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The HipBone Games, AI and the rest:

an Overview
Derek Robinson

If, instead of using the real world, one carefully creates a simpler, artificial
world in which to study the high-level processes of perception, the problems
become more tractable.
— Douglas R. Hofstadter & the Fluid Analogies Research Group, in
“Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies”, 1995, p.190

The HipBone Games of Charles Cameron were developed to be small and

simple but non-trivial, and possibly even profound, minimally structured ‘fields’
wherein human wit may freely range and be observed at its play by the game’s
players and spectators. They are like little windows that open out onto certain
crooks and corners and crannies of the mind, which otherwise might not be so
readily suspected or seen.

A HipBone board is at outset empty, a matrix of possibilities, pregnant with

incipient linkages between the board’s loci. The board is just a set of nodes,
connected by lines, forming an abstract geometrical pattern: TenStones,
WaterBird, Tetraktys. As the game is played, the players in alternating moves
populate the board’s nodes with ‘concepts’, symbolic references to, well,
anything at all really — its backdrop is the entire atlas, landscape, encyclopaedia
of cultural forms.

a model ‘elaboratory’ for investigating the creative potencies of the mind

Within the game’s small compass, comprising less than a score of loci, we are
given a model ‘elaboratory’ for investigating the analogical, poetic, creative
potencies of the mind. A move in the game must simultaneously resolve or
bridge the concepts already in play upon the board, while yet proposing further
original, hitherto unexpressed (while latent and implicit) changes rung upon
the central theme.
The game form imposes the strict constraint that any move made must link
adjoining nodes not just geometrically...

but semantically, meaningfully, deliberately, playfully.

What governs a move in a HipBone game — the placement of a concept, a

passage from a work of literature or a line from a song, an image recognizable
by all or intensely personal, an idea from mathematics or the special sciences,
an event or an individual from the pages of history or today’s headlines, an
allegorical symbol or emblem drawn from folk or fairy tales, from dreams, or
from the sacred traditions of East or West, positioned onto a free node on the
board, and thereby linked to the nodes and hence to the concepts already played
— is simply salience, a sense for what is meet, a sensitivity to the opportunities
afforded by a fertile analogy.

The game form imposes the strict constraint that any move made must link
adjoining nodes not just geometrically but semantically, meaningfully,
deliberately, playfully.

The nature of the connection can be virtually anything that anyone might
consider to be a ‘relation’ — symmetry, mirroring, opposition; metonymy,
metaphor, the ‘figures’ or ‘tropes’ of rhetoric; movements up, down, or across
a categorical tree; puns, verbal or visual; euphemisms or spoonerisms; chains
of cause and effect; syllogisms and enthymemes; allusions or cliches; allegories,
archetypes; the arts of memory and of ‘topics’, altogether.

Here we have a ‘toy universe’ ready-made for AI researchers

There has been increasing interest in categorization and the mechanisms of

metaphor and analogical reasoning among people working in the cognitive
sciences, in linguistics and philosophy — theorists like Douglas Hofstadter,
Melanie Mitchell, George Lakoff, Mark Johnson, Mark Turner, Dierdre
Gentner, David Gelernter, Roger Schank, Janet Kolodner, S. Kedar-Cabelli,
Keith Holyoak and Paul Thagard, as well as many others active in the areas of
neural networks, machine learning, fuzzy logic, and case-based reasoning.

An archive of HipBone games can provide a wealth of examples of how analogy

works, of what makes one analogy succeed where a different analogy might

Here we have a ‘toy universe’ ready-made for AI researchers wishing to tackle

the slippery slopes of analogy, metaphor, resemblance, the making and taking
of meaning.