Thursday, October 18, 2012

Meaningful Play 2012 Presentation

Below you will find the slides for my presentation, 'Narrative Assemblage in Historical Board Games', that I gave at Meaningful Play 2012.  I plan on recording my talk, so as soon as I upload the audio that, too, will be available for download.

Narrative Assemblage in Historical Boardgames from Jeremy Antley

Update 22 Oct: I have recorded an audio track to accompany the slides above, so feel free to listen to/download that track below.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Dark Definition

Photo by Whitney Erin Boesel
Alexis Madrigal has a very interesting article over at The Atlantic on a topic he calls dark social, or web traffic driven by non-referred sources outside of those generated on traditional social platforms.  Even though the dominant narrative places the innovative crown of web-connection on sites like Wikipedia, MySpace, Facebook, and so on, the article provides undeniable proof that so-called 'dark social' forces- links shared over gchat, email or personal connection- actually drive the majority of web traffic.

Madrigal interlaces his data-backed revelations with anecdotal tales on his use of 90's era communicative platforms like ICQ and USENET to share links with his friends, the contrasting effect meant to convey a sense of experiential validation on the larger thesis of the piece.  If almost 70% of traffic occurs through means outside of those facilitated by, say, 'liking' and 'sharing' something on Facebook or retweeting an interesting link shared on Twitter, then what does that say about the narratives telling us how we use the web?  On a larger level, what does inclusion of this 'dark social' data say about our levels of perception and the limits circumscribed therein?  
Photo by Sparkieg
I think it says that we are just beginning to understand how our constant activity of being social in existence- not just on a platform- shapes and drives our measurable presence on the web.  I also think Madrigal is correct in his stylistic choice and logical juxtaposition of narratives driven by data and experience because it is easy to conflate the two in our digital world, even though the first is limited by our perception of what counts as web traffic and the second is a more authentic description of the lived reality behind the web traffic.  One has to describe their anecdotal experience of link sharing precisely because this 'through a social, darkly' behavior is not actively measured by our current generation of analytic tools.

What this suggests to me is that we need to engage in far more ethnography of the link.  The bits of data, the shared cultural units, are not ends unto themselves.  The rituals behind those acts of sharing- the reading of email, the dialogue of gchat- all require a larger presence in our analyses if we are to understand this 'dark' behavior.  But that's not all. 

Photo by Kit
What occurred to me while reading this piece is how the core issue exposed, that our sweeping range of quantifiable social perception is limited to such a degree so as to render entire behaviors 'dark', has much in common with the ongoing debate surrounding the role and purpose of the Digital Humanities.  There is a lot of talk about what the digital humanities are and what defines their use, but I think these are misleading questions that are both unproductive and illusionary in their symphonic promise of clarity.  Much like Madrigal's discovery of 'dark social', the key thing we need to keep in mind when discussing the digital humanities is that our understanding of what the field means and sources for its definition are chiefly limited by perceptional capacity or measured results.  Knowing this, we should take a cue from Madrigal's piece above and instead devote a portion of our analytic inquiry towards pursuing ethnography of the digital humanities act itself.

I want to take a moment and explain what I mean by briefly examining the relationship between game studies and the digital humanities.

Stephen Ramsay famously stated that building and making were the hallmarks of digital humanities work, and while he included a place of respect for the field of game studies in the pursuit of humanistic inquiry, he regarded it more as an inquiry on reading and less than an inquiry on making.  Some might find this a convincing narrative.  Regardless of that fact, it is nonetheless an incorrect narrative that ignores a fundamental quality of game studies- studying the act of play.

Earlier, on Twitter, I was included on a discussion about the idea of perma-death (permanent death) in game design and how the mud-dev forums contained an epic thread on the issue.
Nick LaLone replied that he wanted to put together research "that re-publishes a lot of the 'lost' early/mid 90's game studies', the implication being that our current critiques are lacking in recognition of earlier efforts, the 'dark' 90's being the example displayed here.  Our vision, our perception of the game studies field, is necessarily lacking until we at least uncover these lost sources.  But there is something deeper here- the idea that these sources might speak to the act of play and in doing so become far more valuable in this role than they could as just simple, dated observations.  Game studies inherently understands the need for good ethnography, because good ethnography is at the heart of understanding play.

In my own research with board games, I've found user created forums to be invaluable portals into the motivations behind creation of game modifications or debates on the alignment of design mechanics and theme.  What gives these sometimes-odd assortments of messages and debates credibility are their linkages to the active process of play.  Players create from their ludic experiences narratives that, in turn, inspire the creation or analysis on game-effects generated through play.  This is far more active process than that required of simply reading the rules and inferring the intent of design mechanics, or 'surveying the data' if you will.  It is also a process filled with potential ethnographic insights into cultural perspective and the larger workings behind integrating symbols and meanings into a coherent experience.

By performing ethnographic analysis of the play act itself, this 'dark' ludic experience can increasingly become revealed.  Analyzing player written After Action Reports (AAR's), or reviews of game sessions, can yield fascinating insight into how play connects embedded cultural narratives to historical interpretations.  Player created modifications, such as translating game materials into another language or introducing new materials or rules, and their dependency on digital networks of today is yet another avenue where one can analyze the bulding/sharing/deforming process tied to games as cultural artifacts.  Where Ramsay saw reading, I see more.  But, again, we return to questions centered on levels of perception and the limits circumscribed within.

