Why I Converted to Ludism
Or why I became a follower of Ron Hale-Evans' board game religion
I don't like board game culture. It's full of "queers" and anti-social nerds. It's ripe with a kind of behavior that is decadent and incompatible with high-IQ people.
Yet I have been attracted to the scene since I was 15. Since 2006. Doom: The Board Game was the first serious board game I ever played. And it’s crazy that such a thing can exist in a time that doesn’t exist anymore.
I guess I grew up. I don't go out and play board games with strangers anymore. In fact, “normies,” or normal people, ruined the entire scene with the whole “tabletop” ideology. Like, why should you play a board game on a table? I want to play it on the ground. Therefore, it’s not a “table” game.
The esoteric or “grognard" board gamers meet on an irregular day of the week. Cool people don’t rely on playing in the store, unless that “store” in question is someone’s house, kind of like Fort Thunder. It’s the space where games and playing them became special and not the commercial activity of consumption.
I have many complaints about the board game market.
Modern board game stores capitalize off of “socializing,” whatever that means to normies. The Asmodee Corporation monopolized the entire industry recently. Say goodbye to Fantasy Flight Games, as they produced nothing but Star Wars and Marvel shit constantly. Asmodee only cares about exploiting stupid people. And that's what exactly the entire so-called "tabletop" scene is about. Stupid people are being exploited by capitalism. A soyboy screaming over another Funko Pop doll.
…And yet again, I find the scene eccentric enough to have a lifelong interest in it.
When I first started dating, I met most of my girlfriends at board game night. There is a sophisticated, intellectual, and intimate level with games that build relationships. I relied on board game night to practice talking to the opposite sex, no matter how ugly she was.
Richard Garfield, Wolfgang Kramer, and Chris Crawford perfectly examine, analyze, and critique the culture of playing. The work of mainstream “game studies” is kind of a pseudo-academic discipline, as the former thinkers break away from this mediocracy. The authentic game design philosophy, based on analytical thought, is called “Ludology.” It is a very interesting discipline that has influenced my thinking.
However, I no longer see Ludology as just another academic discipline. It’s now a part of a grander and hardline religious movement.
…You see, I have converted to Ludism.
I can best describe Ludism as a religion based around board games, and advocating “ludic synergy” through playing them and spreading the aura around our environment.
The movement is led by founder Ron Hale-Evans. According to Hale-Evans, the discipline of Ludology “is a term that encompasses not only the academic discipline of game theory, which focuses on strategy, but also game design, game variants, the study of mutators and operators, and so on…”
If Ludology is the study of game design and mechanics, Ludism is the religion based around a particular genre of board games that promote human interactivity and analytical games. These are “positive and salvific life games” known as “GBGs,” or “Glass Bead Games.”1 Hale-Evans writes, “A GBG is an ‘artgame’ inspired by Hermann Hesse's novel The Glass Bead Game. GBGs attempt to unite science, art, philosophy, mathematics, and spirituality into a single grand synthesis. They play with the contents of our global culture in the same way that a painter uses paints.”
In essence, Ludism strives to nurture and promote GBGs. GBGs promote “ludic synergy” which all games can create. And eventually, Ludism foresees the ultimate endgame (literally speaking) of one grand game that humanity will play, forever. Many games we could call GBGs present us with many mechanics, designs, and interactive sequences that the final GBC may have.
There are basic games we as humans play and enjoy, but they are merely stepping stones to the ultimate GBG we will eventually discover. It’s like the theory of the “techno singularity” or the “Skynet AI” that looks after us in a post-scarcity “communist” society.
GBGs can be defined as having one special characteristic of being “mutators.” Mutators, also interchangeable with the terms operators or modules, “…are rules that you can apply to just about any game to transform it into a game variant.”
Hale-Evans explains, “Consider the misére mutator: in misére chess, the loser is the winner, and the same holds for misère backgammon, misère checkers, misère Cosmic Encounter, and so forth. The mediocrity mutator states that the winner is the player with the most middling score. Other mutators allow for handicaps in the game or extra players.”
With this in mind, I started to investigate which common board games I know of have mutators, and which do not. I compiled a list of board games I have played and experienced, and to some degree, each game has a mutator in it, and, in theory, every board game listed is considered to be a potential GBG.
