Session 3: Games Beyond Play – University of Copenhagen

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Session 3: Games Beyond Play

Does Senet Still Exist? The Ontology of a Game without Rules

Wed 17 May, 15:30 - 16:00 (KUA3, Room 4A.0.69)

Dr Espen Aarseth
Professor of Game Studies, IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark

The ancient game of Senet, found in Egyptian tombs from about 3000 B.C. (Kendall 1978), presents an interesting ludo-philological challenge: the rules are not known, only the board, pieces, and a few depictions of its use. Several rule-sets have been invented in recent times, but in what sense can the game itself be said to have survived? Or has it been lost? For the game scholar, the question    becomes, is it possible to study a game without its rules? The paper investigates methodological and existential aspects of researching a game without rules, using modern game ontology (Aarseth and Calleja 2015) and meta-ontology (Grabarczyk and Aarseth 2015), to answer the question: In which sense is Senet a game that still exists?

Aarseth, E. & Calleja, G. (2015). "The Word Game: The ontology of an undefinable object" in Proceedings of the FDG.

Grabarczyk, P. & E. Aarseth (2015). "Sustainable game ontologies: How to build an ontology that does not fall apart two days later", paper presented at the 2015 CEEGS conference, Krakow.

Kendall, T. (1978). Passing Through the Netherworld: The Meaning and Play of Senet an Ancient Egyptian Funerary Game. Kirk Game Company.

Espen Aarseth is head of the Center for Computer Games Research and professor of game studies at the IT University of Copenhagen, where he has worked since 2003. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of Game Studies, the oldest peer reviewed journal in the field. His current research concerns ideological, narrative, semiotic and ontological aspects of games and game communication, as well as topics such as game addiction, games and meaning, and digital literature, culture and aesthetics. Aarseth is also an ERC Advanced Grant laureate with the project MSG: Making Sense of Games (2016-21).

Hainhofer at Play: The Games of an Art Cabinet

Wed 17 May, 16:00 - 16:30 (KUA3, Room 4A.0.69)

Greger Sundin
PhD Candidate, Uppsala University, Sweden

Games were important to the Augsburg art agent Philipp Hainhofer (1578-1647), and this ludic category was included in most of his art cabinets. It offered amusement (Kurzweil) as part of an overall ambition for the cabinets to be of service and use (nutzen vnd dienst). Board games, dice, packs of cards, games of both chance and skill represented many of the various game types of its day, while constituting a material taxonomy of games. The encyclopaedic ambition of a Kunstkammer is apparent, and games provide an insight to courtly practices of the early modern period. With focus on the collections in the Gustavus Adolphus' Kunstschrank (1625-1631) and the Pommerschen Kunstschrank (1610-1615), this paper will address the material culture of games in the Hainhofer cabinets. What does a close study of the objects reveal? Were they merely representations of games or, rather, actively played?

Greger Sundin is a PhD candidate at the Department of Art History at Uppsala University, Sweden, after previously being a curator for old master paintings and applied arts at Uppsala Auktionskammare for fourteen years. His forthcoming doctoral thesis has the title A matter of amusement – The material culture of games and pastimes in European princely collections 1550-1750, and while being inspired by the relatively large quantity of games in the Hainhofer art cabinet in Uppsala, the category is represented in most early modern collections in Europe.

Game Over: The End of Three Decades of Research on the Game of Chaupad

Wed 17 May, 16:30 - 17:00 (KUA3, Room 4A.0.69)

Ute L. Rettberg
Diplomat, Gallerist, Indologist (retired), University of Bonn, Germany

Heinz Westphal suggested already in 1974 to look into children's game for understanding old forms of living in North-West India. The first Mughal Emperor Babur tells us in his diary Babur Nama that in India everything is different; not only the landscape, the climate, the people ... and when we then furthermore read in Harry Falk's habil-thesis that the ancient Indian game is based on the principle of losing the game and not on winning it, then a western researcher of games can be frustrated, if he is not acquainted with the Indian way of thinking, its habits and beliefs.

Leaving written examples of gaming like the Mahabharata and others aside, the living traditions have been an exciting field to explore during Indian marriages and their preparations, and also to find the name of a god without who's help nothing is started, nothing is functioning, in India. Ganesha, the god with an elephant's head, initiates all the preparations and festivities of Indian marriages, during which the bridal couple has a godlike status and the game of chaupad is/was played at different stages.

Ganesha has to begin "the playing of the game". And he has to share the importance of playing the game with Krishna, the avatar of Vishnu. In the temple of Shrinathji at Nathadwara, Chaupad is played with the most precious utensils to amuse the god at different times. The most famous and also the last Mahotsva (festival) was held in 1908-09 in Nathadwara, where the three idols of Shrinathji, Dwarkadishji of Kankaroli and Mathureshji of Kota were united in the temple for a one-year-long festival.

Outside the temples, nothing is known about the Chaupad game anymore; nobody plays it, though the Rajputs at least have one in their house – as a kind of charm of good luck. The last use of the game during a royal wedding (7/2010-3/2011) was – strangely enough – in the temple at the end of all the ceremonies.

Chaupad was never invented as a pastime-game, it was never a children's game, it was never played for amusement; one set of the game just had to be in the house. It was never lend to a neighbour or friend and it was never borrowed from them. And there are many other aspects to be observed.

Now the game, once played in palaces and huts alike, is replaced by computer games and can only be found in the temples of Rajasthan and very traditional Rajput families.

1958: Abitur.
1959-62: Studied (law) and trained for the Foreign Service of the Federal Republic of Germany.
1962-68: Served my country at the Embassy in Tokyo and the Consulate General in Bombay (now Mumbai).
1966: Married Rolf Rettberg.
1973-82: Founder and director of SURYA Gallery for Modern Indan Art at Freinsheim.
1974: Stateguest of the Government of India for six weeks.
1984-92: Studied Indian Art History, Indology and Comparative Religions at the universities of Heidelberg and Bonn.
Until today regular and long travels to India.

Select Publications
Amulette und apotropäische Zeichen in Rajasthan und angrenzenden Gebieten. MA thesis. Rheinische-Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn, 1991.

"Bhavnagar State Historical Cards: New Finds" in The Playing-Card. Journal of the International Playing-Card Society, North Walsham, U.K., Vol. 36, No.2, 2007.

"Das Chaupadspiel in Indien" in Das Schach und seine asiatischen Verwandten: Ausstellungskatalog des Museums für Völkerkunde Dresden. 2008.