Now Ramsay equated game studies as directed more towards humanistic reading and less towards humanistic building at his 'own peril'.  I suspect he included the caveat because he understood that by endorsing building over reading there was an implicit acknowledgment that something new always lay over the horizon.  Mark Sample goes so far as to say that digital humanities isn't about making or building at all; it's about sharing- maybe even breaking or deforming- what we study.  "When something breaks, it makes a beautiful sound," read the lyrics of 'Blue Arrangements' by the Silver Jews, and I can't help but think Sample would agree.

This optimistic note sounded by Ramsay and Sample in the pursuit of a productive digital humanities definition finds resonance in the tone of Madrigal's piece, especially when he includes personal details associated with his nerdish delight upon discovering the degree of influence 'dark social' wields.  It's the same feeling I get when studying how the active process of play shapes someone's conception and reflection of the past.  It is never a question of how good your data is, although good data is essential to good analysis.  It is always a question of how good your questions are, and whether those questions will probe and ply your data to not only reveal new insights, but perhaps also demonstrate the limit of what insights your data can provide

Underlying each of these positions is the discovery that our process- in creating social acts or building/breaking/sharing digital humanities projects- is more important and more informative when we take into account the experience and not just the data.  Defining and measuring data might sound active, but it's really static.  Doing is active.  Sharing is active.  Building and breaking are active.  And to understand both the digital humanities and social behavior better, we need a wider perspective that includes an ethnographic approach at its core.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Meanwhile, on the Boardwalk

(JA: Goes without saying, but this post contains spoilers.  You've been warned.)

I'm going to cut to the chase- last night's episode of Boardwalk Empire was, in my estimation, the greatest of the entire series so far.  Not so much because the acting was superb (even thought these were incredible performances by the trio of Buscemi, Cox and one-off character Robinson), but rather because the entire episode crystalized a long developing character arc of anti-hero Nucky Thompson.  This is because, despite the name, Boardwalk Empire isn't about building an empire at all.  Prohibition isn't the driver of action; it actually is little more than period framing for the timeless drama contained within.  It's about the transition of one man from the first circle of hell to its innermost layers.  There is no doubt at the end of this episode that Nucky has made a place for himself in the lake of fire, his own internal guilt no longer a sufficient check for his slow metamorphosis into the gangster he has now become.

To understand this transformation, you have to recall the feeling and drive of the first two seasons of Boardwalk Empire.  Consider the opening of the first season; Nucky, addressing the Women's Temperance League of Atlantic City, spins a masterful yarn of his own childhood marred by the consummation of rat flesh because his oft-soaked father could not provide.  The ladies gasp, but are fully immersed in his apocryphal tale.  When questioned by James Darmody though the comment, "In the trenches, once we ate dogmeat- but rats?" Nucky responds cooly while opening a hidden flask, "First rule of politics, kiddo: never let the truth get in the way of a good story."

Hiding and shuffling the truth is the mainstay of Nucky's current occupation of running Atlantic City.  He's the county treasurer, yet this is nothing more than a convenient cover for his more duplicitous means of gainful employment.  His control of the Republican machine in Atlantic City thrives on this political juxtaposition between the truth and a good story, as graft and corruption are the watchwords of the day in an era built, supposedly, on the moral certitudes of prohibition.  "In less than two hours, liquor will be declared illegal by decree of those distinguished gentlemen of our nation's congress.  To those ignorant, beautiful bastards!' Nucky proclaims with a toast in his meeting of the city's gathered political puppets just prior to the introduction of the Volstead Act.  Yet the line has a double ring of truth to it.  Members of Congress might just be ignorant of what forces they have unleashed with their 'prohibition', but one cannot help but feel that Nucky and Co. are also ignorant in their assumption that the event can only turn to their favor.  These are the words of a confident, and supremely competent, graft politician.  They most certainly aren't the words of a gangster who, although sure of the rising tide of black market liquor becoming an even higher tide of incoming cash, nonetheless also knows that greater opportunity means greater risk.  The fact that Nucky is presiding over a party and not a war-room only underscores his ignorance in the face of these turbulent new waves.

The era of the graft politician is waning, even as it receives its pyrrhic victory, shown later in the second season, with the election of Warren Harding to the presidency.  The era of the gangster is in the ascendant, and it's all-corrupting influence and reach in the soul of Nucky Thompson is the main focus of Boardwalk Empire.  For although the show makes little of the moral choices this path necessitates, it imbues Nucky with a sort of Dolstevesky-esque aura of psychological transformation.  This is the main story arc now told over two complete seasons and the first quarter of the third.  With last night's episode, the transformation is complete.  Nucky has now become the full embodiment of this new gangster ideal, the methods and means of his former graft-politician ways discarded like so many Roland Smiths left dead on the floor.

Of course, the murder of Roland Smith isn't Nucky's first.  He did, in fact, shoot James Darmody in the face at the conclusion of the second season, putting an end to the ongoing attempt by the Commodore and his wealthy coterie to remove Nucky from the hallowed halls of power in Atlantic City.  But this was not the act of a gangster incarnate, and the second season still largely had to deal with the presence of a reluctant Nucky who sees in his tried and true methods of graft rule a way to control the situation and neuter his opponents without the use of overwhelming violent force.  The death of the Commodore, at the hands of his own son, signals the end of this graft era and the rise of the new.  Trotsky once wrote to Lenin, during the brutal Russian Civil War, that, "discipline cannot possibly be maintained without revolvers."  Nucky, having tried to utilize his graft connections and running of the political machine of Atlantic City to solve his problems, comes to realize the full extent of Trotsky's words as he takes aim at James with his own revolver and says, "You don't know me James. You never did. I am not seeking forgiveness."  The shot rings out, its target true.  And still Nucky is not a changed man- not yet.  The unsteady look to Eli for affirmation belies the intent of the act just committed.  Did Nucky do the right thing?  Yes, nods Eli, as a now rain-soaked Nucky walks away, still unsure.

