Celebrate International Games Day 2016
Post by Lee Keene
Games are an important part of cultural heritage, and have served in that role for millennia. Indeed, they are as important as literature, art, and music, but rarely do we think of them as raw material for study and analysis.
We are in the midst of a golden age of board games. Sales of titles such as Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Pandemic, and Twilight Struggle are at an all- time high. They serve as an alternative to online gaming especially in the way they enable face-to-face interactions among players.
But more interesting is the way that traditional games like Monopoly and Candy Land tell stories not just through their game play, but suggest greater cultural trends. They represent and reflect the time and cultural context they were created in and provide common cultural references.
Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Studies, Eunice Blavascunas tells us: “There is both a spontaneity and unexpectedness with face to face board game play. Students use an iterative process during playtime. Also because games have a built in element of trying and wanting to win, there is more attentiveness and focus used when playing board games. In this labile state of mind students make new neural connections.”
Tabletop games have the potential to tell subtle narratives about gender (why have the human characters in Candy Land become “sexed-up”?), economics and income-inequality (we all learn our first lessons about money via Monopoly, how do those lessons shape our ideas about capitalism?), and political realities (why create a game, Kolejka, that reproduces the experience of waiting in line in a controlled economy in 1980’s Poland?).
To some extent, we form our impressions of historical realities and the world around us through the games we play during youth. I suggest that the Cold War, for our current students, is an unknown construct. Could they learn about the U.S. versus USSR via the game “Twilight Struggle”, and how accurate are those historical conditions as presented on the game board?
These games are available to check-out at Penrose library. Gather a group and enjoy a face-to-face (technology-free) evening. International Games Day is on November 19!
[caption id=“attachment_806” align=“alignnone” width=“760”] The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. “Group playing game.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e1-7870-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99[/caption]
Image from the New York Public Library. See a GIF of this image from the NYPL’s Stereogranimator: http://stereo.nypl.org/view/32527