BIBLIOLUDICA: a book history mystery

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Biblioludica is a bibliographical research game currently in development by Bethany Nowviskie of the Speculative Computing Lab. It was conceived as a way of teaching textual materiality and book history at the University of Virginia, but its principles and methods are broadly applicable to humanities fields in which historical research, close examination of material artifacts, and production as a mode of enquiry are relevant activities for students and scholars.

The game consists of a series of research and production projects through which a semi-fictional bibliographical mystery is revealed. University faculty take on roles in the game, serving as facilitators or generating obstacles which require players to design new strategies. Local resources (such as rare book libraries, laboratories, academic departments, and printing presses) make up the game's contemporary setting, while a rich historical backdrop ensures that the mystery has enough depth to encourage innovative and idiosyncratic research. Students gain experience in bibliographical methods and book history as the game progresses, and their actions and interests serve to advance and alter the plot. They are ultimately asked to exhibit their mastery of course material by intervening in the production history of a problematic artifact (a book or manuscript) to produce a credible forgery. In its first semester (MDST 352: Textual Materiality and the History of the Book), Biblioludica is designed for open-ended play in the manner of improvisational role-playing games, but subsequent versions may incorporate a system of scoring, required roles or player-motivations, and defined end-game strategies.

Unlike its sister-project, the Ivanhoe Game, the initial instance of Biblioludica comes "ready-loaded" with content appropriate to a college or graduate-level course in book history. However, like Ivanhoe, Biblioludica is not limited in its scope to a particular subject or discipline. At its core is a generalizable system -- a game model -- for shaping player experience. Because the Ludica model itself addresses gameplay, critical thinking, physical analysis and production, and pedagogy rather than specified texts and discipline-specific methodologies, instructors may adjust the elements of Biblioludica's plot to suit their own coursework. Bibliography, Historiography, Cultural Anthropology and Archaeology, Art History and other fields which study the material productions of human beings through time are well suited to the Biblioludica game model.

The first-semester iteration of Biblioludica is funded by a grant from the Delmas Foundation.

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