The first few episodes of the third season show a man lost at sea, with Nucky having disturbing dreams related to his murder of Darmody and uncharacteristic weakness in seeking the attention of the young and vivacious Lillian Kent.  He is restless, literally and figuratively, spending the entire third episode of the current season desperately trying to reach Kent on the phone in her New York apartment, ultimately heading to her abode and falling asleep on her couch awaiting her return.  When he awakes, and she is there, his real need for comfort hides the real changes underneath his cooing demeanor.  This is because, just before his maddening flight to New York, Nucky had his true fate revealed by the 'blind' prophet Tiresias, represented in this case by the masked Richard Harrow.  When asked if Richard ever sees the faces of those he's killed, the response is as chilling as it is resolute in its prophetic augury- "You already know the answer to that, don't you?"  The truth is set, the path declared- Nucky's transformation is almost complete, akin to the moments just before Oedipus puts out his eyes at the consequential revelation of his own terrible hubris.  Nucky knows he is a true killer.  But it will take a descent into hell to burn away any remaining doubt.

This is why the most recent episode delivers on so many levels.  There is a crisis in the liquor empire Nucky has painstakingly built, prompted by the arrival of Gyp Rossetti who, after taking offense to Nucky's consolidation of business in New York under Arnold Rothstein, decides to set-up shop in the quiet halfway point between Atlantic City and the Big Apple- Tabor Heights- with the purpose of intercepting Nucky's liquor shipments.  Others, too, have been taking slices from Nucky's pie.  A certain and unknown Roland Smith has also stolen from Nucky, and it is this issue upon which the majority of the new episode hangs.  Everything takes on even more pressing terms when Mickey Doyle presumes to ask Owen Slater, Nucky's right-hand man, "Are you sure this is a good idea?" just after Nucky announces that future liquor shipments are to use the back roads to New York and avoid Tabor Heights altogether.  The slight becomes a flashpoint on the questions of authority and loyalty.  Nucky is quick to reprimand Doyle, then turns to Owen and inquires about what is being done to rectify the Roland Smith problem.  Nucky wants the problem solved, quickly, and it is this issue that will resolve the uncertainty of both authority and loyalty in the Boardwalk Empire.

Owen does indeed find the mysterious Roland Smith, who turns out to be a glib-tonged youth with a house full of stolen liquor just outside of Philadelphia.  Nucky is summoned to the dilapidated structure, and during the interrogation of Smith a gang of Prohis (Prohibition Officers) arrives.  After killing the two men who traveled with Nucky outside, the Prohis storm into Smith's house to begin their search of the premises.  At this point the camera cuts to the cellar, panning up to reveal Nucky, Slater and Smith in a flooded basement, looking above with bated breath as beams of light, streaming from floorboards pounded by the numerous agent's shoes, falls upon them intermittently.  Soon the Prohis are in the cellar itself, and here is revealed one of the most powerful metaphoric images produced in the episode; having made the descent into a hellish cellar, Nucky is made to hide behind the old boiler to escape being caught.  He has figuratively placed himself in the lake of fire and next to its hottest source, with a gun jammed into the chin of Smith- the outcome of this thief all but assured with the cameras framing shot.  Thus begins the waiting game, with Nucky, Slater, and Smith holed up in the cellar, awaiting departure of the murderous Prohis above.

Daylight breaks, and the trio is still hiding in the basement with the few remaining Prohis taking guard outside.  Slater recalls how he would endure the waiting involved in his IRA missions back in Ulster, mentally walking the streets of Corrine in his head.  When prompted by Nucky if that's what he did last night, Slater responds that he hasn't thought of the place in months.  "Sounds like you're feeling at home," replies Nucky, and once again the issue of loyalty comes up.  "What have I done to earn your loyalty?" asks Nucky, to which Slater ultimately responds, "You pay me."  It's not exactly the answer one wants to hear, and it is here that Nucky decides what must be done.  He intently gazes at Smith, now sleeping on a pile of ropes in the corner, the allusion of a soul in purgatory easily summoned.  It's here that Nucky makes his decision on what he has to do, the fate of Smith cast before the pair of Slater and Nucky as they sit on the bench next to the wall opposite.

After brief interludes in which the other characters of Boardwalk Empire advance their plot lines (also noteworthy, but outside the scope of this review), we return to the cellar and the long-awaited departure of the Prohis stationed outside.  After climbing out of hell, Smith makes his case for joining Nucky as an employee in his illegal dealings.  But he makes fatal errors, first in addressing Slater with his (boastful) skill set that could be made available were he to join up, then in revealing that he actually smokes, despite his claims otherwise when Nucky first arrived to the Philadelphia hideout.  Here is the defining moment, the time when Nucky could turn away from his gangster transition and return to his grafting politician ways.  How easy would it be to cut Smith in on the action?  Exceedingly easy, especially considering the position in which Smith finds himself.  But would he be loyal?  As Smith turns his back, hearing the approach of an automobile, Nucky calmly walks back, pulls out his gun, and shoots Smith in the head.

Slater is visibly stunned, looking at the body of Smith lying next to the still smoking cigarette.  "I thought you were letting him go," Slater stammers.  "Why would you think that?" Nucky retorts, to which Smith can only answer, "I misunderstood."  "As long as you understand now," Nucky replies.  The message is very clear- betray Nucky and the consequences will be severe.  His transformation is complete.  Having descended into hell, Nucky finds himself assured and confident in his new skin.  There is no turning back now.  The politician is dead.  Long live the gangster.

