Session 8: Social Aspects – University of Copenhagen

Board Game Studies Colloquium XX > Program > Session 8: Social Aspects

Session 8: Social Aspects

Prehistoric Cypriot Games: Space, Status, and Social Complexity

Fri 19 May, 15:30 - 16:00 (KUA3, Room 4A.0.69)

Dr Walter Crist
Anthropologist, Arizona State University, US

The meaning of games is notoriously difficult to assess in prehistoric societies. Nevertheless, changes in gaming practices with relation to long-term social processes can give clues about the types of social meaning games held.

Bronze Age Cyprus has produced the largest number of archaeological game boards to date: over 400 in number. During this time period, Cyprus experienced the development of social hierarchies, which resulted in changes to the social fabric of society, most notably because of increasing social boundaries between individuals. In this study, I identified gaming spaces based on the presence of large immobile boards, boards fixed on architectural features, and clusters of boards for the same game in the same context. After tabulating the other artifacts found in those spaces, I performed correspondence analysis on the data to measure statistical difference between the contexts. The results showed that during periods with a lesser degree of social complexity, games were most frequently played in smaller, domestic contexts. During periods with more social complexity, people tended to play in public areas, likely in an attempt to engage with the social aspects of games and to build identities vis-à-vis stronger and more numerous social boundaries.

Walter Crist is a recent PhD in anthropology from Arizona State University. His research focuses on games in the Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern world.

Select Publications
Crist, Walter (2016) "Playing Spaces: Sociality of Games in Bronze Age Cyprus" in Bourogiannis, G. and C. Mühlenbock (eds.) Ancient Cyprus Today: Museum Collections and New Research. Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology and Literature PB 184. Åströms Förlag: Uppsala, pp. 261-72.

Crist, W., A. de Voogt & A-E. Dunn-Vaturi (2016a) "Facilitating interaction: Board games as social lubricants in the Ancient Near East" in Oxford Journal of Archaeology 35(2), pp. 179–96.

Crist, W., A-E. Dunn-Vaturi & A. de Voogt (2016b) Ancient Egyptians at Play: Board Games across Borders. London: Bloomsbury.

Mechanisms of Trust: Board Games as Models of Social Reliability in the Middle Ages

Fri 19 May, 16:00 - 16:30 (KUA3, Room 4A.0.69)

Michael A. Conrad
PhD Candidate, Institute of Art History, University of Zurich, Switzerland

Mundus iste totus est quasi quidam scaccarum. [1] – "This world is like a chess board" is a notion that also holds true for the world of social relations. Accordingly, the paper will discuss how board games were perceived as practical models of trust and for the establishment of it during the Middle Ages. [2] Trust is an essential precondition for encouraging (anonymous) people to meet at playing tables with the goal of interacting within agonal, and therefore conflictual, ludic frameworks. They can therefore serve as touchstones of trustworthiness, because of which ludic actions can be read as revelations of true identity. This naturally implies the opposite of creating mistrust through games, a property usually assigned to games of chance. The term "model" is applied consciously here, with the intention to stress the importance of pragmatism and materiality instead of concentrating on symbolisms and linguistics only. [3] Board games not only represent trust but create it practically. The analysed historical sources will include the Libro de los juegos by king Alfonso X, the Roman de la rose, the Ruodlieb, the Codex Manesse and Cessoli's treatise on chess.

[1] British Library, Ms. 12 E XXI, f. 103, a 15th-century copy of a writing by John of Wales (13th century).
[2] Model theorist Bernd Mahr writes that models usually include a double structure: they are models of something and for something, cf. e.g. Bernd Mahr: "Ein Modell des Modellseins" in Ulrich Dirks & Eberhard Knobloch (eds.) Modelle. Frankfurt/Main, 2008, pp. 187–218.
[3] Reinhard Wendler stresses the importance of materiality for the function of a model (Reinhard Wendler: Das Modell zwischen Kunst und Wissenschaft. Munich, 2013).

Michael A. Conrad worked as a research assistant for the research project Spielteufel, Ship of Fools, Danse Macabre – Figurations of Risk in the Middle Ages and Early Modernity (2012-2016) affiliated with the Collaborative Research Centre 980 "Episteme in Motion" at Freie Universität Berlin. His dissertation is associated with this project and focuses on the question of how, at the end of the 13th century, playing was understood as a practice to cope with uncertainty. Before, from 2010-2012, he had worked at the Centre for Media and Interactivity (ZMI) and had been a member of the International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture (GCSC), both affiliated with the Justus Liebig University Giessen. He graduated in theatre studies and philosophy with a thesis on self-photography as part of cultivating the self. Apart from his academic achievements, he also collected professional experience in other fields, such as at the German public television broadcaster ZDF, the publishing house Campus Verlag, as well as a book translator (last publication: Steven Barbone & Michael Bruce (eds.) Die 100 wichtigsten philosophischen Argumente, Darmstadt, 2012).

