The Ivanhoe Game: Assignment (Kirschenbaum)

IVANHOE: A Game of Critical Interpretation

Adapted by Matthew Kirschenbaum for
ENGL 467: Computer and Text, University of Maryland

[This version of IVANHOE was played with a blog only because IVANHOE 1.0 had not yet been released; the advantage of the new online playspace is that it communicates graphically (see Seiffert).]

“The premise of the game—and of our critical ideas in general—is that works of imagination contain within themselves, as it were, multiple versions of themselves: not just many meanings, but many (often divergent and even contradictory) lines of possibility and development that appear to us (perhaps) only in latent or relatively undeveloped forms (for various reasons). The game is to expose and develop those lines.”

—Jerome McGann and Johanna Drucker, “The Ivanhoe Game"


You will not be able to post to the game board unless you have first registered a character. To register, go here: (Yes, that’s “discus” in the URL and not “discuss.”)

Select “Edit Profile” from the menu at left. Then click the “Instant Registration” button and follow the directions. Be sure to select English 467 - Ivanhoe Game - Spring 2002. The username you enter here should be the name of the character you’ve chosen to play.

Making a Move

To make a move, once you’ve registered simply go to the URL above, select English 467 - Ivanhoe Game - Spring 2002, and then select Game One or Game Two (depending on which board you’re playing on). Make sure you’ve selected the correct board. Add a move to the board by entering your user name and password, and following the on-screen directions.


The game will commence at midnight on Tuesday, April 16 and conclude at midnight on Thursday, May 9. You must make at least three moves during the course of the game to fulfill the requirements of this assignment, but may wind up making many more as the play progresses (see “quantity” as a criteria for grading, below), and you must also submit a Player File (see below). At least one move will be due by each of the dates indicated on the online course calendar. Your first move should serve to introduce your character. The text of record for the game will be our 1992 Penguin edition of Frankenstein, edited by Maurice Hindle.

Types of Characters

You may play one of two types of characters: an internal character or an external character. Internal characters are from the “world” of the text. Examples might be Clerval or one of the professors at Inglestadt. External characters exist in an imaginative framework outside the text. They may be either fictional/hypothetical, or based on an actual historical figure. Examples are someone who discovers a trunk of letters from Mary Shelley in her old cottage on the shores of Lake Leman , or Sigmund Freud.

The board for Game One will consist of internal characters, and the board for Game Two will consist of external characters . You must play on the appropriate board, and you may not switch back and forth between boards. A move played on the wrong board will automatically be voided (see Refereeing, below). We will choose characters in class, so as to ensure that roughly the same number of people are playing on each board.

Two people cannot play the same character. For purposes of this game, Victor, the monster, and Elizabeth are all off limits. Beyond that, you have a great deal of freedom in the character you choose to play. There is no particular advantage to playing a more prominent character (such as Clerval or Sigmund Freud) versus a lesser or more mundane character. You may not change characters once your play begins.

Types of Moves

There are two basic types of move (but you may think of others). You may make either one, in any combination. The first type of move is revisionary: it consists of rewriting a portion of the actual text of Frankenstein (you should indicate the chapter and page number). The second type of move is constructive: it consists of expanding the imaginative horizon of the game by introducing additional texts into the documentary field. Examples might be a diary or letters Mary Shelley wrote while composing Frankenstein, or a series of mysterious notebooks discovered in the library at Inglestadt.

Your first move on the board should serve to introduce your character, though you may choose not to reveal all his/her facets.

Some sample constructive moves:

  • Clerval discovers Victor’s journal and writes a letter about the discover to Victor’s father
  • One of the professors on the faculty at Ingestadt circulates a memo to his colleagues about rumors of some unsavory research
  • Someone now inhabiting Mary Shelley’s cottage on the shores of Lake Leman discovers a trunk of letters from someone named “Mary Shelley”
  • Sigmund Freud, up late reading Frankenstein, makes some notes in his journal about human nature

Your moves should build on one another, fulfilling their own narrative arc. You should try to think several moves ahead, keeping in mind how you want your character to develop, what kind of interaction you want with the other characters, and ultimately what kind of imaginative intervention you wish to make in Frankenstein.

All moves are to be accepted by the other players as tangible interventions in the shared world of the game (but see Refereeing, below). All players are responsible for reading the moves of all other players, and responding to them accordingly (see “empathy” as a criteria for grading, below).


I will be the game referee, and will reserve the right to void any move that seems disruptive or willfully violates the collective imagination of the game. For example, a move that kills off Victor would stand a very high likelihood of being voided by me, unless it were preceded by some truly extraordinary play setting up the narrative conditions whereby such a move was legitimated. A voided move will not count as one of your three moves for purposes of the requirements of the game. Likewise, I will immediately void any move that is violent, abusive, or otherwise inappropriate with respect to another player. As the referee I also reserve the right to expel without warning players for serious enough infractions. Expulsion will result in a failing grade for this assignment.

Your Player File

 You will each keep a separate player file, which is an ongoing journal where you reflect on your character’s actions or motivations and offer a rationale for the moves you’re making. Your player file should take the form of a simple HTML page in your WAM account. You must send me the URL for your player file upon completion of game play. You should not reveal your player file to others during the course of the game, though you may choose to do so afterward.


Your game play will be evaluated (graded) based on the following criteria:

  • authenticity : how convincing is the textual voice you’ve given to the character you’ve chosen to play?
  • influence : do your moves influence and impact the actions of other players?
  • empathy : are your own moves responsive to the actions of others, at least some of the time?
  • quantity : the number of moves you make is one indicator of the level of your engagement with the game, and so more is better—to a point. Moves that are clearly made just for the sake of making moves will actually have a negative effect on your grade.
  • research : related to authenticity, do your moves (at least some of them) make use of secondary sources that make your role-playing more convincing or historically accurate?
  • player file : how effective is the player file in documenting the motivations of your character?

I will not grade moves individually, but will rather look at all of them as a collective entity, including the Player File. Therefore if your early moves are less effective because you’re still learning “how” to play the game, they won’t weigh heavily in your grade.

Some Questions and Answers About Evaluation:

Q: How long does a move have to be?

A: There is no set length, though two or three paragraphs might be typical. Like “quantity” (above), the length of individual moves is one indicator of the level of your engagement with the game, and will be interpreted by me as such. On the other hand, some very effective moves might be very short, but probably only if those moves have already been contextualized through other, more substantial, moves that you’ve made.

Q: Is it possible to get an A by submitting just three moves and the player file?

A: Yes, theoretically, if each move is of substantive length, immaculately crafted (see “authenticity” and “research,” above), and engages deeply with the surrounding game-play (“influence” and “empathy,” also above).

Q: If I make a lot of moves, am I guaranteed an A?

A: Not necessarily. “Quantity” will be one factor in my grading, as indicated above, but quality (as defined by the other five factors) counts just as much.