Thus ends the greatest episode, so far, of Boardwalk Empire.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What Live-Tweeting Means To Me

via Sue Waters
I know the very last thing the interwebs needs is another post discussing what some have dubbed #Twittergate (how the mind reels at such creative nomenclature), yet that is exactly what I find myself writing this morning.  The reason?  I think it's important someone steps forward and explains, in a non-patronizing tone, just why live-tweeting conference presentations, or really any live event where ideas are exchanged, is so vital to people like me.  You see, I'm a former graduate student who now finds himself working as an 'independent researcher' (again, a rose by any other name).  Live-tweeting was the lifeline that kept me connected to current ideas being exchanged in conferences I couldn't afford to attend, in addition to giving me the ability to build a professional network that, quite honestly, my department never really never could help me cultivate.  That's not a knock on my former department- it's just the reality for many graduate students that networking comes easiest to those who can travel and stay on top of current trends, a process that is often self-fulfilling as only those who can afford to pursue these things have increased access to their sustained returns.  If you're shut out of the loop, you can grow quite lonely on the outside looking in.

Not located next to a major metropolitan center?  Good luck finding cheap airfares or affording increasing hotel prices.  Are your department's coffers running low?  Good luck receiving help to pay for conference visits.  Since we all know how competitive the academic job market can be, graduate students need every bit of help they can muster as every line on the CV is scrutinized by hiring committees.  If you can't attend conferences and build your experience in giving presentations and asking questions, well, good luck getting a job.

Now Twitter can't replace actual conference attendance and actual presentations given in front of an audience of one's peers.  But it can make you a meaningful participant in such presentations, and it can give you access to people's work that otherwise would be denied.  From my own experience, this can be a valuable proxy in lieu of physical presence.  It can even lead to you having a physical presence in said conferences.

Last April, I attended the Theorizing the Web 2012 conference where I presented on 'textual dualism' in Russian history.  It was an incredible forum where diverse disciplines gathered to debate ideas that were fresh while tackling new issues digital culture brings to our daily lives.  How did I know about this conference?  Twitter.  Specifically, I was able to connect with one of the organizers, Nathan Jurgenson, through my engagement with his ideas discussed on Twitter.  Chances are, on my own, I would never have encountered Nathan's ideas.  I wouldn't have met his co-organizer, PJ Rey, and I certainly would not have been exposed to the sociological debate they both pursue (among many other talented contributors) on their Cyborgology blog.  I can't say the cross-pollination of ideas between us has been equal- I can only say that I, personally, have benefitted greatly from engaging with debates and ideas both Jurgenson and Rey and so many others contribute to their Twitter accounts and academic blog posts.

This past summer one of my blog posts, 'Going Beyond the Textual in History', was selected for publication in the Journal of Digital Humanities (JDH).  This was my first article published in a peer-reviewed journal, a minor, yet important, stepping stone in building my larger academic career.  How did my work come to the attention of the JDH?  Twitter.  Specifically, other followers in my Twitter network saw my tweet about my post and retweeted it to others, a process that eventually put my work in front of the editors of the JDH and netted me a spot in their summer volume.  The thing is, I'm not a well known voice on topics of gaming and history.  Without my Twitter network, the ideas I wrote about in my post would most likely have been seen by a few friends and maybe even a few professionals who shared my interests- but that would have probably been the extent of it.  To be honest, without Twitter I wouldn't have come across the original journal article which inspired my blog post in the first place.

I realize that some people have reservations with their conference presentations being tweeted to the larger world.  I don't understand their fear, the idea that they might have their thoughts stolen and used by others in a more advanced position to publish work in a peer-reviewed journal, or that the ideas presented represented a work-in-progress and not one's final analysis worthy of announcement.  As a Humanities practitioner, I believe the process of one's work is as valuable as the work itself.  Still, I can understand why someone would demur on such publicity.

However, what I want those who rally against live-tweeting to understand is just how important having access to ideas can be for someone in my position.  I may not have Ivy league credentials, or be a member of good standing in the PhD club- but I can hold my own and even give something back to discussions that tread on what I've researched or read about.  Many others can too- but only if they are let in on the process.  Are there questions regarding proper citation and attribution when using Twitter?  Of course.  But just because the format is nascent in 'serious & credible discussion' (a point which I'm not sure applies anymore to tweets in general) doesn't mean we should ban or obstruct their use in furthering discourse.  Because of Twitter, I can participate in conferences hundreds of miles away, learn about new articles or books that fit my area of research, find new ways to combine ideas into something greater than the sum of its parts, feel like my efforts are worth a damn, meet new and interesting people- all while making connections to other scholars and fields that just isn't possible when you live in one town and research in one library.

