’s what my network in LinkedIn looks like as of today. It too is a graph, although it reminds me of broccoli, or of a fish…
Hey, that’s a pretty small network — and graph — compared with, say, a graph of all the neurons in a single brain, all the brains on the world’s computer networks, or all the neurons in all the brains on all the networks…
Graphs with concepts at the nodes and conceptual links along the edges have been used for centuries to convey mystical states, propositions in theology, and concepts in the natural sciences:
So you won’t be too surprised to learn that my variants on the Glass Bead Game of Hermann Hesse, which are designed to build what he termed the “hundred-gated cathedral of Mind” by analogically connecting the great thoughts of human-kind across all the arts and scences, use graphs (in this sense) as their boards…
Here, for instance, is one possible board design, derived from the inner vaulting of an English cathedral roof:
Okay, past is prelude.
In the second part of this post I’ll show you a series of boards actually used in HipBone / Sembl play, and then two dazzling works — one a work of art, the other a work of science — that leapt out at my in the course of my browsing a morning or two ago…
[ cross-posted from Zenpundit — bragging on Cath Styles and our joint game project, Sembl, via the Taj Mahal ]
Okay, I cheated: the image on the left is a modification of the image on the right using GIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Program — but you get the idea — printed images in newspapers used to be done in halftone dots, which when magnified looked like the image on the right, and when seen from regular viewing distance like that on the left. You get my point.
When there’s talk of “solving analytic puzzles”, though, the issue is often phrased in terms of “connecting the dots” to “see the big picture”.
When the “dots” are nuggets of data, information, knowledge, or even god help us wisdom, however, the way to connect them for the most powerful overview is by means of a “creative leap” from one datum to the next — and such a leap, when you think of it, boils down to a primitive element of pattern recognition: this is like that, this sembles that.
In this introductory video on Sembl, Dr Cath Styles puts what we’re up to nicely:
Sembl generates a trove of unique analogical data, and if that data is linked to logical data about concepts, people and places, Sembl will connect our intuitive understanding of how things are like each other with our rational knowledge of what things are. We’re building a new kind of index to the global network, harnessing the associating capacity of humans and the processing power of machines. so we can surface useful, relevant information from masses of available data. It’s browse and play in the service of find and resolve…
Let’s bullet-point that. It’s not the only way to describe Sembl, but it’s a very concise and useful one. We are:
generating a trove of unique analogical data building a new kind of index to the global network connecting our intuitive understanding with our rational knowledge surfacing useful, relevant information from masses of available data harnessing the associating capacity of humans and the processing power of machines
And we’re doing that in depth, in a style that calls forth artistry…
Isaac Bashevis Singer‘s artist’s eye sees connections that are more mystical and less obviously practical than the ones you and I see — in his short story, A Piece of Advice, for instance:
Nowadays snow is a trifle: it falls for a day or two at most. But in those days! Often it snowed for a month without stopping! Huge snowdrifts piled up; houses were buried; and everyone had to dig their way out. Heaven and earth merged and became one. Why does the beard of an old man turn white? Such things are all related. — at night, we heard the howling of beasts . . . or perhaps it was only the sound of the wind.
— but then Isaac Bashevis Singer has a Nobel Prize for this sort of thing — while for almost all values of you and I, you and I don’t as yet, and maybe never will.
Here’s what an artist’s eye makes of the Taj Mahal:
[ by Charles Cameron — on the infinite juxtaposition of similars, opposites and related modes of scholarship — in gallery and museum, catalog and library ]
Please note that what I term here the “virtual museum” is intended to cover both a physical museum or gallery space with available or built in digital affordances and the museum as a completely portable function of the digital network and its devices alone.
I originally wrote this set of notes on February 10, 1997, and have made only tiny changes in the text as presented here — removing one paragraph that was left incomplete, switching the last two bullet points, and placing one “spare” sentence in a suitable context.
As I look back to those days of the Magister Ludi list, and forward to Cath’s progress with Sembl, I have a sense that this document was prescient, the seed of much that is coming into being now, as we speak. Like all such visions, the manifestation has developed over time, but the idea of the ready, multiple comparison of museum or gallery objects, together with supporting documentation, is still fresh: over time the invisible becomes cutting-edge.
To set the scene, here is a quote from Sven Birkerts that had long inspired me:
There are tremendous opportunities, and we are probably on the brink of the birth of whole new genres of art which will work through electronic systems. These genres will likely be multi-media in ways we can’t imagine. Digitalization, the idea that the same string of digits can bring image, music, or text, is a huge revolution in and of itself. When artists begin to grasp the creative possibilities of works that are neither literary, visual, or musical, but exist using all three forms in a synthetic collage fashion, an enormous artistic boom will occur.
With that insight in mind, here’s a glimpse of my early thoughts about the glass bead game and the museum:
That’s right — the virtual museum is not simply a museum in virtual space
What’s going on here is that we’re dealing with a multidimensional space rather than the flat space of a wall or the three dimensional space of a room.