I have tried to escape my passion for board games because the board game scene I witnessed was full of lost and decadent people not worth saving. But through the power of Ludism, I understand now there is a difference between consumer culture and passion. You may collect vinyl records because “you love music.” However, you could also listen to the same music for free online. So what’s the point in collecting physical media then? Buying records will not make you a better musician. And the same can be said about game design.
The possession of board games does not make you a better game designer. This is an issue with people who are passionate about games. Games are sold as edible products to be consumed and thrown away. The potential of the board game designer is lost with other deranged consumers who can’t see the art in the product.
And where is the spirituality in that?
Think for a second between consumer and professional and the concept of “books in a library.” Does a collection retain itself to actual knowledge that can be measured? Reiner Knizia has created over 600 board games. I doubt that he keeps every single game he has made in his house. If he does, he has at least 800 games in his collection (that 200 extra is a guess). I never met anyone who has 800-plus board games in a single house. By using logic, if there are 365 days in a year Knizia could play a new game every day for more than two years, but he's too busy spending time designing games for profit. Knizia does not have enough time to leisurely play games in his collection. So what’s the point of owning that many games?
Accordingly, Richard Garfield on BoardGameGeek.com, "owns" more than 500 games, close to 600. Garfield, who still plays games every other day, has to balance his work schedule with his play schedule. Garfield, as being “a guru of games,” has only published around 50-plus games.
The largest video game collection ever owned was around 11,000 games.2 The man sold his collection for around $750,000. He was running a business and collecting games as a habit. A simple person cannot invest his time in all of those games at once. People who believe that the possession of many games somehow equates to intellectualism are idiots.
Raph Koster, who argues that “games will replace books,”3 is a fool. His hoarding collection of games is meant to show his social status and his pretentiousness. This man never published a board game and assumes learning everything about a subject automatically means one is an expert in that field.
Meanwhile, Koster is advocating a cyber state of a synthetic left dystopia and an American-approved dependent liberal communism along with cuckolded feminism.4 This is only a reflection of a weak man who revolves his life around consumer culture. I'm surprised no one has ever called these people out as dim hoarders.
A business fraud by the name of “Karl Deckard” claims to have over 2000 board games! Ironically, a YouTube video showcasing a collection of 600 board games goes viral. But why not a collection of 2000 games? Where’s the evidence? Deckard is obviously lying! I even did a video on his hypocrisy and acting. I don’t think he’s a real person!
Therefore, it is easy to point out that board game culture is obsessed with consumption while constantly modeling their playing rooms like the board game stores they buy stuff from. The games they buy are meant to be consumed, and put on a shelf, as dust collects, the game is forgotten about, and then the process repeats. It's the perfect mind killer!
Nothing is learned from this behavior. Sadly, these same consumers attend game conventions and sit in lecture halls about designing games, while none of these consumers ever publish a game. It's like an endless echo chamber of "play more games to understand game design and philosophy,” which is a false lead. It’s consumerism in disguise.
Dr. Lewis Pulsipher once said that people used to have "favorite" games. This common knowledge has disintegrated in the past decade because of the normalization of board gaming, the rise of the adult-baby lifestyle, and the inflation of board games made for them. People feel there is an endless sea of games and that “the next big game” is waiting to be discovered. The problem is that every possible “game” has been made.
All the popular and “new” games have regurgitated mechanics and showcase bad art. New games target a certain type of normative person who likes a certain style of play. They think that being good at Eurogames makes them “hardcore gamers.” Often they will say they are, "really into games,” and it turns out they only played the normie favorites, loved by braindead idiots; Dead of Winter, Mice and Mystics, Cards Against Humanity, and The Settlers of Catan.
And as Pulsipher noted, people used to have “favorites” where they used to play only one game. But this “discrimination” now means you are some kind of insensitive bigot or racist against “safe spaces.” Some so-called board game stores advocate an egalitarian mode of thinking where "we all want to play the same game.” These redundant games seem to be Splendor, Azul, Castle of Burgundy, and other fads based on gender-neutral economics. These stores often sell other products, like food or Magic: The Gathering cards, and attract the worse type of queers ever. At that boiling point from witnessing how fucking stupid everyone is in that market, I disassociate with the scene completely.
Is it full of normies? Or is it full of queers? It’s like the worst aspects of both, and I’m not even being ironic.
