Hall of Fame

Last year, various winners of the Dau Barcelona Award for a life dedicated to games, including Dan Glimne, Tom Werneck and David Parlett, suggested that there should be a space dedicated to the posthumous recognition of the historical figures within cultural history that over the centuries have made significant contributions to disseminating and developing games and, specifically, board games. No sooner was the space suggested than it was created and presented at the Dau Barcelona 2019 awards ceremony gala by Dan Glimne, along with the first members of this unique hall of fame.

Dan Glimne presented the Hall of Fame:

This evening we have seen several awards handed out: awards for smart game designs and for a professional life dedicated to the marvellous, immense and fascinating world of games.

I’d like to think — at this moment, from a historical point of view — that we are living in a golden age of games: with boards and pieces, cards and dice, files and electronics, and so many other things. Never before has there been such an intellectual variety of games and never before has their quality of graphics and physical design been so exquisite and attractive .

But this peak moment has not, of course, come out of nowhere. All of us here owe so much, as individual award winners and game designers and players, to the men and women before us who, at some time, conceived and created new ideas and items in the world of games, some of which are so familiar to us today that we cannot even imagine they had once been invented.

Somewhere in the African savannah, maybe a hundred thousand years ago, one of our ancestors threw a bone or a stone on the ground and considered it important to know which side it had to fall on, and with that came the idea of dice. Some twelve hundred years ago, a noble or a lady member of the Chinese court took a closer look at some paper notes of money and came up with the idea of creating a game using different denominations of them, hence the idea for the first pack of cards. And roughly nine hundred years ago, most likely in Persia or India, a third person watching these primitive card games in action invented the concept of performing a trick.

These are just three isolated instances from the long, meandering, rich history of games. But, just who were the men and women who came up with these three transcendental ideas? Sadly, their names have long been lost to the ravages of time. What a pity.

But there has been an incessant string of other ideas, inventions, concepts and creative steps over the centuries, taken by people whose names we do know and whose work people like ourselves have subsequently based our own games on, extending, improving and incorporating them into our modern games. And it is only fair and appropriate, late as it may be, for these leading games figures of history to be recognised for their intellectual creations and outstanding contributions to the continuous, tireless process of inventing and enjoying games.

It is therefore with this aim in mind that we are launching the Dau Barcelona Hall of Fame, which we will be officially opening tonight. This Hall of Fame wants to pay homage to the people who have made significant advances throughout the history of humanity for our entertainment and our understanding of what games are, how they work, why we play them... and the fact that they have thereby enriched our cultural heritage.

After various discussions among those of us who have already received the Dau Special Award trophy, for this inauguration we finally managed to choose four figures to incorporate into Dau Barcelona’s Hall of Fame: four people from different eras and places in history, who ultimately shared their passion for games and made contributions which, in different ways, survive in the games we play and enjoy today. They will be followed by others in the coming years.

Johan Huizinga, introduced by Tom Werneck

Johan Huizinga (1872-1945): ‘Homo ludens’

"Play is a voluntary action or activity which is carried out within certain defined limits of time and space according to voluntarily accepted but absolutely binding rules, has its goal in itself and is accompanied by a feeling of tension and joy and an awareness of 'being different' from 'ordinary life'.” This is probably the most common and catchy definition of the game. It was developed by the Dutch cultural historian Johan Huizinga, who published it in 1938 in his book "Homo Ludens: Vom Ursprung der Kultur im Spiel".

Huizinga made two bold leaps of thought. One was to expand the common classification of 'homo sapiens' as a thinking and 'homo faber' as a making person to include the 'homo ludens', the playing person. From this he then derived the logical conclusion that the game must be more than that which spirit, reason or activity bring about. The first sentence in his book begins: "Play is older than culture". However, play in its most diverse manifestations does not precede culture, but is the connecting link through which culture is created in the first place. 

According to Huizinga, the game has no immediate practical purpose as a mental or physical activity and is only played out of pure pleasure in itself. Play is also always voluntary action. As soon as an activity is compulsory, it is no longer a game.

Play separates itself from the everyday. In contrast to the necessarily purpose-bound everyday actions, play is purposeless. Huizinga even goes so far as to describe the game as superfluous because it can be interrupted or postponed at any time.

Moreover, game is always positioned within a temporally and spatially delimited framework. It has a beginning and an end and takes place in a delimited area or space. This can be a sacred space, an arena or even a battlefield as well as a game table or a theater stage. There are always rules or laws that all participants accept. Game is interaction between person and person. The players take on a role; they act "as if" and know this when they are representing or reproducing something. And finally, play is conflict. It is a competition, measuring oneself, showing off. It also contains chance and stake, which makes both outcomes possible: win and loss.

With these characteristics, Huizinga has set out the terrain which he fills with his theory of the game. He starts out from the realm of the religious, because the sacred also creates a space that is detached from everyday life with its own self-contained reality. Huizinga knowledgeably substantiates this thesis by referring to the religious character of the Pythian, Isthmic and Olympic Games in pre-Christian times, as well as that of processions and sacrifices in Rome. With systematic meticulousness, he examined other areas of life and placed them within his frame of reference.

The work 'Homo Ludens' was published shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. Even at that time, Huizinga observed with disillusionment the descent of light-hearted playfulness into often organized seriousness in sports, board and card games, as well as in business, science, modern art, and last but not least in politics. Huizinga died in 1945, and he had witnessed the gradual disintegration not only of ancient warfare as competition but also of the later forms of rule-governed chivalric battle, upholding a polite and respectful treatment of one’s opponent.

Huizinga is one of the most important cultural historians of the 20th century. It is to his credit that he reoriented our view of the game. He was not interested in the game within culture, but in culture as itself a game, and so he regarded the game not as one cultural phenomenon among many others, but as a branch of philosophical anthropology. He has earned his place in the Hall of Fame!

Saló del Prestigi

Alfons X el Savi (1221-1284)
Gerolamo Cardano (1501-1576)
Stewart Culin (1858-1929)
Lizzie J. Magie (1866-1948)

These are the four first members of the Hall of Fame:

King Alfonso X of Castille (1221-1284), also known as Alfonso the Wise, who at the end of his reign commissioned several learned men to write the Book of chess, dice and board games, which he himself directed. A masterpiece that has been described as the oldest account of chess and other board games, some of them originally from Muslim kingdoms. One of the most important documents for research in board games, it is regarded as the world's first encyclopaedia of board games.

The Italian Gerolamo Cardano (1501-1576), a learned man who specialised in various disciplines, including mathematics, astronomy, physics and medicine. He was also a great fan of games of chance and would often bet with money. Besides his various publications on algebra, philosophy and medicine, he also wrote the first treatise on probability and games of chance, entitled Liber de ludo aleae.

American ethnographer Stewart Culin (1858-1929), a specialist in the world of games. He founded the American Anthropological Association and the American Folklore Society and ran various museums and cultural institutions. After authoring publications on games in various parts of the world, including Korea, China, Hawaii and the Philippines, his monumental work, Games of the North American Indians, was published in 1907 and remains a reference work today.

Another North American, Lizzie J. Magie (1866-1948), a Quaker who, besides being a writer, actress and journalist, created The Landlord’s Game which, some thirty years later, would inspire the author of Monopoly. She patented the first version in 1904 as a game to show what a negative and unfair practice hoarding land could be, a far cry from the Monopoly we know today!