Origins of the HipBone Games


This piece describes how the HipBone Games came into existence at the confluence of Hesse's novel, Gabrielle Rico's "clustering" technique for brainstorming, graph theory in mathematics, a mystical diagram used in the Jewish meditative tradition of Kabbalah and so forth...

Charles Cameron



My friend Walter Logeman recently asked me a question about "intellectual property" and the HipBone Games, and in attempting to answer him I found I needed to begin by laying out a sort of "family tree" which would show where the games emerged from, or more precisely what strands I could easily identify that fed into their development into their present form. Writing this piece propelled me back into my own sense of indebtedness, and also into an exploration of the ways in which an idea paradoxically can -- and can never -- be "original".

In any case here we go... Here's my shot at the HipBone Games family tree.

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I think you could say the HipBone Games are an "idea", and that five "parent" strands went into the formulation of that idea -- one "proposing" strand and four "responding" strands.
 

Proposal: The Glass Bead Game strand

First and foremost, Hermann Hesse wrote his novel Das Glasperlenspiel, and described therein the possibility of composing a sort of music in which "ideas" rather than "melodies" would be harmonized or counterpointed. I found this to be an immensely rich idea, and have carried it with me as a sort of yearning ever since I first read the book: to compose such a music...

That's my context, that's the "proposing" strand in all this, the situation I want to come to grips with, the yearning that my HipBone Games were originally devised to fill...
 

Responses: the four contributing strands

Then there are four other strands which come together to "respond" to that perceived need, and which taken together make up my own notion of how to devise and "play" such a music.

Gabrielle Rico's clustering

The first is Gabrielle Rico's notion of clustering. Basically, Rico proposes that we can encourage the process of problem solving by writing the name of a problem in a little balloon and then throwing out other ideas, which we then "cluster" in their own little balloons around the original idea. Suppose my wife Annie is the "problem". "Annie", we write in the first balloon, and then "birthday", and maybe going off from birthday on little trails of their own "not a poem" "something practical" and attached to that "vacuum cleaner?" and "film music for dance classes?" and so on -- and "vacuum cleaner" gets crossed off because we got the old one repaired, or bought a new one a month before her birthday, or whatever. And from the original "Annie" there's a whole other set of links about "time" "internet" "regular meals as a family" and so on, and maybe two other whole sets of links about something else completely.

What's important for me here is that the exercise of linking ideas in circles by lines between them both provokes and maps the associative impulse, which lies at the heart of creativity. The fact that you're looking to add more balloons to the page sends you back again and again to find more ideas, different ideas, ideas that view the original topic from different angles.

That's Gabrielle Rico's idea, and she's published it, it's called "clustering" -- and it's something that many people did in an informal way, doodling on a notepad while talking on the phone or whatever, before she published it -- but now it's something that can be taught and consciously practiced...

Jewish Kabballah

The second strand of my personal "mix" comes from the Jewish Kabballah. I noticed that the Sephirotic Tree, the central symbol of Kabballistic meditation, is a pre-existing system of circles and lines between them to represent the emanations or virtues of the unspeakable godhead pouring out from their source -- understanding and wisdom, severity and mercy, and so forth -- down to "The Kingdom" which is this world we live in. It's like a diagram of a waterfall or fountain, but this is the "spiritfall" from the divine unity to the world of matter and form and diversity.

I consider the Kabballah and the Tree of Life itself to be sacred "possessions" of the Jewish faith, and I would consider it offensive to say that I "borrowed" the Tree for the purposes of my game, but I saw in the geometric form and design of the Tree a possible structure which was akin to a Rico clustering, but with the difference that its structure was preset -- and I realized that if you did a Rico-style clustering exercise in a preset board, the constraints of the board itself would force a further and deeper level of linkages between ideas: because you would be required to find ideas that linked not just to one other idea, but perhaps to three or four.

So my first board games were played using the geometric form drawn from the Kabballistic Tree -- though I was at paints to say, not the Tree itself -- as a predetermined geometry of Rico-like balloons into which ideas could be placed.

All the HipBone boards that have been developed since then have, like the Sephirotic Tree, been examples of what mathematicians call "graphs" -- "nodes" to which meanings are assigned, and "lines" between the nodes which correspond to associations, parallels and oppositions between these meanings.

Poetry and tight structure

The third strand comes from poetry, and has to do with the idea that a "tight" structured form such as the villanelle or sonnet, far from subverting free expression or passion, in fact gives them a channel or a vehicle and so enhances them. I think here of Dylan Thomas' poem "Do Not Go Gentle", which utilizes the extremely strict form of the villanelle to convey the extraordinary passion of his final address to his dying father. The form itself is so strict that almost all the villanelles I have ever seen appear to be no more than trite five-finger exercises: but when so much passion finally manages to make its way through such a tight form, it's impact is far, far greater than the same passion expressed, say, in prose, or in free verse.