- Walk-through “real-life” museums necessarily organize their collections in such a way that one work of art is sequentially related to the next. The visitor walks up a corridor, or through a room, and takes in each work in sequence, carrying a little of the previous work trailing in memory — and on occasion stepping back to view two works placed next to one another in a comparative way.
- In her hand or in his ear, a textual commentary is available: the catalogue. And this is typically consulted in a one-to-one relation, such that picture 63 is viewed and the text for picture 63 heard or read.
The museum is a collection of physical objects with stories which explain them: virtual space is a space of virtual objects with linkages between them.
- It follows that the virtual museum is a collection of virtual objects and the linkages between them.
- But what are those objects?
- We cannot assume the objects in the virtual museum are limited to the objects in the physical museum: if nothing else, the stories which explain those objects will themselves be objects in the virtual museum.
- Both “collection objects” and “catalogue entries” are represented in the same digital fashion. The catalogue entries, in other words, are objects in the virtual museum.
- We do not carry a catalog as we browse the virtual museum… “collection” and “catalog” merge.
The virtual museum is its own virtual catalog.
- And this is because the digital democratization of information which obtains on the web renders the “art object” and the “art-historical text” functionally equal.
- In fact, “digital democratization” allows for the expansion of presentable content to include not only visual and art historical materials on an equal footing, but also all manner of other texts, the world of literature and drama, architectural renderings, mathematical analogs and explanations, sounds and musical items…
- Thus the virtual museum need not and should not limit itself to physical objects [eg pictures, sculptures] and associated texts, but can and should contain linkages to other arts and modes of representation [eg musical, literary, historical, scientific and mathematical expressions].
- Furthermore, the virtual museum need not limit itself to the objects in its sponsor museum’s holdings, but may also contain linkages to the holdings of other museums: indeed — and importantly — web-based “frames” make this possible without the viewer leaving the originating web site.
- Not just the museum catalogue and reference library, but also the world’s other museums, private collections, text libraries, record libraries and databases are all available as reference points for the items in the collection.
- Linkage, in other words, is the “new” in our context, while objects and their stories are the given.
- We do not move from room to room but from link to link as we browse the virtual museum.
The virtual museum can be conceived as an ellipse with one focus in the originating collection and the other in world cultural history…
- The “virtual proximity” of other bodies of knowledge on the net and web invites the inclusion of multiple reference points outside the collection: effectively, the museum as we know it transforms into a repository of world culture whose special focus is the collection:
- The virtual museum is thus no longer archeologically or artistically based: it encompasses all forms of expression.
- The museum becomes an expression of cultural totality.
The floorplan of the virtual museum is an n-dimensional graph of nodes and links.
- The essence of the difference between the museum and the virtual museum is this: objects in the virtual museum are “next to” a far larger number of other objects than objects in the physical museum.
- The system of linkages inherent in the structure of the Internet and the World Wide Web expands our concept of the museum by making possible a bewildering variety of new “throughways” between and among the items displayed, and “outside” the museum: thus raising new problems and possibilities in sequencing the experience of the “visitor”.
- What happens as a result is that linkage itself blossoms from a narrow and largely sequential business into a multiplex affair.
- The juxtaposition of one artefact with another explodes in an unimaginable freedom, and a system of constraints must therefore be imagined to limit and lead the viewer — through a “garden of forking paths” — to a desired and appropriate outcome.
To understand this is to make a virtue of the virtual … and a cathedral of the museum.
The virtual museum is not simply a museum in virtual space, but the virtual presentation of whatever the museum-as-archetype has been or will be in the labyrinth of human vision.
- The sequencing the visitor’s experience in virtual space will thus inevitably reflect the topology not only of the collection, but also of the catalog and of the web itself.
- And this topography brings a new feature to the foreground: linkage. The links between items themselves begin to assume considerable esthetic importance.
- The museum and the library can no longer be separated, since their contents are intermingled: and the result is that the virtual museum, like the cathedral before it, becomes a speculum mundi or”mirror of the world”.
We live in secular times, and the museum is our cathedral.
- This could mean, minimally, that the museum has replaced the cathedral as the central space where people congregate in a culturally rich environment. Maximally, and thus potentially, it means that whatever the cathedral was for us — master artwork of combined artworks in many media, ritual space, hub of the city, mirror of worlds — the museum can be.
- The secular does not lack for a sacred dimension, but offers access to it in a manner that does not demand a specific, local belief or practice.
- The virtual museum as secular cathedral is the place where all the world’s imaginal trasures come together as offerings, and from which all the world departs imaginally enriched.
- The museum is thus heir to the phenomenology of shamans, saints and mystics, as well as of artists and their patrons, teachers and students — for it is visited by crowds in which each individual carries a different cultural inheritance, now Italian, now Congolese, now Navaho, now Santeria…
The test of the museum is its cathedral-effectiveness: its capacity to invoke wonder.
- The virtual museum is thus a special case of the “art form” described by Hermann Hesse in his novel The Glass Bead Game:
- The elevation of the virtual museum is a sacramental elevation.
With some excitement, Cath shares the new video we made to introduce The Museum Game. One version for schools, another for adults. And a bloopers reel.