Mathoms and Games

When I was growing up, before we got Internet access (i.e. before my junior year of high school or so), my family and I spent a lot of time on Grex, an Ann Arbor-based BBS and free shell provider. At the time, one of the games (written by a founding member of the system, but which has since vanished) was a “mathom” program.

A mathom, in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, is an item that’s rather like a white elephant—it’s valuable, most likely old, and probably unique, but not by any means useful—at least to you, anymore. (Bilbo’s mithril shirt was a mathom.) It was almost certainly given to you by someone important (or important to you), and likely has a long and distinguished history, so you can’t just get rid of it. And it’d be a shame to pack it away in your attic and forget about it. So, if you can’t set it in a place of honor or put it on display, the only thing to do with a mathom is to give it away to someone else.

And that was the premise of this program (hardly a game, really …): you created mathoms and gave them away. If you received a mathom, you could keep it or, now or eventually, give it away to someone else. Especially for a literate and imaginative middle school student, this was a very diverting pastime, and I remember it fondly. But the system has changed hardware twice since then, and been ported from operating system to operating system, and somewhere along the line the mathom program was lost.

A couple of years ago, soon after Facebook created its applications platform, I thought to myself, “Surely someone’s created a mathom game for Facebook!” After all, this sort of thing is ideal for a social platform, and many of the most popular games include sort-of-similar mechanics. But no, my search came up empty.

So now I’ve added such a program to my list of projects to get to one day. (My initial brainstorming of use-cases was on the pad I mislaid a few weeks ago, the same pad as yesterday’s poem. But I can do more thinking when I get around to it.) I think that before the time comes to turn part of Strategic Primer into a social-network or mobile game, I’ll do this to get my head around the development environment, model, and ecosystem.

But I’d still like your thoughts now. Comments?

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