You can thank a presidential beard for many of the games you enjoyed playing as a kid.
Milton Bradley (whose birthday is celebrated this week: November 8) had a pretty decent business in 1860 selling pictures of Abraham Lincoln. But then Lincoln ruined Bradley’s business by growing a beard. Bradley had a stockpile of lithograph of a beardless Lincoln that was now useless.
Looking for something else to produce and sell, Bradley got an idea for a board game. Board games were still uncommon—a novelty— but the one Bradley created took off.
He called it The Checkered Game of Life. You just moved around a checkerboard, landing on either virtues or vices. The first person to get 100 points won. Just landing on the “Happy Old Age” square would get you 50 points. (And I assume the right to yell, “You kids get off of my square!”)
The game was an instant success. The Milton Bradley Company went on to produce a bazillion other games, and entice a couple of brothers named Parker to launch their own board game empire.
In 1960, on its 100th anniversary, Bradley’s first board was reintroduced as The Game of Life.
The Checkered Game of Life did more than just popularize board games. It encouraged a different way of thinking.
Prior to Bradley’s game, parlor games for the whole family centered more around teaching morals and virtues. Bradley built his game around another ideal creeping into American culture: an emphasis on materialism. Yes, Bradley’s game dealt with virtues, but they were secular virtues, not spiritual ones. The virtues on his board game would help you succeed in financial security.
Other board games jumped on this bandwagon. Many games were built around the rags-to-riches objective. And this hit its apex when the Parker brothers introduced their own game in 1935: Monopoly.
So for years now, since we were kids, we’ve been playing with the unspoken message that the goal of life is simply to make lots of money so that when we get to be old geezers, we’re millionaire tycoons. Is that the life lesson we want our kids to learn?
Now before you write me off as a curmudgeon who despises games:
- I spend hours playing this game with my twin sister.
- Last year, my family’s annual Christmas card was based on the game.
- I want us to teach our kids the value of money and doing well in business.
But that’s not all there is.
I’m currently reading through the Book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon wrote of pursuing wealth and happiness, but he found them meaningless. Solomon presented a great case for changing the bumper sticker—He who dies with the most toys wins—to He who dies with the most toys still dies.
Play games like Life and Monopoly with your kids. But help them see that what applies to the Game of Life is meaningless to the Reality of Life. Here’s how Solomon said it:
“Here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind (Ecc. 12: 13).