Glass Bead Game

The GlassBeadGame or MagisterLudi or DasGlasperlenspiel? is a (Nobel prize winning) novel by HermannHesse. It is also the key image in that novel: a game played by associating ideas around which an entire society is built.

A prototypical arrangement (made with just a few lines of code in VisualPython). Lit nodes indicate current activity. These nodes are random, but in an actual Game, Players "string" nodes together forming "attractors" in a SelfOrganizing system. Actual game rules (from an undisclosed German author) can be found. But skip to "RULES" below.

"Setting his story in the distant, post-Holocaust future, Hesse tells of an elite cult of intellectuals occupying themselves with an elaborate game that employs all the cultural and scientific knowledge of the ages. The most imaginative and prophetic of Hesse's works."

Paperback: ISBN 080501246X ; Hardback: ISBN 084466524X

Just a quibble: Nobel prizes in literature are not awarded for or to books, rather to authors for a body of work.

And there's "Hermann Hesse's Futuristic Idealism. the Glass Bead Game and Its Predecessors (European University Papers. Series 1: German Language and Literature)" by Roger Norton ISBN 3261008563

See also: The Glass Bead Game Wiki and a portal


The Glass Bead Game is an immense PhysicsOfInformation, representing the gamut of humanity's knowledge and its on-going, perpetual relationship to the social sphere - embodying an EpistemicsOfQuantity.

Here is a translated version using wiki:

1) Each wiki page represents a bead. If the wiki were WhatItWantsToBe, user pages/beads would tend towards roundedness, while idea (or "concept") beads would have corners. (AskYourself?: is the web itself, with its square screen, a bunch of beads?)

2) A bead can be voted up or down (ex. ThumbsUp). As they are voted up, the bead gets bigger by a one unit (voted down, smaller). VisualizeTheWiki.

3) Beads can be WikiLinked together to form associations with force proportional to number of links. This forms clustering. Note this force is not equal in both directions, because it gets multiplied by the CreatorAsOwner's UserRanking.

4) Beads can be clasped together and contained, forming groups (add a CategoryWikiTag) or broken into smaller beads (by AddingNewPages).

These are the three primary actions on the beads (voting, linking, and grouping). You'll see that wiki already embodies much of these rules naturally, which is likely why it is so powerful. But, you can't have the GBG without a ThreeDimensionalVisualizationModel.

(Spoiler: With just these simple rules, there's a SelfOrganizing dynamic that tends to create constellations of linked content, orbiting around a center of authority.)

What is a bead then? It is a little universe of its own. One can enter a bead, and view its contents: a movie, a stub of an article, etc. A little pice of life inside the bead. But what really blows up the universe is when the bead contains a game playing within it. Hesse himself in The GBG refers to the limits of intellect and language. The Music Master advises Knecht where to seek truth: The deity is within you, not in ideas and books. Truth is lived, not taught.

The key element, however, not discussed much in the book, is how the beads relate to the RealWorld. The Internet has unconsciously implemented part of it, with the wiki going further. Help me implement it in its totality with a UnifiedDataModel.

As the book says in the Introduction: "reproducing in the Game ... the entire intellectual content of the universe". For the complete ruleset for the Game see PangaiaWorldGame.

A GBG theorist describes these following six 'pillars' of the Game:

  1. Connection -- connect ideas (link, list, categorize)
  2. Analogy -- relate ideas by likeness
  3. Contemplation -- contemplate ideas and their relationships
  4. Formalism -- rules of play and constraints; a formal, quasi-mathematical game language
  5. Iconicity -- compress ideas in glyphs, symbols, art
  6. Syncretism -- depth, permanance (How well it can be shown that the symbols of the game are rooted in world culture, concrete reality or social accretions; not contrived ad hoc.)
    • Furthermore, it should grow along with and complement the everyday unrepresented RealWorld.

Inspiration drawn from ... ReMused?

While speaking to RichardDrake in the pub the other night, I was reminded of the GBG and some attempts to run games over the web.

There are in the US a number of people who want to play the GlassBeadGame. They have a couple of mailing lists (one of which I used to contribute to quite frequently, before Wiki consumed my soul ;). A couple of years back, I went to the States for the express purpose of meeting some of these people, interesting folk.

Some of these people have devised various GBG sets ("set" as in snakes-and-ladders set), to enable people to approximate the game. In Hesse's novel, the game is highly ritualised and has an invented formal language associated with it. Some of the realised games follow this route. One is like a card game, one is a board game, see and one is highly formalised, see

There were for a while a few attempts to use the web as a medium for game playing: a "move" would be a URL, more or less, but I don't remember any of them being successful, I believe because there was too much bureaucracy involved in submitting a move to a moderator and so on. However, when discussing the open nature of Wiki and its relatives (and some of the responses to that openness we had seen) with Richard I realised that a Wiki may well be the ideal electronic medium for a GBG, and that, unintentionally, the WikiWikiWeb is the closest thing to a GlassBeadGame, in function and spirit, (albeit focussed on a particular domain) I have yet seen. -- KeithBraithwaite

See "Little Manual for Players of the Glass Bead Game: The Way of Visual Contemplation" by George Pennington ISBN 0906540305

I have read that Hesse was quite annoyed that people would ask him how they could play the GlassBeadGame. -- RobertField

No doubt. That's like asking LewisCarroll where the rabbit hole is. While I liked all the GBGers I met in the states, and while their many games were interesting and worth-while as games, I did at the back of my mind have the feeling that somehow they just didn't get it (not that I would claim to). -- KeithBraithwaite

Hi Keith! Good to read you again. -- HipBone. Hi Charles, its good to be read by you again. How did you find your way to the Wiki? I'm participating in a seminar on knowledge management as part of Howard Rheingold's "brainstorms" online community, the topic of the GBG came up, and someone on "our" wiki mentioned that there was a synchronous mention in "another" wiki, referencing this page. -- HipBone

Robert, I wrote a longish piece about this issue [fashioning playable variants after Hesse's Game] a while back, see Basically, Hesse (a) claimed to have played the game himself, in an autobiographical poem, and (b) appears to have derived it from a game (a physical game, in a box, with moving parts) devised by an artist friend of his called Max Bucherer. Neither of these facts leads me to suppose that we'll ever be able to play "Hesse's GBG" as such, but both encourage me to think devising playable variants is a worthwhile endeavor.

I also find it fascinating that ChristopherAlexander was writing about the need for a Glass Bead Game before the publication of "A PatternLanguage", and that JohnHolland is on record as saying that he hopes his life work (in genetic algorithms &c) will add up to a GBG... -- HipBone

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