Smithsonian’s Design Decoded explains the architectural origin of today’s standard Staunton-style chess men.
Prior to 1849, there was no such thing as a “normal chess set.” At least not like we think of it today. Over the centuries that chess had been played, innumerable varieties of sets of pieces were created, with regional differences in designation and appearance. As the game proliferated throughout southern Europe in the early 11th century, the rules began to evolve, the movement of the pieces were formalized, and the pieces themselves were drastically transformed from their origins in 6th century India. Originally conceived of as a field of battle, the symbolic meaning of the game changed as it gained popularity in Europe, and the pieces became stand-ins for a royal court instead of an army. Thus, the original chessmen, known as counselor, infantry, cavalry, elephants, and chariots, became the queen, pawn, knight, bishop, and rook, respectively. By the 19th century, chess clubs and competitions began to appear all around the world, it became necessary to use a standardized set that would enable players from different cultures to compete without getting confused.
In 1849, that challenge would be met by the “Staunton” Chess Set.
The Staunton chess pieces are the ones we know and love today, the ones we simply think of as chess pieces. Prior to its invention, there were a wide variety of popular styles in England, such as The St George, The English Barleycorn, and the Northern Upright. To say nothing of the regional and cultural variations. But the Staunton quickly would surpass them all. Howard Staunton was a chess authority who organized many tournaments and clubs in London, and was widely considered to be one of the best players in the world. Despite its name, the iconic set was not designed by Howard Staunton.
According to the most widely told origin story, the Staunton set was designed by architect Nathan Cook, who looked at a variety of popular chess sets and distilled their common traits while also, more importantly, looking at the city around him. Victorian London’s Neoclassical architecture had been influenced by a renewed interest in the ruins of ancient Greece and Rome, which captured the popular imagination after the rediscovery of Pompeii in the 18th century. The work of architects like Christopher Wren, William Chambers, John Soane, and many others inspired the column-like, tripartite division of king, queen, and bishop. A row of Staunton pawns evokes Italianate balustrades enclosing of stairways and balconies.
The Next Web describes an ingenious solution adopted by a Chinese father to a widespread parental problem.
What would you do if your adult son was playing video games all day instead of looking for work? Well, one Chinese father resorted to desperate measures when he reportedly hired in-game hitmen to attack his son whenever he logged on to his favorite game, according to the People’s Daily.
After being killed repeatedly in an online game, 23-year-old Xiao Feng figured out that the high-level griefers had been put up to the task by his dad, who says he hoped the trick would cause his son to lose interest in the game. Xiao Feng maintains that he’s not going to settle for just any job and that he hasn’t found the right fit yet.
Dartmouth arrived at its game against Yale on Oct. 6 with a full complement of players, all in uniform, to go with many sets of shoulder pads, several footballs and a coaching staff. The Big Green were ready for an important, potentially season-defining Ivy League game.
Dartmouth brought it all, minus one key on-field component: a kicking tee.
After combing through equipment bag after equipment bag roughly an hour before the start of the game against the Bulldogs, Dartmouth players and coaches realized that someone – and we’re not naming names – forgot to include that one vital piece of kicking paraphernalia.
(I will say this: No one is ever truly responsible for packing the equipment. Or everyone is responsible. You know what I mean. Again, we’re not naming names.)
So the Big Green did what any team would do in such a pickle: Dartmouth asked Yale, a brother Ivy, if it could spare a tee.
At first, the Yale equipment manager lent the Big Green a substitute tee. About fifteen minutes before kickoff, however, Yale head coach Tony Reno came over to Dartmouth’s sideline and said that the Bulldogs wanted their tee back, recounted Dartmouth kicker R.C. Willenbrock.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. You need a kicking tee to, you know, kick off. So the Big Green improvised.
Willenbrock came upon inspiration in the form of a water bottle, one he cut down to size, taped and molded before testing as a makeshift tee. Success!
And Dartmouth deservedly won, after this disgraceful case of bad sportsmanship, 34-14.
Reading this, I profoundly wished I were president of Yale, so I could have fired that coach so fast his head would spin.
No wonder Yale is losing at football. We have a coach who doesn’t even understand why educational institutions like Yale encouraged young men to play competitive games in the first place.
The Politico reports that, in the State of Maine, one candidate’s World of Warcraft gaming hobby has become a campaign issue.
In an unusual press release issued Thursday, the Maine GOP attacked Lachowicz for a “bizarre double life” in which she’s a devotee of the hugely popular online role-playing game World of Warcraft. In the game, she’s “Santiaga,” an “orc assassination rogue” with green skin, fangs, a Mohawk and pointy ears.