That's what live-tweeting means to me.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Help Wanted

via The Year of Mud
Seems like anything goes these days.  In light of the recent brew-ha-ha regarding live-tweeting at conferences, look at what I found in a 'Help Wanted' ad this afternoon (details removed to protect the innocent):
Heading to (REDACTED) conference and need help in keeping my ideas in the room.  I mean it- not one word uttered from my lips should leave the room, be it in note, electronic, or thought form.  As such, I'm looking for an intellectual property enforcer.  Candidate must be familiar with Twitter, but in no way use it in the service of stealing ideas.  Retweets are stolen ideas, and candidates must be willing to find every person who tweets or retweets what I say at (REDACTED) conference in order to threaten them with legal action and/or name calling if they surreptitiously steal one of my ideas, which they most certainly did if they tweet at my presentation.  Please don't tweet this add, as someone might steal my idea and hire you before I can do so.  I take my position as an enlightener of minds very seriously, and thus cannot abide by the fact that so many of my very helpful ideas could be stolen and given to people for free on an odious platform like Twitter.  Feel free to follow me on Twitter at (REDACTED) or email me at (REDACTED), but please don't tell anyone about this ad- I'm growing steadily more convinced that my ideas could be stolen through 'loose lips' as well.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Games & the Word, part I: The Epistemic Reservoir

via Fotopedia
In his essay 'Grace and the Word', Carl Schorske argues that the liberal ascendency in Austria, having coherently linked its distinct political, scientific, and aesthetic cultures, nevertheless came to a fractious cleaving by the end of the 19th century.  It was then, as the promise of early liberalistic pursuits for rationality and rule of law began to wither under the reality of masked absolutism, that aesthetic culture turned away from the enlightenment fueled axioms found in politics and science and moved towards a baroque model rooted in counter-reformation ideals of the 17th century.  The aesthetic split and turn to the baroque was not without justification.  Schorske claims that the educated Austrian bourgeoisie cultivated a unique cultural aesthetic precisely because the printed-word based reformation ideals, built upon an enlightenment rationale, did not take hold in Catholic Austria as it did in Protestant dominated Northern Europe.  Instead, counter-reformation ideals, built upon a baroque rationale that sought to incorporate the spiritual in art, informed the Austrian aesthetic and gave the Central European power exquisite examples of what Schorske termed the "applied and performing arts: architecture, the theatre, and music, wherein the spirit was concretely manifested."

Selecting two institutions, the theatre and the university, Schorske demonstrates how this streak of counter-reformation infused aestheticism fractured the alliance between grace and the word in Austrian elite culture.  As disaffection with liberalism began to manifest around 1870 due to ethnic, social, political, and economic frustrations, this union began to loosen, then break, as the youth looked to the arts for divining meaning in their time.  Once freed from rationalism, the Austrian aesthetic culture searched for a more divinely inspired source of defining the self, holding the 'instinctual' as foil to the 'rational' and in doing so "challenged and eroded the authority of liberalism as a socio-cultural value system."

Of course, without knowing it, Schorske tapped upon a conflict only now becoming vogue and more seriously investigated, that being the inherent assumptions found in dualist and augmented configurations of reality.  Nathan Jurgenson, in an article titled 'When Atoms Meet Bits', outlined what is at stake in the augmented versus dualist debate, particularly regarding integration of digital technologies into our daily lives.  Those that view the digital and physical to be separate epistemological realms of knowledge uphold a digital dualist perspective on reality, and believers include ranks of cyber-utopians and dystopians who see in the digital a new world:
"Indeed, digitality promised a Wild-West like frontier built without replicating the problem of our offline world; fixing the oppressive realities such as skin color, physical ability, resource scarcity, as well as time and space constraints."  
Alternatively, Jurgenson advances the augmented conception in which the digital and physical are intermeshed.  Occurrences and affordances of the digital impact the physical and vice-versa, and although the epistemological operations of both differ, their interactions are joined through constructed knowledge transition points, or handoffs.
"The physicality of atoms, the structure of the social world and offline identities 'interpenetrate' the online.  Simultaneously, the properties of the digital world also implode into the offline, be it through the ubiquity of we-connected electronic gadgets in our world and our bodies or through the way we understand and make meaning of the world around us."
Conflict between Baroque and Enlightenment ideals in Austria, couched by Schorske as resurgence of counter-reformation influences in the face of liberal dissatisfaction, can also be seen as a conflict between dualist and augmented conceptions of reality, albeit not in digital but rather textual terms.  In an age before the appearance of widespread near-instantaneous communication networks, it was the written word, personified in manuscript or print form, that provided the catalyst for dualist conceptions of reality through the tax registers, passports, and census records authorities zealously sought to collect during the modern turn in governmental reason.
via Alexander Staubo
Documentation, however, is only as good as the validity of the data recorded.  Lived reality of subjects during the 17th-19th centuries could often radically differ from the documented projection of these populations and this fundamental asynchronicity between the document and the lived expression not only fueled creation of disciplinary societies, one subject of many explored by Foucault, but also the textual dualist conceptions of reality that went hand in hand with the rise of liberalism and rationalism as Enlightenment-centered philosophies.  Schorske's essay 'Grace and the Word' should be taken to mean 'Augmented Grace and the Dualist Word', as the baroque reaction of Austrian aesthetic culture represented a turn towards augmented conceptions over those of the dualist, word based claims of the enlightened cultures of Austrian politics and science.

Understanding how the modern era is both shaped and impacted by ongoing debates between dualist and augmented conceptions, the likes of which Schorske's essay details, is no simple task.  The sheer spectrum of subject matter involved- reality itself- boggles any attempt at succinct summation.  Even my paltry efforts of description in the paragraph above begs more exploratory depth.

One means of reducing the scope of investigation, without sacrificing theme, would be to find a common institution or cultural construct that has roots in baroque and enlightenment ideals of the 17th century, as well as a continued, evolving form from that period and up to the present day.  Surprisingly, board games fill this needed role nicely.  While their origins trace back thousands of years, it was the 17th century when a shift in what playing a board game could inform, that is the epistemological boundaries of play, became intertwined with the rise of modern social, political, and governmental techniques and disciplines.  Whereas previous games, like Go or Chess, produced knowledge through play, this knowledge was considered abstract and often tangential to the real world.  One had to literally translate the lessons of Go to make use of its knowledge on the battlefield.  As such, these early games presented a dualist version of reality, a distinct knowledge sphere related to, but separate from, the knowledge sphere of real life.  