…Don’t ever give the manager at the board game store your money. Period. It’s not about supporting “friendly local gaming stores.” He will run out of it soon, and then he will prey on the next fucking idiot willing to play the next middle-class narrative-based game. The board game market has to make everyone stupid so profit can be reaped from them. Play stupid games, and win stupid prizes.
Most cool people into board games are above the age of 50. I know this. Young kids don't care about board games. They want to play Super Smash Bros. and have an Asian girlfriend. Video games are in, while board games are out. A millennial like me playing board games is a rare thing. I felt like I could just abandon the hobby and move on to cooler and intellectual pursuits. Yet here I go, again, writing about how this hobby is ruled by the worst kind of people you will ever meet.
Those who argue that they like "all games" are liars. It’s the egalitarian mind virus at work. LeBron James playing basketball is not the same as Bobby Fischer playing Chess. The fraudulent "tabletop" definition is an attempt to make all board games “intersectional” to one’s desires.
Again, I used to play all my board games on the floor. So how can they be “tabletop” if I play on the floor? This poor definition also has to include war games, card games, dexterity games, and everything else that “tabletop gamers" could all enjoy. The truth is that wargamers don't get card games, card gamers don't get Eurogames, and Euro gamers don't understand why people play Monopoly on a competitive level for $10,000. The semantics are rooted in egalitarianism and social control, like “mental health” dubbed by those who resist liberalism.
The "tabletop" myth comes from the prevailing ethos of the modern world, and that is egalitarianism. To assume “everyone wants the same thing” is the creeping nature of exploitative capitalism. They don't care about your passions. They just want your money. Equality separates the stupid from the intelligent.
And then there are those same game hipsters that only play Eurogames because "that's the progressive way forward for game design.” This is just market discrimination. They will just keep making up games for those types of people until they change their minds or all die. That’s not design, that’s social control!
Those who have an actual passion for board games and game design are more lonelier than you think. No one wants to play Cosmic Encounter with me because nobody in my area knows what it is.
And it’s true. Cosmic Encounter is the greatest board game of all time.
And the so-called "gamers" hate it because “it's random!” This is the philistine acting against the sensitive artist who wants the modular and unpredictable! Playing board games has always been reserved for an intellectual vanguard against the robotic. I believe Ludism separates itself from the masses. It’s an elitist religion that requires a teacher to convert a student towards greater enlightenment around design. Video games are for the stupid masses, while board games are for the witty few. I would even argue that “few” is less than 500,000. In this case, I am proud to be a stubborn elitist when it comes to games and game design.
I am not interested in designing games for the masses or for profit. That's not my job. I became a Ludist because I want to create ludic synergy and foresee the abolishment of work. I want a ludic society. That's why I am against the game industry. It’s there to exploit the weak and is a regressive contribution towards society. Most of it is lying and saying a bunch of fancy words to make you sound professional and meaningful. In actuality, it’s no different than being a lazy professor in Women’s studies.
Rather, the artist shall reign supreme over the command of profits.
Those who want to make a living off games are evil. Not because they are genuine intellects, but because most professionals into games are like those who work in the porn industry. How can you not be in it for the sex? A woman who becomes a porn actress is attracted to the culture it produces. No good people come from it. Not even the directors. Same with the drug dealers. The drug dealer seems to be always getting high off his supply. And this is the majority of people in the so-called game industry.
Why can’t we let good art rule over our lives?
Just look up the “Gamergate” event and the investigation done at Deepfreeze.it. The advocates are trust fund babies looking for ways to make money. They do this by exploiting the poor while pretending to be one of them. Normies want to become a game journalist because "they like games too." The same goes for every white kid who wanted to learn Japanese to watch anime, read manga, go to Japan, and have Eurasian children.
Game design cannot be taught to the normie because it is ultimately an eccentric discipline. Game design is not about “being passionate” about games. It’s an underrated art form that needs more attention. It’s centered around capital-D “Design” and its application of it. Normies think game design means “graphic design,” or some type of production involving the creation of the game. If you create music for the game, are you a “game designer?" I believe Ludism can help us understand game design as an art and religion. The power of Ludism breaks from the Ludology discipline and transforms itself into direct action.
