The Checkered Game Of Life

Nov 10 2013 @ 4:41pm

In a lengthy review of literature on happiness, Jackson Lears relates an anecdote that reveals how American attitudes toward happiness have changed:

As Jill Lepore observes in her clever but chaotic The Mansion of Happiness, religious definitions of happiness persisted throughout the nineteenth century (although she dish_checkeredgame doesn’t mention it, they have carried on into the present as well). “O Lord! deliver us from sin, and when we shall have finished our earthly course, admit us to the mansion of bliss and happiness,” an evangelical preacher intoned in 1814. The original Mansion of Happiness was a pious, popular board game; revised from an English version for an American audience in 1843, it sold briskly for decades. According to its rules, the game

shows (while vice destruction brings)
That good from every virtue springs.
Be virtuous then and forward press,
To gain the seat of happiness.

No believing Christian could doubt that abiding happiness was reserved for the afterlife, while this earthly realm remained dominated by struggle and sorrow. But by 1860, signs of slippage from this orthodoxy were apparent, even in such didactic board games as Milton Bradley’s Checkered Game of Life, which ended (if you were lucky) in Happy Old Age. In 1960, to commemorate the centennial of the Checkered Game, the Milton Bradley Company issued another version, the Game of Life. Instead of virtue rewarded by heavenly happiness, Lepore writes, the Game of Life offered “a lesson in consumer conformity, a two-dimensional Levittown, complete with paychecks and retirement homes and medical bills.” Players who successfully navigated their tiny station wagons along the Highway of Life could retire, at length, in Millionaire Acres.

(Image of The Checkered Game of Life board via Wikimedia Commons)