Then, in the 17th century, Ulm patrician Christoph Weickmann had the idea for his 'King's Game' which introduced a de jure possibility for board games to present an augmented reality conception, a process that hinted towards a meaningful interaction between knowledge produced through play and knowledge directly applicable to real life.  From here, board games of various types would struggle, unequally, towards the production of de facto knowledge, with wargames leading the way and more socially-focused games only recently catching-up.  Realization that games are de facto knowledge producers first appeared in literature, then in actual game design, with Hesse and Coover providing bookends of this realization in novel form and games like Twilight Struggle and Andean Abyss integrating this logos into their ludic expression.  Implications of this analysis demonstrate a precise need for more serious studies on the design, play, and experiential aesthetics of board games in the modern period.

The first part of this essay, 'The Epistemic Reservoir', will define the terms de jure and de facto augmentation and focus on how Weickmann's visionary design proved that board games could become augmented, not just dualist, sources of ludic knowledge.  However, while Weickmann's game laid the foundation for future iterations of augmented design, it also provided a field of knowledge upon which Enlightenment ideals could take hold and spread.  The second portion of this essay, 'The Limits of Dualism', looks at the implication of augmented ludic knowledge for Enlightenment ideals and how these ideals suggested textual dualist discourses in all but the military spheres of life up to the 20th century.  Extensive use of documentation techniques by authorities to define the self led to extreme dissatisfaction with liberal ideals that empowered documentary efforts.  As dualist regimes reeled at the end of the 19th century, there was casting for a new, augmented reality and the third portion of this essay, 'The Augmented Turn', looks a how literature and board game design of the 20th-21st centuries reconceptualized the board game as a de facto augmented ludic knowledge producer.

Part I: The Epistemic Reservoir

It is no coincidence that the 17th century in European history, a period that saw the emergence of both Baroque and Enlightenment ideals, found in games what Phillip von Hilgers termed "an epistemic reservoir."  Under the influence of the printing press, at this point firmly entrenched in the European intellectual scene, Enlightenment thinkers began advancing new ideas on the role of the self and individualism, the political contract between subject and ruler, and the growing presence of an educated, professional class that could aid governments in administrating grand conceptions of civil society.  It was the beginning of the modern era when new problems and possibilities emerged, demanding new answers and configurations.  Yet before we can address how board games helped provide these new answers and conceptions, we must first establish definitions on the types of epistemic reservoirs games could provide.

via Paul McCoubrie
Broadly defined, there are two states of knowledge games produce; dualist and augmented.  Because dualist conceptions claim to constitute their own epistemic field of knowledge, the execution or embodiment of those conceptions, even while governed by rules of their own operation, nonetheless remain isolated from reality.  The real question for dualist conceptions lies in their points of contact with reality, the knowledge handoffs that remain discreet and fire-walled yet facilitate interaction between the realms.  In contrast augmented conceptions are intermeshed with reality, thus shifting the question away from knowledge handoffs specifically, although they are still vital, and towards the type of knowledge those handoffs facilitate.  Nor is it a question of measuring the degree to which augmented knowledge intermeshes with reality, be it a scanner densely or thinly as it were.  When analyzing the types of augmented knowledge produced, qualifiers like de jure and de facto help demarcate the influence these constructs held in connection to the lived experience.

What does it mean to say there is a difference between de jure and de facto augmented knowledge?  De jure knowledge is that which claims an epistemological linkage to truth, but also on grounds not fully realized due to either the structuring of the augmented construct or the normative reality surrounding the construct's operation, which can obscure the veracity of the linkage produced.  De facto knowledge is a smooth elaboration of the rough form hewn through de jure means.  Not only is the epistemological linkage to truth made stronger and resolute, but the structure of the augmented construct becomes reflective of the normative reality surrounding its operation, offering a potential for reflection, critique, and occasional prescience.  This, in turn, raises a new question; how do games fit into this schematization?  Some descriptive examples should help clarify the terms at hand.

Although it is a broad statement to make, for the terms of this essay it can be said that board games up to the 17th century embraced dualist modes of knowledge production.  Several factors necessitated this design aesthetic.  Without widespread literacy or available printing technology, it was difficult to create a board game of great complexity and homogeneity at the level required for augmented knowledge production.  Extreme abstraction and simple, geometric design overcame these obstacles at the cost of distancing the game from the lived reality of its players.

The Tablut Game Board
Tablut is a good example of a board game constructed in this dualist aesthetic.  First recorded by Carl Linnaeus during his travels through Swedish Lapland in the 18th century, Tablut is a derivative of the Tafl family of board games whose pedigree stretches back hundreds of years.  Tafl games are asymmetric, depicting a smaller, defensive force against a larger, offensive force closing in on the center of the board and trying to capture a 'king' piece.  Linnaeus recorded that Tablut pitted the lighter colored 'Swede' pieces against the darker colored 'Muscovite' pieces.  The goal of the 'Swede' player was to move the King piece to specific portions on the edge of the game board, while the 'Muscovite' player must surround the King piece with four pieces of their own.  It is an interesting game that hints at a deeper cultural narrative, yet playing the game yields knowledge related just to the game itself.  A player may glean strategic considerations applicable, at some translative cost, to situations outside the ludic reality of Tablut, but often the greater balance of knowledge accrued informs only the ludic reality of Tablut.  To put it simply, playing Tablut mostly makes you a better Tablut player.

