hist-games: New list member / some questions

Burke, Robin rburke at cti.depaul.edu
Tue Jul 18 15:08:14 PDT 2006


I'm new to the list, so I'll introduce myself. My name is Robin Burke.
I'm a professor at DePaul University (computer science, actually). I
teach computer game design and development usually, but this fall,
through an unlikely chain of circumstances, I find myself teaching an
undergraduate course on the history of games. 

The course is using case study format, with the idea being to use
particular games to illuminate historical moments, using games
themselves as historical sources. I plan to use 4 such games / moments
of which three are pretty certain:

* senet (ancient egypt, probably new kingdom, but of course the game is
played for centuries before and after)
* chess (medieval rules, before the "mad queen" comes along.)
* "the checkered game of life" (great comparison to the later milton
bradley games)

The fourth is presenting something of a problem for me. I need something
non-Western, preferably Asian. I would like a game that is not a classic
strategy game like any of Asian chess variants or Aware. It must be
something that students can play in class, so no camel racing or tiger
hunting. :-)

In an ideal world, I would have them play kai-ooi (the Japanese shell
matching game). It is sufficiently old (15th century at least according
to "The Arts of Contest"), yet represented well in literature and art so
there are primary sources to look at. It is a social game and celebrates
the observation of subtleties, an excellent launching point for talking
about cultural differences. The problem is that, of course, kai-ooi sets
do not seem to be items of commerce, at least not for the last 200 years
or so. I've thought of making my own set, which would require eating a
lot of clams (which I'm not opposed to), but I have yet to find
clamshells that reliably fit together once taken apart. 

So, my first question is to see if there are any kai-ooi experts out
there who can enlighten me about what I should ask for at the seafood
counter, if I want to make my own kai-ooi set. Or perhaps there is a
suitable substitute game, ideally of the "matching" variety that would
be playable in my class. (I've read about the 100 poets game, but that
won't really be playable by those non-literate in Japanese.) I've also
read about other types of matching games (not incense, please, the fire
department would be all over me!) using found objects like sticks.
Obviously, this would be easier to pull off, but I would need some
primary sources in which descriptions of such games appear and I haven't
seen any.

The second question I have is about the game Senet. What I am most
interested in is the methodology of reconstructing the game from the
archeological evidence. I want to get across the idea of historical
detective work: how disparate clues are gathered and combined to come up
with an informed conclusion. The rules of an unknown game are an
excellent way to explore this process. I'm hoping someone on this list
can point me towards publications where the process of the
reconstruction of Senet is described in English -- I've seen a number of
references in French (Lhote) and in German (Pusch), but this won't do my
students (or me) any good. Any pointers appreciated.

Robin Burke
Associate Professor
School of Computer Science, Telecommunications, and
   Information Systems
DePaul University 


"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms" - Muriel Rukeyser

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