HIDK00017U Meaningful Play: Ancient Board Games in Context

Volume 2016/2017

BA-program in Asian Studies with specialisations in
Indology, Japanese Studies, China Studies, Korean Studies, Southeast Asian Studies and Tibetology, The 2015 Curriculum

BA-programme in Asian Studies with specialisations in
Indology, Japanese Studies, China Studies, Korean Studies, Southeast Asian Studies and Tibetology, The 2010 Curriculum

Elective Studies in Indology The 2007 Curriculum

Master´s Programme in Asianstudies The 2008 Curriculum


Many traditional board games, such as Chess, Ludo, Backgammon, Kalaha, and Merels, have long and complicated histories crossing and recrossing the boundaries between the secular and the religious, the educational and the entertaining. Abstract and childish as they may appear to us today, they once conveyed ideas far beyond the mere rolling of dice and moving of pawns. The ancient Egyptian games of Mehen and Senet were associated with the passage from death to afterlife, the Mesopotamian Game of 20 Squares doubled as a divination device, the Persian game of Nard simulated the movement of celestial bodies in the sky, early Indian 4-player dice chess taught statecraft to kings and their counsellors, and a distant Chinese predecessor to the modern children's game Snakes & Ladders were used to prepare prospective bureaucrats for a career in the civil service during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE).

This course introduces students to the empirical and theoretical basis of the emerging field of board game studies. It operates within the typological framework first laid down by H. J. R. Murray in A History of Board Games Other Than Chess (Oxford, 1952), while at the same time expanding upon it by situating the games in specific historical and cultural contexts and enquiring about their meaning. Just as words and images are the primary means of communication in literature and painting, so game mechanics are the primary means of communication in games. Only by playing them can we begin to understand not only what they mean, but also how they mean it.

The end of the course coincides with the 20th International Board Game Studies Colloquium (http://bgs20.tors.ku.dk/) which will take place on May 17-20, 2017, in the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies at the University of Copenhagen. Students are invited to sign up as volunteers or register as participants.

Learning Outcome

BA 2015-studieordning:
Indologi realia 1 (fagelementkode HIDB00831E)

BA 2010-ordning:
Indologisk Realia 1 (fagelementkode HIDB00671E)
Indologisk Realia 2 (fagelementkode HIDB00731E)
Indologisk Realia 3 (fagelementkode HIDB00761E)

BA tilvalg 2007-ordning:
Indologisk Realia A (fagelementkode HIDB10041E)
Indologisk Realia B (fagelementkode HIDB10051E)

KA 2008-ordning:
Tekstbaset emne (fagelementkode HIDK03031E)
Emne Kursus A (fagelementkode HIDK03041E)
Emne Kursus B (fagelementkode HIDKO3091E)

Readings will be made available in Absalon. Games will be made available in class.

Recommended pre-course reading:


Recommended pre-course playing:

  • Alinement and configuration games: Tic-Tac-Toe, Nine Men's Morris, Solitaire

  • War games: Chess, Checkers

  • Hunt games: Fox and Geese, Hnefatafl

  • Race games: Ludo, Snakes & Ladders

  • Mancala games: Kalaha

Lectures, discussion, and play. Each week will focus on a new game or type of game. One teaching session each week will be devoted to playing games to ensure that students are critically exposed to the games currently under investigation.
No prior experience within the field of board game studies is expected or required. Students are encouraged to draw upon their own disciplinary competencies in their individual approaches to the field.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 56
  • Preparation
  • 356,5
  • Total
  • 412,5
Type of assessment
Criteria for exam assesment