Other games, like Chess or Go, fall into the same dualist category occupied by Tablut.  They represented cultural influences or narratives that made up the lived reality of their creators and initial players alike, but the telescopic perspective employed kept these games from directly intermeshing with this same lived reality.  This is not to say that dualist games are inferior to augmented ones or that augmented games supplant dualist designs, only that dualist games hold at their core the notion of distinct epistemologies demarcating the ludic from the real.  These two worlds interact through knowledge handoffs, such as the notion of cunning gameplay being equated to raw skill or the way Go interacts with military philosophy through design mechanics, but these linkages are often described as ephemeral and tangential to the experience of the real.  Rather than viewed as detraction, the 'escapist' elements of dualist games often provide a compelling factor for their sustained longevity through the centuries.

Augmented games, by comparison, are relatively youthful in presence, the foundations for their emergence secured only with the arrival of both baroque and enlightenment ideals circulating through Europe, beginning in the 17th century.  Particularly in Northern Europe, where Reformation theology promoted greater individualistic and rationalistic intellectual pursuits, thinkers advanced configurative tools for analyzing the surrounding reality, rapidly divulging its long kept secrets to philosophers and natural scientists alike, in new and innovative ways.  Mathematical breakthroughs in calculus, statistics, and probability readily lent themselves to novel, penetrating analyses of society that opened up such fields as demography and mortality studies.  Baroque influences, focused in Spain but reaching out to other Catholic and even non-Catholic states, brought about a divergent ideal that the spiritual, then under assault by humanistic inquiries, was not illusionary or explained away by rationalism, but rather that the spirit could imbue art, architecture, theatre, and more- you may recall from Schorke's essay discussed above that Austrian aesthetic culture of the 19th century pursued baroque configurations embodied in the performative arts- with an inspirational feeling that drew upon the soul-nourishing wellspring of divine grace for both execution and effect.  Although the Baroque was initially fostered by the Catholic Church as a means to combat Reformation influence, in part, through an all out aesthetic assault on the senses, the larger philosophical implications surrounding this unleashing of the divine into the unified field of art produced reverberations felt even to this day.  Within this heady cauldron of 'grace and the word' stewed the late 17th and early 18th centuries, their complexity first revealing, then demanding, new forms of governance and new ways of viewing populations.  These challenges, in turn, required new analytical models and techniques wholly different from those utilized in the past.

Enter Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.  His work found in games a new potential for knowledge, elevating design aesthetics to an augmented level that, for the first time, granted ludic knowledge a credible link to epistemologies feeding the real, lived experience.  He managed to accomplish this philosophical feat through careful blending of both enlightenment and baroque ideals.  "Men are never more ingenious than in inventing games," wrote Leibniz in 1715, the statement revealing his supreme affection for ludic creation as an exemplar of enlightenment reason embodied in perspective.  Yet, as Deleuze reminds us in The Fold,
"For Leibniz…perspectivism amounts to a relativism, but not the relativism we take for granted.  It is not a variation of truth according to subject, but the condition in which the truth of a variation appears to the subject.  This is the very idea of Baroque perspective."
A game does not reveal a singular truth through play- it reveals the possible range of truths that could have been and might still be.  Leibniz himself acknowledged this idea when discussing how newly created 'war games' of the 17th century could allow the replaying of historic battles: 
"…one could represent with certain game pieces certain battles and skirmishes, also the position of the weapons and the lay of the land, both at one's discretion and form history…thereby one would often find what other missed and how we could gain wisdom from the losses of our forerunners."
Again, it was the 17th century which first saw games assume positions as augmented knowledge producers, free from the intrinsic separateness embodied in dualist designs.  Philip von Hilgers notes as much with his discussion on the transformation of games during this period in his book, War Games: A History of War on Paper:
"In the games of the seventeenth century, representational forms suffer a breach.  In their place, semiotic operations are promoted to the prosperous switch point of knowledge.  Games are themselves released from purposelessness.  They can change at any point into a teleological model entrusted even with foregrounding underpinnings of the state: Fortifications and theatre buildings, firearms and fireworks, or mathematics and games are skills are skills that find representation in the very same books."
The rise of Enlightenment inspired rationalism and Baroque perspective went hand in hand with the rise of games as augmented knowledge producers because not only did new techniques engendered by these philosophical traditions allow for greater simulative capability, but they also allowed for players and designers alike to experiment with notions of time and space in ways that dualist games could not achieve.  As board game design began to move away from telescopic perspective, the prospect for analyzing time and space as discreet units became possible and it is perhaps this characteristic, above all others, that distinguishes the augmented from the dualist in terms of ludic experience creating applicable knowledge.  Military affairs, discussed in greater depth in the second portion of this essay, were natural extensions for utilization of this new, augmented ludic knowledge described by Leibniz, but augmented games of the 17th century also sought to inform social matters then being hotly debated in royal courts and town halls around Europe.  In the years just previous to the rise of Leibniz, a revolutionary board game created by Christoph Weickmann, a patrician of the German state of Ulm, paved the way for board games to become de jure knowledge producers for the social sphere.

