Margaret Hofer: The Games We Played

[Readings] (01.27.09, 2:27 pm)

Hofer’s book is about the golden age of board games, which was from the 1840s to the 1920s. The games reflect the values, beliefs, and aspirations in the American cultural landscape at that time.

This is relevant for considering in the case of 1) gender (many game players were girls), and 2) the correlation of games to ideologies/cultural meaning systems. In contrast to how video games are percieved now, board games were seen as positive, educational, important instilling moral values, and occupied a center within family life. Games were tied into moral value systems, and operationalized the cultural values of the time.

The golden age of board games emerged partly due to the urban shift in the mid 1800s, and indicates a redefining of the space of the home. Board games were not generally popular until urbanization, as agrarian life did not lend itself to leisure time. The emergence of games reinforced the focus of the home as the center of life. The games also conincide with the loosening moral restrictions around the idea of dice and randomness.

The majority of games are not skill based, but generally pure chance, eg, racetrack games, a la game of the goose (and also Orlando Furioso, though this is much earlier). Gradually skill became more significant. Chance based racetrack games are indicative of victorian era, but more modern ones came to have more complex rules and require skills, both in terms of dexterity or strategy. Racetrack games indicated races along several senses of progress, which could be virtuous lives, economic progress, or travel and exploration.

The role of games gradually changed from moral instruction to success, particularly in terms of rising in both wealth and status. Earlier games held Christian themes, of leading a virtuous life and then being rewarded in heaven, to gradually secularizing the games by rewarding material accomplishments, and then focusing on the material entirely.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorHofer, Margaret K.
TitleThe Games We Played: The Golden Age of Board and Table Games
Tagsspecials, games
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

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