History of board games | Game of Life

Ever wonder where your favourite game came as a child? Or question if it had some hidden past? Over the coming weeks the VMS team will be revealing some of the hidden secrets of the most loved games of our childhood.

‘The Game of Life’ was America’s first popular ‘parlor game’, a term employed to describe the indoor group games, which were a particular pastime of the Victorian upper and middle classes.

Created by Milton Bradley, an American inventor and lithographer, in 1860, The Game of Life was a typical expression of late-19th century morality, educating young players on the serious matters of existence through the medium of a diverting game. It instilled children with the ambitions and expectations to have for their lives, including milestones such as ‘Employment’, ‘Marriage’ and ‘Children’.

The first versions of The Game of Life also balanced these optimistic hopes for the future with some darker occurrences  which lurked in adulthood. Bradley’s original board features squares such as ‘Poverty’, ‘Disgrace’, ‘Ruin’ and ‘Crime’, as well as offering a particularly grim conclusion to the game, ‘Suicide’.
This somber aspect of the game can perhaps be ascribed to the pervasive Victorian taste for the macabre and the period’s critique of social vices, but it has also been seen as an expression of the difficulties its creator personally experienced throughout his own life.

Before his conception of The Game of Life, Milton Bradley had been a successful lithographer, who did especially well from his portrait of the then clean-shaven Abraham Lincoln. When, however, the 11-year-old Grace Be dell, sent the politician a letter, innocently encouraging him to change his appearance by growing a beard, Fate turned against Bradley. His likenesses became out of date, devastating his business and driving him to financial ruin. Fortunately, his ventures into board games were his salvation from poverty, although the inclusion of these cheerless dangers on The Game of Life was some lingering cynicism of Bradley’s on the unpredictability of life itself.

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