Videogames in Victorian England
Souvik Saturday, August 30, 2008 SteampunkExtract from The Experienced Clacker's Book of Kino-games by Lord Charles Babbage, F.R.S. (1854)
The first Difference Engine was born out of a ludic principle - mathematical, but ludic at the same time. From my very early boyhood I was fascinated with machines that could play, such as the dancing dolls of Mr H-'s exhibition or the chess-playing Turk (even though it was later discovered to be a hoax). In my Analytical Engine, I began to realise my ludic dream and finally, in Analytical Box X, I combined the powerful mechanism of kino cards to work with the complex gearage of logic gates. Mr Keats, my eminent clacker friend, was the first to test this mechanism. Not yet capable of punching cards to create a chess game, we hit upon the idea of designing a croquet game for the Box X. As we saw the representations of mallets and hoops on the big canvas screen put up in my stable, the first kino-croquet game was born. The gears started creaking into life and the guests were playing croquet on a very different platform - it was rather like playing in thin air.
Among the guests present were the illustrious Lady Lovelace and Disraeli, who reported the event in The Times.
(Inspired by Babbage's comments and William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's alternative history novel, The Difference Engine)
Apologies to readers for the long absence. Was away from blogosphere due to an injury and impending submission deadlines. You can, of course, tell what I was reading all the time I was away. I have recently written an article (to appear soon on this blog) for an Indian journal where I trace the roots of multimedia to the Romantic period (early nineteenth century). Gibson and Sterling's book was a great discovery. Absolutely videogame material!
In case, there are still doubts, the whole account of kino-games is fictitious. Babbage did, however, wish to design ludic machines; however, he never even completed the Difference Engine.
'Literature is a combinatorial game that pursues the possibilities implicit in its own material [...] but it is a game that at a certain point is invested with an unexpected meaning' - Italo Calvino