Select Publications
"Papierlose Notizen: Zum Gebrauch von Handyfotografie als Mnemotechnik des Alltags" [Paperless Notes: The use of mobile phone photography as an everyday mnemotechnology] in Henning Lobin, Regine Leitenstern, Katrin Lehnen & Jana Klawitter (eds.) Lesen, Schreiben, Erzählen. Kommunikative Erzähltechniken im digitalen Zeitalter. Frankfurt (Main); New York, 2013, pp. 83-106.

"Spiel – Handwerk: Die theatrica des Hugo von St. Viktor als Epistemologisierung ludischer Handlungen im 12. Jahrhundert" [Games and Crafts. Hugh of St Victor as epistemologization of ludic actions in the 12th century] in Milena Cairo, Moritz Hannemann, Ulrike Haß & Judith Schäfer (eds.) Episteme des Theaters. Aktuelle Kontexte von Wissenschaft, Kunst und Öffentlichkeit. Bielefeld, 2016 (transcript).

"Entscheidungsspuren: Ludische Interaktion als Quelle interrelationaler Ungewissheit im Spielebuch Alfons' X. (1283)" [Decision traces. Ludic interactions as sourced of interrelational uncertainty in the Book of Games by Alfonso X (1283/84)] (in preparation).

"Campaigning and Teaching. King Alfonso X's cultural program as an instrument of the Reconquista?" (in preparation for the proceedings of the project Mudejarismo and Moorish Revival in Europe. Transcultural exchanges between Muslims, Christians and Jews in the architecture of the Middle Age and Modern Times, headed by Prof. Dr. Francine Giese, University of Zurich, Switzerland.)

Playing S'Cianco (Tip-cat): A Traditional Street Game Reawakens the City of Verona

Fri 19 May, 16:30 - 17:00 (KUA3, Room 4A.0.69)

Francesca Berti
PhD Student, University of Tübingen, Germany

In Verona (Italy) at present, there are two tournaments with 20 teams of "S'Cianco", which is the local dialect name for a traditional street game, better known in Italian as "Lippa" and in English as "Tip-cat".

Fifteen years ago the game had almost disappeared. So why has it become so popular again today? And precisely what is attracting more and more adults, like those who played the game in their childhood, or who only heard about it from the stories told by their parents and grandparents, and even those who have no idea what playing S'Cianco is?

What's more, several players are foreigners, and there is even a team whose players all originally come from Sri Lanka. What makes them so curious about the game, and where does this desire to play in an otherwise very local setting come from?

Currently, I interview players, I collect their passionate voices, I observe them playing enthusiastically in tournaments, and I investigate the elements of this renewed and unusual form of socialization around an old game.

In particular, I try to understand how it all began: what was that original spark that rekindled the flame of a traditional game?

In fact, everything started "without any educational or commercial objectives – and this is still the case", so Paolo, one of the promoters who unintentionally revived the forgotten game.

On a long winter evening in a tavern in the centre of Verona, six friends, sitting around a table after a game of cards and a glass of wine, shared the idea of playing an old game again, just for the fun of it, but they needed to look for more players …

I am a PhD student (3rd year) at the University of Tübingen, Institute of Education Science, Unit of General Education. I obtained a combined Magister Degree in "Lettere Moderne" at the University of Verona in 2001 before completing a Master of Science in Development Studies at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies), University of London, in 2004.

I have been cultivating a passion for traditional games and handmade toys for more than fifteen years, leading various projects and workshops aimed at both adults and children. Within the framework of development education, my core interests relate to the use of traditional games and handmade toys as facilitators for understanding global inequalities, migrations and environmental issues. In fact, this forms the basis of my current PhD research.

I have been living in Tübingen since 2009, where I developed and led Das Interkulturelle Spielmobil of the Volkshochschule Tübingen (2012-2016). The project was recognized as "Best Practice Model" by the Ministry of Culture of Baden-Württemberg in 2013, and received the Tübingen Integration Award in 2014.

Since 2013, I have been working with the Associazione Giochi Antichi, and I take part in the organisation of the Tocati – International Festival of Street Games in Verona.

My PhD research (Current title: A "Shared Play Culture" – Traditional Games and Toys in Intercultural Education) intends to draw attention to the objects and artefacts proper of some categories of traditional games and toys from all over the world, such as spinning tops, marbles, bowls and skittles, balls, dice, boards and tokens, etc. I investigate their characteristics, draw comparisons and highlight similarities across geographical and temporal lines.

The possible use of these traditional games and toys as a tool for intercultural education is explored, assuming that – since they are generators of emotions and bearers of suggestions that belong to different sensory levels, such as experience, imagination and memory – they are a precious means for storytelling and cross-cultural communication. The aim of the research is to contribute to fostering an intercultural discourse based on similarities.