Hanzi Tarot

puzzle game design & development

Do you find Chinese characters beautiful and fascinating? Do you ever wonder how these complex symbols deliver meaning through their base units, constructions, and pronunciations? The Hanzi Tarot game is an experimental puzzle and tarot reading game that challenges the current language system and explores the underlying structure of Chinese characters.

Through the Hanzi Tarot game, players are invited to build their own unique characters, experimenting with inclusive and exclusive characters that go beyond their traditional meanings. By playing with these characters, players can explore the resonance space between form and meaning, discovering how small changes in the placement of base units or the pronunciation of characters can completely alter their meaning.

But instead of creating linguistic meaning through your artwork, you receive a tarot result. This tarot reading is based on the form and structure of your character, offering a new way of understanding and exploring the underlying meaning of these intricate symbols.

At its core, the Hanzi Tarot game is a bold challenge to the traditional language system. By creating a space for experimentation and play, the game encourages players to think outside the box and consider the underlying structure and rules that govern Chinese characters. This project seeks to encourage a deeper appreciation of the forms and constructions of characters beyond their surface-level meaning, and to explore the possibilities that emerge when we challenge the existing language system. Whether you are a language enthusiast, a puzzle lover, or simply someone who appreciates the beauty and complexity of Chinese characters, the Hanzi Tarot game is an invitation to explore the power of language, the intricate ways in which characters deliver meaning, and the hidden depths of your own character.

View Google Slide ︎︎︎


Game concept

The process of making inclusion and exclusion poster brought me to think about what makes meaning, and does art always makes meaning. I landed with the conclusion that “we are allowed to get attracted with things we do not understand, and it’s ok to be fascinated with things that are just visually beautiful.”

So I decided to make another “meaningless” but beautiful thing. I realized that beauty is different from everybody’s standard, so this project could also be “selfish” in a way since I got so attracted to grids and strokes, and it might not be interesting for other audiences.

My intention for creating this game was to let my audiences have fun with grids and strokes and create their own “meaningless” character, however, after realizing it might not be their interests, I added another aspect of interaction: to create a tarot reading system based on grids and strokes, and audiences will get feedback after they finished composing, I guess nobody hates a free fortune teller.

Gaming rules(presented in google slides)

Gaming examples with tarot feedbacks

number of grid: 12 (inversion)

Largest part:亠 (tóu)
Only hook cut, sound head. ——"Words"
Original meaning: heads, upper parts.

Smallest part:夂(zhǐ)
“There is a cause behind the elephant's legs. All the genus of Huai are from Huai.”
Original meaning: Ends, ending.

Your guide: Inverted “Top things ends”

Based on the guide you chose, the meaning would explicitly be: top things (could be understand as things in your head, or good things) seems to ends.

Based on the number of grids which is even, the meaning was inverted, your tops things (again, I would say good things or things you are expecting) will continue happened.

The grid-letter shows that you are very close to your the results you are thinking. It was not clear if the results were good or bad, but they are what you have been thinking recently. The grid-letter also suggests that you shoul face your thoughts and any results that could happened.

number of grid: 6 (inversion)

Largest part:冂(jiōng)
"Outside the city is called the suburbs, the suburbs are called the wild, the wild is called the forest, and the forest is called the 冂. It is like the far world.".
Original meaning: outside the city, outskirts, and the field.

Smallest part:丷(bā)
“Number 8 in it’s up-side-down”
Eight is a lucky number in China, when you read it, it sounds like “rich”, so number eight usually stands for money or fortune.
Original meaning: Eight.

Your guide: Inverted “Fortune out the field”

Based on the guide you chose, the meaning would explicitly be: losing treasure or giving good away.

Based on the number of grids which is even, the meaning was inverted, you will get unexpected fortune or financial support from someone.

The grid-letter suggest that you are very close to your finance expectations. You might want you use this waiting time to keep pushing toward where you want to be, and watch your money carefully while the fortune is coming toward you.

number of grid: 3 (upright)

Largest part:一(yī)
“This character was originally found in Shang Dynasty Oracle and Shang Dynasty Bronze Inscriptions. The earlist meaning is the smallest primitive unit, the smallest positive integer, and later extended to be the same, indifferent, integral, all, whole, etc."
Original meaning: first, only, single, whole, unified.

Smallest part:口(kǒu)
“Hieroglyphic characters, the oracle bone inscription is like an upward mouth, and the upper part has a meaning, so it is mostly used to refer to pronunciation. The original meaning is the mouth, and the extension is the outer part of the container, the place where it passes through, etc.”
Original meaning: mouth, words, entry.

Your guide: Upright “first word”

Based on the guide you chose, the meaning would explicitly be: that first sentence you said to someone, or your overall meaning through your talking.

Based on the number of grids which is odd, the meaning was upright. Be more careful to the words you said or the message you want to deliver.

The grid-letter suggests that you might talk to someone about something important soon, but the meaning might not delivered right. The grid-letter also suggests that you can write down something before you start talking, keep checking the logic or any small words that would be misleading, get prepared.

Rules for tarot reading

(do not read this part if you would like to play the game)
1. Count the number of grids first. If the amount is odd, the meaning is “upright”; if the amount is even, the meaning is “inverted”.

2. ONLY look at the largest block and smallest one, interpret the meaning of those two base-units in the grids, what do they mean when are putting together. It would be the guide that leads to the interpretation.

3. THEN look at other parts, look for reputations, how was the grid constructed (symmetrical? contrast in size?), are there legible characters created by accident? Etc.

4. Start the interpretation by pointing out the GUIDE first, explain it. Following by the grid interpretation, each part’s interpretation, and point out accidental legible characters for suggestions if any appears.

DAISY JIN is a graphic & game designer with a focus on public entertainment based in Los Angeles, CA. (info) (types) (︎)

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