Lachowicz is a Democrat running against incumbent state Sen. Tom Martin in south-central Maine, a heavily Democratic district of about 80,000 people. Martin, elected in 2010, is the first Republican to hold the seat since the 1960s, and his seat is one Democrats are eager to flip back.
Lachowicz has blogged under her own name about her World of Warcraft achievements as well as left-wing politics in a dedicated section of the liberal DailyKos.Com. The Maine GOP excerpted several provocative lines form her posts including one on tax policy that concludes, “Now if you’ll excuse me, I may have to go and hunt down Grover Norquist and drown him in my bathtub.”
Other postings use curse words and make to the joy of “stab[bing] things,” joke about “being in a Socialist guild” and admit to “seriously slacking off at work.”
Actually, I think the Maine Republican Party has a point there.
I don’t personally see anything wrong with on-line fantasy gaming, but residents of that senatorial district ought to ask themselves: Do I want for my state senator the kind of person who chooses the identity of an Orc? Orcs are green-colored, unintelligent, primitives affiliated with the Horde, “a ravenous war machine fueled by demonic energy,” which is to say, the really, really bad guys.
Professionally, Ms. Lachowicz has chosen to have her avatar pursue the career of an assassination rogue.
WoW decribes the rogue class thusly:
For rogues, the only code is the contract, and their honor is purchased in gold. Free from the constraints of a conscience, these mercenaries rely on brutal and efficient tactics. Lethal assassins and masters of stealth, they will approach their marks from behind, piercing a vital organ and vanishing into the shadows before the victim hits the ground.
So, voters also need to ask themselves, is the kind of person who chooses for her avatar the conspicuously unethical class of rogue likely to be the kind of person we want making fiscal decisions for our state?
On the whole, I think one wants to be voting into public offices of trust and responsibility the kind of people who, when they play Warcraft, make their avatars humans, elves, or pandarens (Yoda types), and who adopt good guy professions like Paladin or Priest, or at least neutral professions like Hunter or Warlock.
Run around electing the kind of person whose avatar is a Level 68 Orc Assassination Rogue and you are going to be getting the likes of Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi.
Neal Stephenson is fascinated with sword-fighting, and is trying to raise the funding for what he intends to be the ultimate sword-fighting video game (to be named “Clang,” and to be developed by Subotai Corporation) using Kickstarter.
He tells us that the project needs to attract pledges amounting to $500,000 (!) by July 9th to develop the game. (Those Seattle game designers clearly all drive Porsches and drink plenty of Cristal.)
They are up to $230,449 right now with 26 days to go. You have to cough up at least $25 for the right to download a copy which is estimated to be finished by February of next year. They will charge your credit card on July 9th, assuming enough optimists climb on board to provide the half million in funding.
On the one hand, I have a strong positive regard for sword-fighting and admire Neal Stephenson. On the other hand, I worked in the game design industry in my youth and, boy! our budgets were orders of magnitude less than $500,000 a game.
I’m not sure how long they’ve been trying to Kickstarter this one, but there are only 26 days left and they are not quite halfway there, which does not look good to me.
Henry David Thoreau went to jail rather than pay taxes to local government (when he objected to federal policies, including the Mexican War and the Constitutional tolerance of Slavery), so naturally enough the same federal government, through its National Endowment for the Arts, is using tax money to fund creation by a group of academics at the University of Southern California of a Thoreau’s Walden “game.”
Lead game designer, USC Associate Professor Tracy Fullerton explains that they are designing “a rich simulation of the woods, filled with the kind of detail that Thoreau so carefully noted in his writings.”
The simulation will “mimic the meditative outdoor life described in Thoreau’s best-known work, written about his two years spent living in a cabin on the shores of Walden Pond in Concord, Mass. The digital Walden Pond will showcase a first-person point-of-view where you can wander through the lush New England foliage, stop to examine a bush and pick some fruit, cast a fishing rod, return to a spartan cabin modeled after Thoreau’s and just roam around the woods, grappling with life’s unknowable questions.”
It is intended to serve as “an introduction for young people, who might not have read the book yet.”
There you are, $40 Grand of your tax dollars for a visual Cliff Notes experience of walking in the woods, picking berries, catching a perch, &c.
It doesn’t sound to me as if the designers have given any thought to score keeping.
