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Notes about: Workshop: The Game of Moral Precepts, in Diálogo de Preceitos Morais (1540)

27 and 28 February 2020

Held at Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto

By moderators: Celeste Pedro & José Higuera



The Game of Moral Precepts is part of a book by the Portuguese author João de Barros. The book contains detachable pieces, three game boards, a pointer and the rules to play the game. This workshop, held last February, was comprised of two days of both theoretical and practical presentations, where the participants not only contributed for a richer discussion of the cultural and technological environments of the production of such a book, but were also engaged in playing the game. From the immediate context of the Portuguese Kingdom's court, we dealt with moral philosophy, religion, education of the young, iconography, astronomy and the printing press.

After a summary of the book's formal content, the participants got hands-on, in teams of two, with the prototypes developed for the occasion. These prototypes were developed in digital format and produced (in print) according to the author's instructions. No matter how difficult the task was, some new ideas were approached, namely the fact that: as it stands (in the book) the game is not fully playable; a recollection/clarification and language updating of the rules of the game is needed; a fourth board (the actual racing board) has to exist, and a chart with possible movements and points gained should be created for a smoother rhythm of the game.


Following up on the outcomes of the workshop, or more correctly, the questions raised during the acquired empirical knowledge, a new prototype was developed.

All possible combinations of the boards (according to the rotation of the pointer) were calculated and laid down in charts for virtues and vices, thus simplifying each move and substantiating the theoretical construct around the game.

Rules were systematised in diagrams and unified into one single list. Although there is a specific chapter dedicate to the rules of the game, they are complemented and clarified by the examples contained within the main text. The game functions as an extension of the text in so far as it allows its players to grasp the complexity of moral theory and the paths to happiness.

The whole presentation of the author's theory of virtues, filled with references to other authors, was visually reinterpreted in order to convey as much information as possible into one big scheme, aimed at facilitating the reader's approach to the book in its various aspects.

And finally, this time, along with the existing three boards (used to calculate the progression or moves of the game pieces), a fourth board was designed according to hints found in the texts - number of houses, direction of the race, final houses, etc.. It seemed logical that it too should have a circular form large enough to fit the pieces and use the same aesthetics.

We are now preparing a second edition of this workshop, with new prototypes and a deeper understanding of the aims and benefits of Barros' practical knowledge strategy. Stay tuned!

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