What is Sembl?
Sembl is a multi-player web-based board-game where the challenge is to make interesting connections between images of cultural heritage material. 'Sembl' as in 'assemble', 'resemble', 'symbol'... Philosophically, the games are oriented toward transcending our (modern Western) tendency to think about the world in terms of things in isolation – to cultivate thinking in terms of the connections between and the whole.
The ideas behind the game are big, but the principle of play is simple and utterly intuitive: to make connections. Making connections is what human brains do and what they have done since prehistorical times. We see patterns, without even thinking about it. In each round of a Sembl game, players make connections and then rate others' – on a sliding scale of interestingness.
Authors and contributors
I conceived of Sembl and directed its initial production but so far I haven't worked on the code. (I'm not unwilling; it's just a learning-wall I am yet to scale.) Talk to me on Twitter, and if you enjoy juxtapositions, puns, rhymes and such, aka relational thinking, follow the Sembl account.
The games are out there and the feedback from teachers, trainers and players is very promising. But being an initial release of a fairly complex system, there are obstacles to the flow of play that need to be removed if the games are to fly. And I hope it does – in some form – because relational thinking is a key to understanding systems, and we all need that.
Here's a set of known issues and ideas for further development. I'd love to discuss them with you – and yes, it might be better to transfer them back into GitHub as Issues.
Aside from coding, here are some ways you could help:
- Share this page with everyone you reckon would be interested.
- Invite your friends and associates to play a game – then share what you like about it and report any issues you encounter.
- Join the Slack group about Sembl development.
The revival of relational thinking depends on tools to yoke the natural process of analogising to the smarts of computer-aided data processing. But what do they look like? There are many forms that Sembl could take.
Something I wish I had considered before I embarked on this project is that testing a multi-player game is exponentially more challenging than testing a solo-play game. Duh.
I did belatedly give some thought to how a solo-play version of the game might work. It's more of a toy, really.
Then there's the idea for a visual-spatial concept- and content-mapping tool, and a whole set of ideas about small-scale widgets for creating and sharing resemblance-pairs... For now, though, I am devoting my Sembl energy to the existing multi-player boardgame form – because it exists.