Insofar as the GlassBeadGame is not a phenomenon that recurs throughout history, or an eternal archetype, it all started with a novel by Hermann_Hesse?, for which he won the Nobel Prize in 1946:

If you're reading it in English, try to get the Richard and Clara Winston translation, which by most accounts preserves the wit and irony of the original better than the first English translation did. (The Winston translation is the only one that is widely available anyway.)

Note that purchasing the novel from the links above will do two things:

  1. help fund the Center for Ludic Synergy, which maintains this wiki, and 2. help stick it to, for which there are plenty of reasons.