In 1860 Milton Bradley (b. November 8, 1836, d. May 30, 1911) introduced a board game known as The Checkered Game of Life. It looked like a checkerboard, was the first game Bradley created, and sold more than 40,000 copies that first year. Players started at infancy in one corner of the board; the goal was to earn 100 points by making virtuous choices (visiting squares marked Honesty, Bravery, PerseveranceSuccess; avoiding Poverty, Idleness, Disgrace, Ruin, and of course, Suicide). Reaching "happy old age" in the opposite corner was worth 50 points. Rather than rolling dice, players spun a six-sided top called a teetotum. Dice-rolling was associated with gambling and was not to be encouraged. 

One hundred years later, the Milton Bradley Company introduced the modern version of The Game of Life, often referred to as simply Life. The game board no longer resembles a checkerboard. Instead, it is a twisty path over mountains and past buildings (church, library, bank, and other municipal edifices) which players navigate in little plastic mini vans. It has a fun, rainbow colored Wheel of Fortune players spin to determine how many spaces they move during each turn. Rather than starting at birth, this remake begins with players deciding whether to go to college or get a job. The game ends not at death but at retirement, and the player who has accumulated the most money wins. 

mblase has a writeup about the game in the Game of Life node. The writeup provides a basic description and then a few criticisms: 

I still think there's room for improvement. What benefits and losses might be incurred if you don't want to get married, for example, or you choose to pursue a homosexual lifestyle? Why do doctors take just as long to finish college as teachers? Why can't you cash in your stock certificates upon retirement? Why don't you lose money every payday the more children you have? And should there be spaces like "Divorce! Pay half your salary in alimony" or "Tornado strikes! Collect insurance and buy new home"?

When I taught Consumer Math, I played this game with my students. I found that it was an excellent conversation starter. I liked that choosing to go to college meant that a player had a wider choice of careers, but other than that I played fast and loose with the established rules. Don't want to get married? Fine, you don't have to. You're a boy who wants to marry a boy? Go right ahead. (This made some of my middle school aged students very uncomfortable--we were playing in the '90s and early aughts--but it made for great teachable moments.) It can take weeks to play if you're going to stop and discuss every square on the board. Fortunately, this was a private school, and I had time to set the pacing and curriculum as I saw fit.

A later version of the game, released in 1991, included "Life Tiles" which represented (non-monetary) achievements: "Build a Better Mousetrap", "Win Nobel Prize", "Swim the English Channel", "Discover a Cure for Cancer", etc. When we played in class, I made sure my students understood the concepts covered in the game--not just taxes, earning interest, paying tuition, buying stock--but also idioms and parts of speech: windfall, bundle of joy, getting hitched, break the bank. We debated which were our favorite achievements described on the Life Tiles. We talked about how the picture of the split level house that had been split in half in an earthquake was a play on words. When we finally finished, my students took a test. They answered questions like:

  • I just wrecked my car. Is it too late to buy car insurance? Explain why or why not.
  • Who invented dynamite?
  • List some pros and cons to having a baby.
  • What other choices do you have after high school, other than getting a job or going to college?
  • In the board game Life, you win by having the most money. In real life, what are some indicators of success?

Grading that test was one of the highlights of my year.


The New Yorker: The Meaning of Life

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.