Sunday, November 21
resistance & futility
Google has what appears to be a scholarly article / citation engine up.
I fed it "bearnes" and got a citation for my dad's master's thesis: "Factors in and feasibility of interest rate hedging by farmers" (TG Bearnes, Kansas State University, 1984).
This morning I was messing around in my room and found a stack of index cards from a history class I had a while back. They came from a brief flirtation with actually re-reading my notes. I remember clearing all the junk off my bed and laying out dozens of cards with labels like "Theodore Roosevelt" in an effort to map what I knew about the Progressive Era.
It didn't really work very well, because most kinds of hypertext don't map to a physical space very gracefully, and those were pretty much the terms I was thinking in: All these sort of discrete ideas/objects at different levels of organization (World War I, Teapot Dome, Muckraking), linked to all the other appropriate objects. Doing this on paper, it's easy to build chains of ideas by laying cards next to one another, but much harder to make a map of all the relationships you want to show.
So I was thinking about this, and I came up with a game. Let's call it Brennen's Card Game of History, or something like that. The basic idea is that you have a big, fat stack of index cards, each containing the name of an idea. For the purposes of this game, "idea" is fairly inclusive. People, places, historical periods, dates, ideologies, formulas, and physical objects are all acceptable. Ideally, each player will contribute cards to the stack.
The cards are shuffled, and all players are dealt a fixed number of cards. Two cards from the remainder of the deck are then turned face up on the table, and the players attempt to build a coherent chain of ideas between them. Branching might be allowed in some circumstances, but in general every card played has to connect to the end of one of the two existing sequences - blocking is thus possible. The winner of the game is the player holding the fewest cards when the chain is completed. Any given connection between two ideas can be challenged, with the burden of proof on the player laying the card (encyclopedias and Google come in here), but the challenging player is penalized if the connection holds up.
I'm not really sure about the game mechanics; a lot of stuff would definitely need to be roughed out in-play. One thought I have is that probably you should be able (or required) to introduce new cards as the game progresses. For example, if player one lays "1950s American Popular Culture" and player two lays "Jazz", a third card might be created reading "Jazz in 1950s American Popular Culture".
I wonder if it would be possible to come up with a set of constraints that would make competitive gameplay possible, or if some kind of third party Game Master figure would be needed to referee. Maybe the game would begin with a die roll determining the kinds of allowable relationships between ideas - for example, Causation, Sequence, or Classification. Alternatively, maybe this could be redesigned as a cooperative game of sorts - but then, where's the fun in non-zero-sum games, really?