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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

How Milton Bradley’s morality play shaped the modern board game

An interview with  Tristan Donovan by Christopher Klein
The Boston Globe
Originally published May 26, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

Donovan: By 1860, America had the start of the board game industry, but it wasn’t big. Production was done mostly by hand, since there weren’t big printing presses. An added complication at the time was that America was a much more puritanical society, and game-playing of any kind was seen by many as sinful and a waste of time.

Milton Bradley himself was fairly devout. When he set out to make a board game, he was worried his friends would frown upon it, so he wanted to make a game that would teach morality. The basic idea of The Checkered Game of Life was to amass points and in the end reach “Happy Old Age.” You could accumulate points by landing on squares for virtues such as honor and happiness, and there were squares to avoid such as gambling and idleness. It’s steering players to the righteous path.

Ideas: That morality also complicated game play.

Donovan: Dice were considered evil and associated with gambling by many, so instead he used a teetotum, which had a series of numbers printed on it that you spun like a top.

Ideas: George Parker, on the other hand, built his name on rejecting a lot of those conventions.

Donovan: All the games that were available to Parker growing up were largely morality tales like The Checkered Game of Life. He was fed up with it. He wanted to play a game and didn’t want it to be a Sunday sermon every time. His first game, Banking, was basically about amassing money through speculation. The goal was to be the richest, rather than the first to achieve a happy old age. Parker created games that were about fun and making money, which found appeal as Gilded Age America transitioned from a Puritanical society to one about making money and doing well in a career.

The interview is here.