Work in family pencil factory for cash —minus 10 points
Pick a quart of huckleberries —plus 10 points
Eat a groundhog —plus 30 points, but you become sick to your stomach and lose half your movement allowance for three turns
Make a campfire—plus 5 points, but you must roll dice. If you roll a pair, you have accidentally started a fire and will burn 300 acres of woods and lose 100 points
Jonathan Blow produces games which are less violent and more pretentious than conventional gun-them-down and blow-them-up games.
The Atlantic really buys into to all this, and lavishes praise on a fellow whose approach to gaming sounds to me a lot like films by Alain Resnais.
[W]hat makes Blow’s games so remarkable[is, that] at great personal expense, in ways no other developer has even attempted, he struggles to communicate a deeply authentic vision of the meaning of human existence. With both of his games, Blow strives to use the unique language of video games to impart the wisdom he has gained the hard way in his life. In The Witness, he hopes to help players try to “step outside their human viewpoint and see what the world is.” And in Braid, he sought to communicate something more personal still. ...
[W]hat he is [is]—a spiritual seeker, questing after truth in an as-yet-uncharted realm. These are the terms in which he sees his art. “People like us who are doing something a little different from the mainstream have each picked one direction that we strike out in into the desert, but we’re still not very far from camp,” he told me. “There’s just a huge amount of territory to explore out there—and until you have a map of that, nobody can say what games can do.
Robert Lee Hotz, in the Wall Street Journal, describes recent academic studies contending that gaming quickens the eye, speeds the reflexes, and keep’s the predatory human brain alert. Lots of us knew all that already.
One particular statistic stood out.
[T]oday’s average gamer is 34 years old and has been playing electronic games for 12 years, often up to 18 hours a week. By one analyst’s calculation, the 11 million or so registered users of the online role-playing fantasy World of Warcraft collectively have spent as much time playing the game since its introduction in 2004 as humanity spent evolving as a species—about 50 billion hours of game time, which adds up to about 5.9 million years.
Watch out, war criminals, Amnesty International was trying this week to get former president George W. Bush arrested by such impeccable democracies as Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Zambia for war crimes against terrorists, and soon the International Red Cross may be coming after you for laying down that land mine in Call of Duty.
One of the world’s largest and most respected humanitarian groups in the world is investigating whether the Geneva and Hague conventions should be applied to the fictional recreation of war in video games.
If they agree those standards should be applied, the International Committee of the Red Cross says they may ask developers to adhere to the rules themselves or “encourage” governments to adopt laws to regulate the video game industry.
The International Committee of the Red Cross is mandated under the Geneva Conventions to protect the victims of international and internal armed conflicts. That includes war wounded, prisoners, refugees, civilians, and other non-combatants. The question they debated this week is whether their mandate should be extended to the virtual victims of video game wars.
During this week’s 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in Geneva, Switzerland, members of the committee held a side event to discuss the influence video games have on public perception and action.
“While the Movement works vigorously to promote international humanitarian law worldwide, there is also an audience of approximately 600 million gamers who may be virtually violating IHL,” according to the event’s description. “Exactly how video games influence individuals is a hotly debated topic, but for the first time, Movement partners discussed our role and responsibility to take action against violations of IHL in video games. In a side event, participants were asked: ‘What should we do, and what is the most effective method?’
“While National Societies shared their experiences and opinions, there is clearly no simple answer. There is, however, an overall consensus and motivation to take action.”
The International Red Cross made this video to document war crimes against imaginary electronic entities (IEEs).
It makes perfect sense. If Geneva Convention protections can be extended on a completely non-reciprocal basis to terrorists and illegal combatants who routinely violate those conventions and all other laws and customs of war by a simple fiat and decree expressive of an international, entirely non-democratic and unrepresentative, consensus of self-appointed elite holier-than-thous, why shouldn’t entirely fictive and imaginary electronic entities not be entitled to receive the same kinds of rights and immunities from the same sources on the basis of similar reasoning and procedures?
Use your armed guards to make those children mine the Coltan faster.
Gamasutra reports that those corporate fascists over at Apple actually had the nerve to refuse to sell the game app Phone Story, by the sanctimonious Bolshie game design firm Molleindustria, via the iPhone App store, just because the app featured a series of left-wing smears directed specifically at smartphones, consumer products, and Apple.
One can picture the equivalent of Jeffrey Lebowski whining: Whatever happened to free speech, man?
[U]ntil now, few have been willing to turn the lens on this boom and examine what mass-market gadget lust is costing us ethically. Though we’ve since heard of suicides at Foxconn, deplorable working conditions and hazards to the environment involved in the manufacture of the latest hot smartphones, game developers were mostly silent—until now.
