HipBone 02: Hesse’s Glass Bead Game

[ by Charles Cameron / the HipBone Games — for Hipbone 01 see here ]
The Glass Bead Game is a game in which the players build, quote by quote and link by link, an architecture – you might say a music – of ideas. For a book-lover with a taste for the fictional libraries of Jorge Luis Borges and Umberto Eco, that’s irresistible. For a music-lover with a taste for Bach, counterpoint and polyphony – the same.


Hesse envisioned the gradual building of virtual cathedrals, in which lofty ideas would be the columns and the links between them the arches; games of contest and collaboration in which concepts, melodies, images would be the pieces notated on the board; works of contrapuntal music in which the “melodies” might be “a theme from a Bach fugue, a phrase of Leibnitz or from the Upanishads”…

He writes:

All the insights, noble thoughts, and works of art that the human race has produced in its creative eras, all that subsequent periods of scholarly study have reduced to concepts and converted into intellectual values the Glass Bead Game player plays like the organist on an organ. And this organ has attained an almost unimaginable perfection; its manuals and pedals range over the entire intellectual cosmos; its stops are almost beyond number. Theoretically this instrument is capable of reproducing in the Game the entire intellectual content of the universe.

Some people find the idea of the GBG utterly compelling – it bores others to tears — and people as varied as the architect Christopher Alexander, the inventor of genetic algorithms John Holland and the Nobel laureate Manfred Eigen have sought in their different ways to bring it into reality…


I’ll introduce my own attempt at a playable version, and show you an example that deals directly with issues of game-play and narrative, in a final follow-up post.

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2 Responses to HipBone 02: Hesse’s Glass Bead Game

  1. Put me in the category of finding GBG utterly compelling. I first read it in 1996 and I thought, wow, THIS is what the connectedness of the Internet could bring us. Such a beautiful idea. I look forward to seeing your attempt!

  2. Pingback: HipBone 03: The HipBone Games | The New Digital Storytelling

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