Playful Tarot: Adaptations of Tarot In, Through, and Across Games

Howard, Jeff ORCID logoORCID:, Phillips, Tim ORCID logoORCID:, Scott, Michael ORCID logoORCID:, Summerley, Rory ORCID logoORCID: and Mitchell, Alexander (2023) Playful Tarot: Adaptations of Tarot In, Through, and Across Games. In: Proceedings of the 9th Biennial Conference of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism, June 26-28, 2023, Malmo, Sweden.

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Abstract / Summary

The magical practice of divination through tarot emanates from the sacred, ritualistic power of play. Long before tarot accretes esoteric symbolism as a divinatory tool, Italians played it as the parlour game tarrochi. Extending this history, many games implement tarot as a mechanical framework and a source of visual imagery. Yet, not all implementations of tarot are equally successful artistically and spiritually. Ludic tarot is often mechanistic (just another way to think about buffs and stats) or superficially thematic (visual imagery without underlying semiotic content). In this paper, we will unravel the intertwined history of games and tarot, exploring its relationship to other cartomantic practices, including the dark Gnostic “Game of Saturn” decoded by Peter Mark Adams in the Sola-Busca deck, the pragmatically cryptic Lenormand deck, and the divinatory use of standard 52-card playing decks in folk witchcraft. Building upon this historical insight, we will then analyse three related tabletop games as case studies: Chalice (in which tarot generates narratives of a failed Grail quest), Alas Vegas (which resolves conflict and generates narrative through tarot-driven blackjack), and Invisible Sun (which reinvents tarot through the circular Sooth deck driving its magic system). All three of these games weave resonant connections between the imagery and mechanics of cards and fictional gameworlds, thereby investing tarot with an eerie sense of meaningful coincidence or synchronicity. Understanding the techniques that create a more resonant experience of tarot can open the way for a deeper implementation of tarot in game development, as well as enable playful reflection and insight within the magical practice. Specifically, insights into non-digital ludic implementations of tarot can pave the way for richer and more resonant digital tarot applications, building upon and deepening the recent use of tarot in videogames (such as Tanya X. Short’s Cartomancy anthology and Adam Malone’s VR tarot).

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: Technology > Digital Works > Digital Games
Communication > Media > Digital Media
History > International
Philosophy & Psychology
Social Sciences
Courses by Department: The Games Academy > Digital Games
Depositing User: Michael Scott
Date Deposited: 14 Feb 2023 14:12
Last Modified: 13 Nov 2023 13:16


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