Board Games of History, Part One

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I attended BlizzCon 2017, a convention of video gamers from around the world.

I and thirty thousand other fans of games published by Blizzard Entertainment, descended upon the Anaheim Convention Center for a two day gaming fest. Gamers came from around the world to participate in new releases, new characters, new levels and of course, the World Cup of Overwatch, a team based shooter with hundreds of thousands of devoted followers.

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I watched the World Cup of Overwatch from inside a stadium with thousands of others as the South Korea team demolished all comers. The South Koreans are legendary for their skills and are seen by most as unbeatable. Even Team France said that winning the World Cup would be nice, but beating Team South Korea would be better.

The Overwatch World Cup 2017

Watching these fans cheer and groan as they sat spellbound I could not help but notice how this was a celebration of community and culture.

It was not, as many culture warriors decry, a retreat from reality and an exploration of narcissism.

This was just another way that people enjoy each other.

And this is a lot of people.

Thirty million people play overwatch, but not all at once. At any one time there may be as many as three hundred thousand people playing Overwatch, but the exact number is a company secret.

Blizzard Entertainment won’t say.

[The numbers for World of Warcraft are even more stellar, as it boasts a subscriber base of 5.5 million players! Geeks rule!]

World Of Warcraft

This shows just how important games are to us, and how revealing they are about who we are at any time in history.

The history of board games is one interesting example of change over time in American history.

In the first half of the the nineteenth century Americans played chess and checkers but did not yet have the iconic board games we have grown to love. One can imagine how more difficult their holidays must have been to navigate without the supportive pastimes we have now.

Nevertheless, what the 1840’s lacked in fun they made up for in righteousness. This was the period of the Second Great Awakening, when religious fervor gripped the national psyche. A good time was attending a camp meeting in the middle of the forest, dancing with snakes and speaking in tongues, sometimes for days and days on end. With this alternative, it is no wonder that someone came up with another way to pass the time.

In 1843 Anne Abbott invented a board game called The Mansion of Happiness. The ides of the game was immediately exciting to Americans who came home from dancing with snakes in the woods. By moving a playing piece along a track with hazards reflecting the daily travails of humans everywhere the players could pretend that they were the game, rather than just playing a strategy.

The Mansion of Happiness

The Mansion of Happiness allowed these pious Americans to move in search of Eternal Salvation, avoiding setbacks such as Perjury, Robbery and Drunkenness.

The purpose of this new and strange pastime was to teach children, of course. All games are didactic in this way, and therefore offer a historical insight into what was important at the time. In 1843, it was important for children to live a moral and pious life, with the ultimate goal to enter the real “mansion of happiness”, also known as heaven.

Because the Second Great Awakening was so widespread and pervasive in the lives of Americans, we can see through The Mansion of Happiness that children were being taught how to live a religious and Christian existence.

The purpose of life was to be a good Christian, and character defects like “immodesty” and “ingratitude” were seen as sinful and detrimental to your soul.

Because of this, boardgames of history tell us a lot about the people who played them and the times they come from. It helps us to understand how these games have survived throughout history, and gives pause to see how they, or we, have changed as a culture.

Today, it is doubtful that many children play The Mansion of Happiness. They still play its progeny, however.

Can you guess what The Mansion of Happiness it called in the 21st Century?

Please write the answer in the comment section below. I will reveal the answer in Board Games of History, Part Two.

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