Contraries 1.0 - Games - Blake

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Contraries Game 2.0

Images copyright c 2003 The William Blake Archive. This project is supported in part by a William Blake Archive Reproduction Grant for Graduate Students.

"Contraries Game 2.0" is a digitized "upgrade" of "Contraries Game 1.0", which is based on William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience. "Contraries Game 2.0" is a game of critical interpretation, inspired in large part by "The Ivanhoe Game" developed by Jerome McGann and Johanna Drucker.

"Contraries Game 2.0," like "The Ivanhoe Game," is a game that makes use of "digital tools to augment critical reflection" and "produce simulated forms of meaning" (McGann 214). The "gameplay" is also quite similar to "Ivanhoe": players make moves of interpretation within "a field of interrelated textual, visual, cultural, and critical artifacts. The game 'moves' involve the production (the writing) of texts that integrate with and simulate the materials in the discourse field of the game. Players produce text in response to the opportunities and problems raised by the texts produced by the other players" (218). Unlike "The Ivanhoe Game," however, "Contraries Game 2.0" makes use of a hypertextual machine, called the Contraries Machine, described below. [For a more detailed discussion of McGann and Drucker's game, and its current stage of development, I invite the reader to follow this link.]

The Contraries Machine was developed expressly to allow for the visual, hypertextual comparison of plates found in the separate books of Innocence and Experience. [For the following description, you might want to resize the browser window this text is in, making it a smaller, square window with the Contraries Machine in the background]. You will immediately notice that the display window is divided in half. The left side represents the virtual world of Innocence, the right side the virtual world of Experience. At the far left is a column of thumbnails which, upon clicking them, brings up Blake's plates for The Songs of Innocence. The thumbnails on the right represent plates from The Songs of Experience. All the plates are in the order of the plates from Copy Z of the Songs, owned by the Blake Archive. [Note: For optimal functioning for the Contraries Machine, your monitor should be at least 16 inches in width and set at a resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels].

To compare the Innocence and Experience plates of similarly-titled songs, or to compare similar themes and designs, the reader only need click on the thumbnails for the contrary plates and the plates will appear in the center. If the reader scrolls down either column of thumbnails, he/she will also find the thumbnails from the other book. This is not meant to confuse the reader, but rather allow you to compare plates from the same book of songs, such as the two very different "Little Girl Lost" poems in Experience.

Transcriptions of each poem are also available for viewing. If you click on the big images, they "flip over" to reveal the transcription. To flip back over, click on any of the text and the image will be returned. If you would like a transcription in view as you look at a plate, you can choose the image in one column, and choose its transcription in the opposite column.

The Contraries Machine does not provide a space within it for logging "moves." This, hopefully, will be added in future iterations. In the meantime, while playing, you might open a separate window on your desktop computer to compile notes. Or you might use the HTML template I have created for that purpose.

In the template page, there is a box in which you can put the thumbnails of the plates you have looked at, as well as ample space to log notes. Exchange between players can be facilitated by email, which is how "The Ivanhoe Game" began, or instant messaging, if players want to play in "real time." In future versions of the game, an electronic interface could be developed, with, perhaps, the possibility of real-time, synchronous dialogue in a chat room—again, like "The Ivanhoe Game"—as well as a MOO for player moves. In terms of the "discourse field" or the manner of play, that is for the players to decide for themselves.

In terms of the actual game-play, there are many ways to proceed. For "single-player" game-play, one might choose a "quest" game, in which the player enters the virtual space of Innocence or Experience, explores that world, keeping a travel log. The player might also be questing for, and collecting, magical talismans, such as animals (sheep, lion, tyger), blossoms, angels, musical instruments (harp, flute), game gear (cricket batt, badminton racket), lost children, etc. For it to be a game of contraries, each player should find an object in one world and then find its contrary match in the other (e.g. sheep in Innocence, tyger in Experience).

Another single-player version of the game would involve role play. The player might choose one character in one world as an "avatar." For instance, a player might choose to become the nurse in Innocence. After exploring that world as that character, the player might even take that avatar into the other world, in this case Experience, to see how that world changes the avatar. Or the player, as avatar, might look for his/her contrary match in the other world. Some possibilities for avatars: nurse, angel, piper, shepherd, little boy lost, little girl lost, chimney sweep, infant, little vagabond, Old John, Ancient Bard, lion, tyger.

The games above have "multi-player" equivalents. One player might choose to explore, and then represent, one world (such as Innocence), and the other player the other world (such as Experience). From this could come interaction and dialogue (by email, or instant messaging), with contraries being compared. Players representing contrary worlds could compare contrary talismans, or contrary avatars. Or a point system might be set up for the collection of talismans, or a competition set up where one player, representing one world, would choose an avatar and try to commandeer its contrary (by naming it, or even downloading the corresponding plate) before the opposing player could choose it for him/herself. The dialogue itself might be conducted using only the words Blake uses in the Songs.

For an example of a very simple form of play, I invite you to view my game log, which records two "moves" in my game play. I proceeded by bringing up two plates for comparison in the Contraries Machine, then filled in the game log template, putting in the thumbnails first. I made some notations on the visual and textual codes that are present in each plate, and compared the two, conjecturing on the meaning created by their juxtaposition. I also brought in the work of other scholars, as part of the "discourse field." Their imput usually spurred more of mine.

The most interesting and fun game, I think, would be to see what the players invent on their own, using the Contraries Machine. Players might begin by writing out their own rules, and describe their own specific gameworld. If this is a multiplayer game, the opposing player might strive to circumvent the game rules set up by the other player, since "hacking" the game is a game as old as games themselves.