It seems natural that provocative serious games developer Molleindustria was the one to take the step. The studio, which has taken on forces like the Catholic church, McDonald’s and big oil with games like Operation Pedopriest, McDonald’s Video Game and Oiligarchy, never pulls its punches as it uses games to sharply deconstruct the social and economic constructs most people take for granted.
Its latest title, Phone Story, uses a series of minigames with voice-over narration to shed light on the human cost and high environmental impact of smartphone development. In one minigame, while the narrator explains that most electronic devices require the mining of coltan, a conflict mineral in Congo whose demand spurs war and child labor, the player must use the touch screen to guide armed soldiers to bark at exhausted child miners in order to meet the goal in time.
In another, the voice-over explains the suicides at electronics manufacturers in China, and the facile solution of “prevention nets”—while the player must catch tumbling workers using a stretched trampoline.
Of course, Phone Story is more interesting for the fact that players must interact with these messages while holding one of the devices discussed. Imagine being served hamburgers on a tour of a slaughterhouse. And all of the developer proceeds—70 percent of total App Store revenues, as per usual—will be pledged to organizations fighting corporate abuses, starting with Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior, which supports workers in abusive conditions internationally, including at Foxconn.
Or they would be, if Phone Story had been allowed to stay on the App Store. Apple yanked it just a few hours after the game was officially announced, citing four code violations: 15.2, which prohibits depictions of child abuse, and 16.1, which prohibits apps depicting “objectionable or crude” content. The other two, 21.1 and 21.2, pertain to Phone Story’s charitable bent—and they don’t seem to quite apply, intended instead for games that allow their users to make donations within a game, rather than a pledge by the developer to donate revenues.
Molleindustria makes an iPhone game to criticize the iPhone platform, and that Apple’s chosen to silence it is an interesting punctuation mark on the developer’s statement.
Gamasutra reached out to Molleindustria’s Paolo Pedercini about iPhone Story, who credits the game’s idea to recent international affairs graduate Michael Pineschi, to whom he spoke through creative activism group YesLab. At the time, Pedercini already had some unusual ideas in the works for projects that could act as commentary on gadget fetishism.
“One of them was a multi-touchable virtual-pet vagina, monologuing about technological lust and willful submission to consumerism,” he reflects. “Unfortunately, the flesh engine didn’t work as I hoped so I went for a straightforward educational game.”
But the intent was always to develop a game as commentary on the hardware industry. “Most of the adults in the Western world are somewhat aware that most of our objects are manufactured far away, in conditions that we would consider barbaric,” Pedercini says.
“A lot of tech-aware people heard about the story of the Foxconn suicides or about the issue of electronic waste,” he continues. “But with Phone Story, we wanted to connect all these aspects and present them in the larger frame of technological consumerism.”
He specifically wanted to highlight the goal that “must-have” consumer electronics culture plays in perpetuating these high-impact cycles; one of the levels of Phone Story tasks the players with tossing brand-new boxed phones to swarming would-be buyers rushing a storefront. In his view, the marketing machine that makes people believe they absolutely need an upgraded hardware device on the day it comes out is what causes extremism in the supply chain.
“We don’t want people to stop buying smartphones,” he notes, “but maybe we can make a little contribution in terms of shifting the perception of technological lust from cool to not-that-cool. This happened before with fur coats, diamonds, cigarettes and SUVs—I can’t see why it can’t happen with iPads.”
Pedercini says it was essential to use the platform itself to stage a critique of that platform. “Almost like the device itself was speaking to the user,” he suggests. “The idea was to make a sort of reminder that you can keep with you, like a way-less-permanent tattoo or a bumper sticker, something that you carry around and maybe show off as a conversation-starter.”
But although Apple’s immediate removal of Phone Story makes for an interesting conversation point, Pedercini says he never intended it to happen this way: “I’m very familiar with the App Store policy, and the game is designed to be compliant with it,” he asserts.
“If you check the guidelines, Phone Story doesn’t really violate any rule except for the generic ‘excessively objectionable and crude content’ and maybe the ‘depiction of abuse of children’. Yes, there’s dark humor and violence but it’s cartoonish and stylized – way more mellow than a lot of other games on the App Store.”
“What makes these depictions disturbing is the connection the player makes with the real-world situation,” adds Pedercini. “Of course, the goal was to sneak an embarrassingly ugly gnome into Apple’s walled garden, but not to provoke the rejection. If it was just a matter of provocation I would have gone way further.
If you’re a communist and have to have this App, you can buy it, and the rope you need to hang capitalists, via Android Market.