The Serious Game

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  • Title: The Serious Game: Towards a Hermeneutic Understanding of the Tarot
  • Author(s): James Edward Frost
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: The Image
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of the Image
  • Keywords: Tarot, Hermeneutics, Interpretation
  • Volume: 7
  • Issue: 2
  • Year: 2016
  • ISSN: 2154-8560 (Print)
  • ISSN: 2154-8579 (Online)
  • DOI:
  • Citation: Frost, James Edward. 2016. "The Serious Game: Towards a Hermeneutic Understanding of the Tarot." The International Journal of the Image 7 (2): 15-32. doi:10.18848/2154-8560/CGP/v07i02/15-32.
  • Extent: 18 pages


Tarot publishing and tarot reading is more popular and widespread than ever before, despite the fact that the practice largely bypasses new media innovations. So why does it have such longevity? How is it able to renew itself as an art form and image practice so successfully? The communities which use the tarot engage with the image in particular ways. In parts of Europe the tarot is still played as a game; in Britain and the United States it is used for divination. As the practice of visual interpretation and the disclosure of truth are central to divination with the tarot, I refer to the philosophical hermeneutics of Hans-Georg Gadamer as an appropriate way of understanding the practice. I utilize Gadamer’s notions of play, festival and symbol to explain the relationship between gaming and reading the cards. From this I am able to formulate an understanding of cartomancy as a form of serious play, related to but differing from game play in the nature of its encounter with the symbol. In my previous roundtable discussion on this subject I concentrated on the potential cathartic effect of a tarot reading through demonstration. This article refines my underlying theory by focusing on the dialectic of interpretation and how that relates to the past, present and continuing uses of the cards.