“The Right Move” is a manifesto on abstract games as a form of art. For the moment it is only published in Dutch. In due time an English version will be available—at least, that is the plan. The text below is the preface. Under EXTRACTS you’ll find a few more translated parts.
RELEVANT AND TOPICAL
I design games since 1985, on a professional base since 1994. I design in particular abstract strategy games for two players. The motivation for designing this kind of games is my—still growing—believe that they represent a pinnacle of human excellence, integrating aesthetics, creativity, mathematics, and the essence of mindful play.
In 1995 I developed the concept for a series of six interconnected games, which I called ‘project GIPF’. Each of these games had to be playable in its own right, but, through the use of additional pieces, I also wanted to introduce a mechanism that would link them together. As I could not find a game publisher who was prepared to commit himself to this project, I had two options: either putting the project aside, or trying to realize it as an independent. It took me more than a year to come to the decision to found my own company, and another 10 years to release the complete project. And all the while I’ve had the same thought in the back of my mind: I’m a game designer, not a publisher; I should design games, not hold the wheel of a company.
While writing this manifesto, I often had a similar thought: I am a game designer, not a writer; I should work on new games, not write a manifesto. But I felt a growing urge to put my predilection for abstract games into writing since the struggle I had to make up my mind whether to publish project GIPF myself or not—actually, whether the project was going to exist or not. Back then I decided to publish the games of the project, this time I decided to write. I want more people to understand that abstract games are much more than just games.
Having said that I’m neither publisher nor a writer, I should add to that: nor am I an academic—not even a little bit. I know that which I have coincidentally experienced during the 30 years that I have been active as a game designer and player, and the nearly 10 years that I have been involved in publishing games. I never delved into the history of games or their societal, social or cultural importance, although it will become clear in the following pages that over the years I have started to expound some theories for myself. My knowledge exhibits many hiatuses; it is limited mainly to my own empiricism and the subjectively tinted interpretations of what I have heard and read.
Based on what has been said and written about my games, I have been led to believe that, as a designer of abstract strategy games for two players, I have gained a certain reputation. I don’t mean to underscore that this is a special achievement. I am very proud of my games, sure, but any notion of ‘reputation’ is predominantly a consequence of the current plight of abstract games. There are only a few passionate designers and small, independent entrepreneurs left who are still committed to abstract games in a fundamental and meticulous manner. The commonplace opinion is that this category of games is over and done with. For publishers they aren’t worth the candle any more, and consequentially neither for most game designers. Abstract games have been usurped and overtaken by modern trends, electronic games and, in particular, games with an easily digestable narrative theme.
I do not have the ambition of saving the world from an Armageddon – our society won’t collapse without abstract games – but games that are explicitely abstract embody significant cultural and artistic value. Their meaning, their relevance, their richness, their metaphysical beauty, their metaphorical power are of great interest and of direct importance to science in general and art in particular. On an abstract game board science and art converge. While sorting out what to do with black and white pieces on a geometrical pattern, two players are getting involved in a dynamic interplay of research and exploration, of competition and cooperation, becoming a ‘twoness’, a dialectic of minds. As I see it, this is a perfect illustration of an elementary, maybe even the ultimate facet of the human condition: recreational cognitive interaction.
That is why abstract games should not be confused with the oversupply that can be found in the average game and toy store; they represent something completely different. The creative and inventive impulses of mankind caused an evolutionary line that went far beyond whatever could have been imagined, yet what can be done with the simple rules of some of the classic abstract games remains unknown. It is a mathematical fact that in the course of playing a game like Chess or Go, one is confronted with more possible moves than there are atoms in the observable universe. That enigmatic given is what abstract games altogether represent. In scientific, artistic and any other respect, they deserve our attention.
I deem this work to be a personal statement. I did not find a solution for the decreasing interest in abstract games in the game world, so I asked myself: then where do they belong? As mentioned above, I see a strong relationship between the abstract strategy game and various forms of science and art. There is a lot of knowledge hidden in these games and genuine beauty to be discovered, in every facet of the word. That is what I want to expose. If, as a result of my love for these games, some of my arguments would verge towards a tendentious extrapolation of what the game world is and what it represents, I would like to request to judge mildly. I’m aware of it, nonetheless I, personally, consider it a justified counterweight. It will still be a far less biased impression than that which many people in game circles, and by extension nearly everywhere, meanwhile have formed of what abstract games are: relics from past generations. No, they are not! They are still relevant and topical. And what makes them so exceptional is: relevant and topical is what they will always remain.