The Victorian Game of Gobolinks

Many of you are probably at least somewhat aware of the power of inkblots and the human mind. Or, at least, the implied power of them as set up by Hermann Rorschach, who created the inkblot test in 1921. However, there was a victorian precursor to this practice of interpreting inkblots: Gobolinks.

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As defined by a book on the subject, titled "Gobolinks, or Shadow Pictures," Gobolinks are a "veritable goblin of the ink-bottle." Although this book wasn't published until 1896, the idea of Gobolinks had been popular since the 1700s, when it was originally known as klecksography (a fancy word for inkblot art). These once sloppy drip-marks began to become art work in and of themselves and made famous by artists like Justinus Kerner (who was also a physician). 

These goblins of the ink bottles became unique creatures - not purposefully made by the artist but willed into the world through the ink itself, but still abled to be interpreted. The Gobolinks book also made this art form into a game. 

Here's how it works:

1) Players have to 'create' ink blots

2) The paper with the blot would then be folded in half, to create a symmetrical image.

3) Players then have to write a rhyme based on the image

4) The chosen judge then assesses which blobs are the best, the winning blob is then declared a "booby".

As this game was popular at parties, the writers of the book suggested that people should wear outfits that are as symmetrical as possible, to mimics the in blots they'd make.

Gobolink Examples:

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Gobolinks also have a bit of a strange, creepy side. Perhaps it is how symetrical the blots are that make people just a hair uncomfortable...but a follow-up book by different authors in 1907, Blottentots, was written and seemed to, as Atlas Obscura notes "embrace the inherently shadowy, otherworldly look of inkblot creations."

Blottentot Example:

So how did ink blots go from accidental artwork to a party game to physiological test? In 1921, not long after the popularity of gobolinks and inkblot games had ebbed away, Herman Rorschach published "Psychodiagnostics." Rorschach believed that what people perceived in strange, ambiguous inkblots could have the potential to reveal differences in their basic personality structure.

Instead of the ink blot game that asks players to come up with an imaginative poem or rhyme based on the blot, Rorschach asked "What might this be." Based on their answers, he believed he could learn, psychologically, more about people.

For example, if a patient repeatedly sees fighting/violence in the inkblots they likely have a very different mind from someone who sees dancing/athletic activity in the same inkblots. Based on this, he set out to devise a precise system for scoring his test, like whether the test subject was interpreting color, form, or movement. The product of this final test was the previously mentioned Psychodiagnostics, in which he studied 300 mental patients and 100 control subjects.

Inkblot Test:



And that is how have inkblots have remained in culture for over 300 years. From art to games to psychological tests. Although, I have to say, Gobolinks might be my favorite incarnation of the inkblot.


All the images are public domain, provided by the Archive:



Inkblot Test