That's a sense I bring to the world from my own working experience as a poet, and it tells me that a "tight" form enhances expression, that constraint is freedom, that passion and control work together, inspiration and craft, and more generally that the marriage of head and heart is stronger and richer and deeper than either head or heart on its own. I "borrowed" this insight, if you like, from the traditions of the English poets, and saw that the "tight" structure of the geometry of the Kabbalistic Tree could function like a villanelle form for a Rico-like clustering of ideas.

So there you have the original insight that's embedded at the heart of the HipBone Games: use a predesigned board which is composed of circles and lines joining them, and place "ideas" in the circles under the constraint that linked positions on the board must contain linked ideas -- that the linkages between the ideas should be homologous with the linkages between positions on the board.

It's that simple: and Gabrielle Rico's "prose" clustering becomes a HipBone "poetry" of ideas.

The medium: the World Wide Web

But there's one last strand to be woven in here, and it has to do with presentation, and with Hesse's notion that the music of ideas should contain "melodies" that take the form of musical, textual, visual and numerical ideas. With the advent of the world wide web, we at last have a "paper" on which all these forms of expression -- musical, textual, visual and numerical -- can be simultaneously inscribed: and it thus becomes possible to notate a "music of ideas" containing elements drawn from each and all of them in one place.

The HipBone Game, then, drawing on Rico's clustering as the basic means of juxtaposing and linking ideas, and concentrating and focusing it within the constraints of a preset board in accordance with the poetics of constraint, can now be presented with musics, texts, images or equations intact, sound clips and visual files, swatches of text and mathematics all accessible at the click of the mouse on whatever position they are named to.

We don't yet have a game up on the web with .gifs and streaming audio and text and number together that shows this fully developed "form" of a HipBone Game, but that's what's I'm intending -- for now, the naming of the ideas must substitute. But that's only because I haven't yet found a way to access, say, a recording of the Bach Passacaglia without infringing copyright, and am not yet entirely happy with the present state of streaming audio in view of modem speeds and bandwidth problems. And in any case, the mind can intuit what the web can't quite yet deliver.

So these four strands, not one of them original to me, come together under the spell of Hesse's idea to constitute a way of playing the Glass Bead Game. That's what the HipBone Games are all about, and that's the way in which they are both original and derivative.
 

The crowning glory: meditation

Finally, there's a sort of crown to all the above which I sum up in the word "stereophany". It's basically a meditation technique, and as such it "fits" with Hesse's Castalian Game, in which meditation was a key element.

Stereophany

This is the specific meditation technique which my games imply, and it arises from the fact that in making links between similar ("homologous") ideas, we are holding two ideas in the mind at the same time. It seems to me that this can lead to something very much akin to the effect you get from stereophonic sound or stereoscopic vision. And that in turn is different from the way we usually process things or ideas which we perceive as similar.

The usual strategy is to abstract the similarities, so that the two instances which are being compared are stripped of their individualities and completeness. Instead of my passionately skillful and physical ballerina wife Annie, really a terrific athlete, whose mind nevertheless astounds me by pouring out vampire tales with intricate plots, a fascinating and bizarre cast of characters and some incisive social commentary -- her son Michael who despite being strongly autistic comes up with the idea of spelling the double-m of "mommy" with an M&Ms candy wrapper -- our son Emlyn who is trying to insist I eat a golfball as I write this -- and myself, a poet and glass bead game designer -- we have just "our family", and when juxtaposed with "your family" we have "families", and when further juxtaposed we get "people" -- and in the process all individuality and specificity is lost.

By contrast, stereophonic vision, stereoscopic hearing -- and, I believe, what I am calling stereophanic meditation -- join things without abstracting from their detail, so that two become a one which contains both in their fullness -- which is more, rather than less, than both, and which adds a further dimension of "depth".

That's the meditative effect that I call "stereophany", and I present it as a further contribution of my games, in this case to the western tradition of meditation and contemplation.

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So there, from my point of view, is the essential "family tree" of the HipBone Games... I believe that any understanding of "intellectual property rights" has to start with some kind of appraisal of this sort.

My thanks to Walter Logeman for spurring this act of filial piety on my part.


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HipBone Games rules, boards, sample games and other materials are copyright © Charles Cameron 1995, 96, 97. See Concerning Copyright for full copyright details.