About Words on Play

Many centuries ago, in a country whose borders are now lost to history, there reigned a council of wise scholars – women and men dedicated to the art of play and the design of games. The Ludarchy, as they were called, were thinkers and creators without equal in the world then or since. The populace spent their days in happiness, as both their work and their leisure were activities of cunningly crafted play, at once frivolous and profound.

The people’s joy, however, aroused the enmity of their neighbours, who disapproved of their levity and envied their joy. They conspired to invade the country and destroy the Ludarchy. It’s members were killed, imprisoned or driven into exile. A brutal regime of censorship was put in place, in which only the most superficial discussion of games were allowed and play was reduced to a nursery activity, unfit for adults whose lives were to be serious, earnest and dull.

The Great Library of games was burned to the ground and many great works were lost forever. Our games today are but pale imitation of those forgotten works. All scholarly enquiry into games was also forbidden under penalty of death. The few state-sanctioned publications that were allowed were childish and shallow. Those who spoke out were persecuted.

But the Fount of Play cannot be stopped. The remaining members of the Ludarchy went underground, meeting in dark basements and dusty corners of bookstores to talk and play. Over time more citizens flocked to their side, and they realised they needed a way to communicate their ideas more widely without drawing the attention of the oppressors. A scheme was devised, a game if you like, called the Secret Books of Game Design. The Ludarchy would continue to write about games and publish their insights, but the books would be written in an elaborate code to hide their meaning from the ignorant.

It worked like this: each scholar chose another discipline, be it Architecture or Psychology, Cooking or Comics. Each wrote a book, apparently addressed to that field. These topics were innocent enough in the oppressors eyes and could be published freely. However each book contained a wealth of insight about games, carefully disguised but accessible to those who read with their eyes open.

The Ludarchy continue their work today, in exile all around the world, while their oppressors are blissfully ignorant of the sport that is made at their expense. In this blog, I dare to risk revealing some of their writings, to help open the eyes of a new generation. And so I present the Secret Books of Game Design. Read and be enlightened.


Malcolm Ryan is a lecturer and researcher in the School of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of NSW in Australia.

Published on July 21, 2008 at 6:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

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