Burns, Thomas A. “‘THE GAME OF LIFE’: IDEALISM, REALITY AND FANTASY IN THE NINETEENTH- AND TWENTIETH-CENTURY VERSIONS OF A MILTON BRADLEY GAME.” Canadian Review of American Studies 9, no.1 (January 1978): 50-83.
Reviewed by Laura Hergenroeder
In 1860 Milton Bradley released the Checkered Game of Life, and in 1960 released an updated version called The Game of Life. In the Checkered Game of Life a player moves their piece around on a board collecting points from positive spaces with the goal of receiving 100 points. The space of Happy Old Age will give a player 50 points, however, the other spaces near it make it difficult to get to and even more difficult to move away from. The article suggests that the best strategy is to gain points from lower value spaces first, then move to Happy Old Age (Burns 57). The most detrimental space is the Suicide space, which removes a player from the game. The method of play however, means that unless a player plays very strategically and poorly, they can avoid the Suicide space. A player can move in any direction on the board the number of spaces that they roll. The method places strategy over chance in the game, and in the article Burns suggests that the game then suggests that an individual can avoid life’s pitfalls if they act in an appropriate manner (Burns 60). The strategy for the game also suggests that it is advantageous to go after small rewards and goals early in life, and then peruse larger ones (Burns 60).
In The Game of Life players move in a set manner along a track on the board with only a few instances where they can choose a direction. In those instances the longer track provides more opportunity for financial gain, but also large potential penalties. Unlike in Checkered Game of Life in The Game of Life chance plays a larger part than strategy. Additionally, financials and money are of paramount importance in The Game of Life the goal of the game is to have the most money, and children and marriages are both reduced to a financial gain. In The Game of Life every player must get married, as this is the only reference to religion or morality in the game the article suggests that the reason is that later in the game players have the opportunity to have children (Burns 73). While the game does not actively encourage morality, it does reinforce and support the morality of children only being born in wedlock. The Game of Life promotes a positive relationship with and portrayal of money.
In both games going to college and procuring higher education is seen as good things that will help an individual be successful in life. In The Game of Life it is advantageous for an individual to gamble and participate in the stock market. However, in the Checkered Game of Life gambling was portrayed as leading to ruin. Additionally, it is interesting how the Checkered Game of Life shows life from Infancy to Happy Old Age, whereas The Game of Life starts the players out in adulthood after high school, and ends in middle age. The difference between the two is attributed to the advent of a separation of childhood and adulthood as a concept in the twentieth century America (Burns 76). Additionally, in The Game of Life a player can be more openly aggressive, and preform moves that allow them to gain from the lose of another player. In Checkered Game of Life an individual could not gain from hurting another players chances, and did not have to be aggressive in their play at all.
The differences between the Checkered Game of Life and The Game of Life show an interesting difference in the ideals of what a successful life would be and how an individual would get there in different periods of American society.