'Great King's Game' Title Page
Titled the 'Newly Invented Great King's Game', Weickmann's design came to him in a dream partially inspired, no doubt, by the lengthy games of chess played the day previous to his nocturnal sojourn.  Over the span of two written volumes, Weickmann elaborated the rules, boards, pieces and justifications used to inform the grandiose design.  What we would term the 'rules of play' only constituted a sixth of the total writings devoted to the Game's explanation.  Philip von Hilgers notes that the majority of Weickmann's prose centered on sixty 'observations' of baroque prolixity, using historical examples and authoritative, military missives in order to provide reasoning behind the combat and movement allowed in the game.  Instead of the sixteen figures found in Chess, the 'Great King's Game' provided players with thirty pieces and fourteen different types of movement, all of which are depicted on the game board whose graphical representation shifts away from the traditional square and into varied configurations depending on the number of players engaged.

Weickmann's 'game' was not altogether a novel epiphany, as previous work by Augustus the Younger (penned under his pseudonym Gustavus Selenus), published in 1616, described the play of chess as an informative activity that could advise King's of the 17th century on issues of governance and military affairs.  However, Weickmann's game differed from Selenus' work in several important respects.  Not only were there more pieces and extensions/alterations of the traditional Chessboard, but there was also an elaboration of represented roles for the pieces (the Marshall, the Chancellor, the Soldier, among others) that mimicked the, then, growing presence of a professional service class among the courts of Europe.  Even though Weickmann, who dedicated his game to Augustus, clearly was influenced by the nobleman's idea that chess could inform real life situations, he brought more immediacy and realization of this idea through lengthy 'justifications' of his design, sourced in contemporary and ancient observations, in addition to providing rule mechanics that allowed pieces to become promoted via capture of an enemy figure.
Various pieces found in Weickmann's game
On face, these differences amounted to a more complicated version of chess.  But the intent of the game reveals a deeper level to this novel amalgamation of (then) contemporary modernity.  Weickmann stated in his written manuals that, "through this game a high-ranking person could thus investigate and interrogate all distinguished officials' temperaments easily and without any effort, which cannot happen so easily."  Playing the 'Great King's Game' could inform more than strategic considerations- it could reveal, to the careful observer, the personal workings and mettle of a potential candidate for service in the name of the King.  As von Hilgers notes, this mirrored the reality facing rulers just after the Thirty Years War, when absolutism began its inevitable decline and more egalitarian models of representation and governance came to the fore.  The rise of a civil service, or at least a professional middle class, brought potentially untested and unknown (read: non-noble) candidates to greater positions of power.  It was therefore a pressing need which Weickmann's game served to address; with psychological techniques only nascent in their development, the board game remained one of the few constructs capable of both time compression and augmented knowledge production relevant to the lived experience.  

At a stroke, the 'Great King's Game' surmounted the previous difficulties of dualist designs and brought the ludic experience of play to the level of de jure augmentation.  One didn't play with complete abstraction, because the pieces involved found a basis in the lived experience of Weickmann's surroundings.  Rules of play weren't arbitrary, because they were based on an empirical data set that, at least, provided a reasonable justification for how the game should operate and the standards of verisimilitude it's results should produce.  The ludic experience of play was not ephemeral or tangential; it was indicative of a trend, moving forward, that found games providing clear, informative linkages to the real.  Playing the 'Great King's Game' didn't make a more skilled and cunning player, it made the player a more skilled and cunning observer of the social and political questions then in vogue.  Playing the game both filled and drew upon the epistemic reservoir created by its de jure augmented presence.  Whereas one would previously need years of evaluation to determine the worth of an individual, here a potential candidate could be screened and evaluated through a construct that compressed those once required years into a few hours or days.

Despite all the advantages Weickmann's game presented, it still could not be classified as a de facto knowledge producer.  Social norms related to conceptions of sovereign power and the still pervasive influence of landed nobility, even in an era where new governmental configurations were debated, prohibited the game from truly intermeshing with the surrounding reality of its operation.  There is also the question of its form; a two volume, one-off print could hardly spread beyond the limited locale of its production.  Thus, from a social and constructural standpoint, the 'Great King's Game' might have been an amusing, if not useful, toy for those in power, but it could not meaningfully present challenges or critiques to the system it was designed to inform.

Although Weickmann's game could not be called a resounding success, the design ideas and gameplay having never caught on, it did provide fertile ground for Enlightenment precepts then emerging in Europe.  Combining several emerging knowledge fields- statistics, military science, psychology- the game could easily be seen as a prime exemplar of the new potentials these advances would collectively make.  The rationality behind it's operation, that 'baroque prolixity' which promised verification in addition to evaluative capacity, demonstrated that such abstract reasoning could build towards a greater understanding of the present and potentiality of the future.  It is here- in the birth of the augmented board game- that the seeds of conflict between Baroque and Enlightenment ideals, the battle between Grace and the Word, were sown.  For while games opened the door for rational evaluation, they did so at the mistaken cost of believing in the supremacy of written sources and the progressive spirit of the age.  Mechanistic operations governing the whole of reality were assumed to be perfectly rational and perfectly understandable, thus giving Weickmann an unparalleled confidence in the predictive nature of his game even while the baroque understanding and perspective offered in its design hinted towards an understanding that went against the grain of rationality.  

Leibniz begin to uncover this ideal through his work on probability and elaboration of the monad, yet it would take an additional two hundred years before authors like Herman Hesse and Robert Coover could demonstrate a way for games to escape this de jure designation and enter into full blown de facto augmented knowledge production.  Of course, while Weickmann's game didn't take hold in social spheres, the fact that a board game could play with discreet units of time and produce augmented knowledge found greater acceptance for militaristic affairs.  In the next portion of this essay, The Limits of Dualism, I will explore the implications for military assimilation of augmented board game knowledge while also pondering the ultimate failure of Enlightenment based dualist assumptions found at the heart of Schorske's Austrian aesthetic conflict found in 'Grace and the Word.'