If I were to go to an abandoned island and only take a few board games with me, I would only refer to the list of games I consider to have ludic synergy. A true person into board games should only have a physical collection of around 200. Most normies feel tempted to reach the 500 markers, but this is the maximum capacity for room and space. I only keep less than 100 games in as mall room. I am fine with that number. If there are around 50 weeks in a year, I should have around 50 games. That is, a new game is played per week. However, a great game, perhaps close to the actual Glass Bead Game, like Cosmic Encounter, deserves to be played every day for a year.
Professional "mind Olympians" pick one game and master it. This is healthy behavior and should be the standard for everyone who plays games. People who swipe girls on Tinder will never find the right one. The same goes for the dooming consumer culture within board games. People who constantly play a new game every day are equivalent to those looking for “hook-ups” on Tinder. When men grow older, they prefer to pick one game and settle with it.
It becomes clear that games like Chess, Go, and even Abalone have a special, infinite place with people. Ludism believes we are heading towards one game, and that game is The Glass Bead Game. This is the ultimate, infinite game people will play in the future. And as a Ludist, I respect people who have a single game that they prefer to play. It’s like being loyal to a wife you love.
I also believe GBGs recreate the psychedelic experiences found in drugs. This non-drug psychedelic experience is elaborated in Hallucination Theory: How Hallucinations Govern Imaginations by Spencer Gold and The Book Of Highs by Edward Rosenfeld. This is an important aspect of understanding what ludic synergy does. A true ludic game gives players a feeling of ecstasy and shows the player a new reality in which to create art. The player becomes the artist.
A dull and mindless player sees the game as a system to express his strategy and thus “win” the game. There is more than just the state of “winning” for the Ludist. The Ludist feels the high of winning every time he makes a “correct” and rewarding move in the game. This is ironically, a false, biological sense of accomplishment. It may be traumatic that the Ludist might make a mistake and lose the entire game, but winning is not the focus for him either. Winning is unattainable. Winning is the sin of normative behavior. It is the obsession with the rat race and the promotion of cultural capitalism. Binaries fucking suck.
I don't play games to win. I play games to experience ecstasy, which is a feeling similar to seeing a new world under the influence of LSD. When I play a new board game, I focus on this “high” aspect. At one point in time, I thought the Eurogame Walnut Grove was cool because it was the first "worker placement" game I ever played. Until I realized it was JASE (or, Just Another Soulless Eurogame). I now lost all interest in Walnut Grove. The game cannot reignite the feeling of the marijuana smog I felt when playing the game for the first time. Games like that cannot obtain the infinite ludic state, and therefore cannot obtain GBG status.
Currently, there is a game design crisis around GBGs. I don't think there will be new games past 2019 added to the list. Everything has been done in the past few decades, and board game culture is a slow, sinking ship. The sad victims who are forced to play these games always happen to be the family, wife, or strangers. People have favorites, and having one game is the ultimate mind expander, not hooking up with soulless Eurogames. GBGs are about the gimmick novelty mechanics that break the formal operation of a computer.
Some have even said that games are an escape into a different reality. I do not advocate escapism or virtual reality, nor does Ludism. People assume game design means advocating a second reality. But remember, there are limits to a game and the concept of playing. Most people don't like to play games, and therefore, cocky gamers shouldn't force games upon them. Games are for both elitists and children. That’s the opposing dichotomy that is dysfunctional and functional! It's how we play. But it should not define the universe. A Ludist, once committed, believes the game is an art form waiting to be discovered. The game rewards the player with ecstasies similar to LSD, the high of risky adventures, the lifting of weights, and the climax of sex. This reward system should not be compared with life, as some say "the game of life." This leads to Jesper Juul’s concept of a “second reality.”
And with that, I also believe players should be smart enough to enter Johan Huizinga’s magic circle, fully conscious that they are entering a game. The game is not real life, as there is always a feeling of safety on platforms like Discord, the internet, and playing a game with family and friends. No one in their right mind would go out and shoot a police officer because they did it with safety in Grand Theft Auto. If life is a game, then people would cheat on his so-called game and play a new one. People enter and leave games all the time. Suicide is leaving the game permanently (that is if you consider life a game). How does this make sense? Because life is NOT a game. No one can enjoy the game of being a cashier (and the rules of capitalism continue to hurt us). I say this because too many game advocates want life to be a game. Drug advocates often want the world to do dope with them. I don't want that to happen either.
