Computer Gaming and Protocols of Improvisation

Glass Bead Game

"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 property--on all this immense body of intellectual values the Glass Bead Game player plays like an organist on an organ. And this organ has attained 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. These manuals, pedals and stops are now fixed. Changes in their number and order, and attempts at perfecting them, are actually no longer feasible except in theory." (Magister Ludi: The Glass Bead Game, Hermann Hesse)

Hermann Hesse, The Galss Bead Game

In his prescient 1943 novel, Hesse cautions those who would master the Glass Bead Game that the over-codification of the game--fixing the manuals, pedals and stops--would result in creative sterility. While there are obvious benefits to introducing protocols for the new hypermedia, allowing a space for unique and original expression within the navigable structures seems advisable.

Many of us have learned computing applications by the trial-and-error method. We recognize that the machine and its language impose certain, often considerable, constraints on our ability to communicate spontaneously. We have to learn the rules to play the game. However, even while learning these rules, we may be trying things that might work. We pursue the magic of "as if" and "what if." Well-designed software doesn't penalize us for improvising in this ad-hoc way. In fact, many make that exploratory activity central to the game. (Myst, Super Mario Bros.)