Session 5: Classifying Games – University of Copenhagen

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Session 5: Classifying Games

Murray's Classification of Board Games

Thu 18 May, 13:30 - 14:00 (KUA3, Room 4A.0.69)

Dr Ulrich Schädler
Director of the Swiss Museum of Games, La Tour-de-Peilz, Switzerland

Classification has been and is a continuous concern in the study of games. But it seems to me that classification of board games is more often used in a mere practical way in order to devise a book into chapters or to create an order in a collection or exhibition. Only rarely have attempts been made to approach classification as a scientific method, which is used in different disciplines with the aim to posit a thesis or to answer  specific questions. One very influential classification of board games has been proposed by Harold J. R. Murray. In A History of Chess (Oxford 1913: 31) Murray defined three groups of board games, namely race games, hunt or siege games and war games. In favour of this classification he argued that it was due "to the universality of the activities which the games symbolize". This view was opposed to Stewart Culin's, who was of the opinion that games were "based upon certain fundamental conceptions of the universe" (Korean Games, Philadelphia 1895, xviii). Murray, however, did not add further explanation as to the origin of his classification nor the scientific background of his statement. Nearly four decades later in A History of Board Games other than Chess (Oxford 1952: 4-5) Murray altered and improved his system by adding two new classes, i.e. games of configuration and alinement and mancala games. He based his now fivefold classification on the "anthropological" assumption "that games are typical of early activities and occupations of man – the battle, the siege or hunt, the race, alignment, arrangement, and counting" (ibid.: 4). As before, Murray did neither explain nor discuss his new classification.

The paper tries to examine the question of where Murray's ideas came from. Murray himself hinted to 19th century anthropologists such as Alfred C. Haddon, Edward B. Tylor and the German philosopher and psychologist Karl Groos. So we shall examine their theories and their relationship to Murray's classification in order to criticize the continuous use of it, despite its obvious lack of a scientific basis.

Ulrich Schädler, PhD, DPhil.; studies in Architecture (Technical University Darmstadt), Greek & Roman Archaeology, Prehistory and Ancient History at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt, Germany, and Università "La Sapienza", Rome, Italy. Director of the Swiss Museum of Games at La Tour-de-Peilz and lecturer at the University of Fribourg (Greek & Roman Archaeology). Co-editor (together with Rainer Buland) of Ludographie – Spiel und Spiele.

Current research projects
A Survey of the Roman and Byzantine Games in Ancient Ephesus (conducted with the support of the Austrian Archaeological Institute, Vienna).

Veni Vidi Ludique ( Toys and Games of Ancient Greece and Rome (together with Véronique Dasen, University of Fribourg).

Select Publications
"Prekäre Ordnung: «Kriegsspiel» -- Panoramablick auf ein schwieriges Kompositum" in E. Strohal (ed.) Agon und Ares. Der Krieg und die Spiele. Campus Verlag Frankfurt 2016, pp. 23-44.

"Une brève histoire du Mahjong" in J. Genovese (ed.) Mahjong – le jeu. Ed. Picquier Musée Suisse du Jeu 2015, pp. 9-30.

"Das Spiel der Engländer. Backgammon im Ms Royal 13 A 18" in Matthias Teichert (ed.) Sport und Spiel bei den Germanen. Nordeuropa von der römischen Kaiserzeit bis zum Mittelalter. Berlin 2013, pp. 109-162.

Jeux et Jouets gréco-romains. Archéothéma no. 31, nov-dec. 2013 (ed. with V. Dasen).
"Jouer par terre" in Art du jeu, jeu dans l'art. Catalogue de l'exposition au Musée de Cluny. RMN-Grand Palais 2012, pp. 20-23.

"Games Greek and Roman" in The Encyclopedia of Ancient History. First Edition. Edited by Roger S. Bagnall et al. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2012, pp. 2841-2844.

Dexterity: Between Choice and Randomness

Thu 18 May, 14:00 - 14:30 (KUA3, Room 4A.0.69)

Dr David King
Acting Course Leader for MA Games Design, London College of Communication, UK

In table-top games, players are provided with choices and random events. It is these divergent moments in a game, which allow the game's possibility space to be explored. The game responds to the players and the players to the game. Dexterity, where the physical skill of the player is judged, lies between these two aspects. The player chooses to take certain movements with their bodies but the outcomes are uncertain. Depending on the skill of the player and the difficulty of the task, success can lie anywhere between simple and improbable. Just as a player can get better at making the correct choices, a player can improve their dexterity over time. This improvement in player skill moves them away from randomness and closer to choice.

Where simulation in games seek to represent skill through varying statistics and randomness, something that is most commonly seen in table-top role-playing games (Dungeons and Dragons), games of dexterity can either create games where one skill is abstracted for another (Subbuteo, Flick-em Up, Catacombs) or games which purely exist for their own sake (Jenga, Twister). It is in this first set of abstracted skill games that we can seek some meaning of narrative play.

David King is the Acting Course Leader for MA Games Design at London College of Communication. His research focuses on the methods games use to communicate mechanics and systems to the player, be this a breakdown of rules for board games or systems of state transitions and feedback in digital games. As a designer, David aims for small elegant systems that create an emergent sense of playfulness between objects, people and themselves. As an indie developer, he experiments in a broad range of mediums – looking at board games, digital games, games as installations and pen and paper role-play.