The rules should never be the ultimate definition of a game either. Neither should “play” dictate what a game is and what is not. Play may be the opposite of work, but work will never be a game because work is not played. Work is a struggle, an internal fight between oneself and production. Often we work to get things done. But under capitalism, we are forced to work because we have to. Ludism believes in the abolishment of work because it will create a new economy based on play rather than forced labor.
I reaffirm here, that I am a Ludist, and I advocate a gaming religion that seeks to create new art based around interactive, abstract, physical, and non-physical games to see and feel new realities, ecstasies, and cultures. Ludism practices an esoteric, clandestine, and somewhat gnostic ritual that is isolated from the rest of the modern world. Gaming will never change the culture of humanity in my lifetime. If gaming will change humanity, one game will arise from all the other games and become the only game humanity will ever play.
This is the Glass Bead Game. This is what we should aim for in game design.
Eventually, with the progression of technology, culture, and games, we will find the true game that will connect humanity. Some say this will be a video game taking place in virtual reality with VR goggles or using highly advanced digital technology. This Glass Bead Game will be physical, whatever form it takes. It won’t be a bugman paradise of staying in the pod. It will rather be a board game that is out of this world.
Ludism advocates self-discovery, and it's up to the individual to find his meaning in life. This requires finding that personal GBG and abstaining from “favorites.” This favorite game has to create ludic synergy, and thus be a stepping stone towards the creation of The Glass Bead Game. Until then, a board gamer should focus on the physical world, not the digital one. To be a Ludist, one has to throw away the materialistic world of video games. Video games are fun, but ultimately Skinner boxes and solitaire puzzles have influenced future game design and ignored our universal path toward The Glass Bead Game.
Realize that Choose-you-own-adventures, gamebooks, movies-with-choices, and cartoons-with-reflex-actions, are second-person narratives. They contain little to no interaction. Interaction is the heart of all games. A game that has interaction never ends, and thus is true to The Glass Bead Game. Ludism focuses only on interactive games that are not just second-person narratives. Stories and narratives are byproducts of the interactive games and not the game itself.
Normies like to advocate that games are all about the “story." This is bullshit. They do not belong in Ludism.
This axiom has nothing to do with Ludism but rather an advocation of the second-person narrative, which isn’t a game. Chess has no story and is loved by the world. The school of “Narratology” has a poor understanding of the game, as they are invested in narratives rather than interaction. There are better mediums for storytellers than using games, like writing novels. If they are so concerned that the story must be a “game,” then they might learn something from Ludism. Only then they might see the light and realize that games are more than novelty gimmicks. But the truth is, they only care about narratives because they want to socially control people and enforce stupidity within design.
Some may never see the importance of The Glass Bead Game, and that is okay. Ludism is an elitist, niche group that advocates a certain subculture of people in the board game scene that likes New Age religion, drugs, Asian and hippy culture, and postmodern art. A fat kid with pimples into Warhammer 40K will not see why it's necessary to become a Ludist. The conscious effort of Ludism is to advocate games like Cosmic Encounter, Talisman, and Ice Pyramids, and try to make games similar in design, both aesthetically and mechanically pleasing. These games will enlighten people. I never intended to make the fat kid happy.
The Eurogame virus is harming Ludism like Christianity upon Paganism. I am sick and tired of the materialistic hoarding going on in the board game scene. When anyone asks, “What kind of board games do you like?” I’ll talk to them about Ludism and the power of Cosmic Encounter. I am resurrecting the Pagan spirit against modernity.
Ludism should be an intellectual and spiritual journey relying on self-improvement and seeing the importance of The Glass Bead Game. That’s why I believe in such a religion around design. It’s what I think about when I play and critique board games.
And you should too. Get active, and fight for good game design.
You can listen to a 2019 podcast on the subject of Ludism I did, here. And you can also read about the games of Ludism, here, or check out the shortened list, here. And you can also look into my board game collection, here.
And finally, why not read about “post-elegance,” here?
Revised on 10-12-2023.
Originally published in March of 2019.
Michael Thomasson in 2014. https://www.cnet.com/tech/gaming/worlds-biggest-video-game-collection-goes-for-750000/
Raph Koster’s speech “History of Virtual Worlds” was presented at the GDC 2016 Flash Backward conference.