Blog Post

Chess and Participatory Culture: Part II

During the first weekend of December many in the HASTAC community were following the #HASTAC2011 tag. While I also followed and contributed to the tag, I spent an equal (if not greater) amount of time rooting for Magnus Carlsen during the proceedings of the London Chess Classic. The tournament was not only of interest because it happened to overlap with the HASTAC conference but because the event began with a pre-conference that ended with an informal Twitter Chess tournament. Now, the combination of Chess and social media is a subject that I have previously written about when the RAW Chess Challenge encouraged chess players to send in moves to a website which calculated the most popular moves which were then played via other Grand Masters against GM Magnus Carlsen. At the same time, there are many differences between the two competitions which I believe answers some of the speculations that I had in my first blog post.

To start off there were many similarities between the two competitions. Both contests used the words “Vs. the World” in their titles (i.e. “Magnus Carlsen vs. the World” and “The London Chess Classic versus the World”), which indicated the far-reaching scope of the internet. Also, both competitions had multiple participants of very high rankings, although the London Chess Classic included more Grand Masters than the RAW Chess Challenge. With all of these similarities there were also some important differences between the two contests. Most notably, the RAW Chess Challenge was hosted on a website in which players could send in their moves via Facebook while the London Chess Classic was hosted via Twitter. Also, while the RAW Chess Challenge was an official game the London Chess Classic game was fairly informal.

Despite the fact that the London Chess Classic used the Twitter game as a kind of icebreaker for the players participating in the tournament, the game showed the ways in which participatory culture not only takes a person from a place of passivity to activity but also the way it encourages communalistic learning. As players from around the world tweeted their moves to @londonchessclassic it was stated in the recorded conference proceedings that the atmosphere was unlike many traditional chess competitions. Instead of two players sitting across from each other individually concentrating as a group of silent spectators look down upon them, the Twitter games allowed players to freely move around the room while conversing with other players. It is in this freedom and informality that higher ranking players were able to assist other players with their games by discussing tactics and possible moves. While this sharing would have been considered cheating during a formal game, in the world of social media it becomes another indicator of how the internet encourages communal learning. As I have recently started reading Cathy N. Davidsons Now You See It, I could not help but draw some connections between the different ways to play a game of chess and the different ways of teaching students that are outlined in the book. Especially in chess, which seems to encourage a certain degree of attention blindness, it is interesting how playing games via Twitter encouraged people to help others by showing them the moves that they could not see in their own games.

As this is the second time (at least that I know of) which a chess tournament has used social media to play the game I think that there may be a trend starting. Even if it remains fairly informal, I think that it is a step in the right direction for chess organizers to be re-thinking the way that the game is played in the information age. 

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