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Fun Facts from Game Time!

Which of the following statements is true?

  • Monopoly may be seen as a reaction to the Great Depression.
  • Candy Land was created in response to the Polio epidemic of the 1940s.
  • Twister reflects the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

All of the above!

Games and board games often illuminate and inform us about American history, and Game Time!, at The Strong museum, invites families to learn and play as they travel through three centuries of play in America.

What were the earliest games?

Chess, checkers, and playing cards are among the earliest known formal games. While wealthy folks may have owned a chess set, others made them by hand. Decks of cards were easier to make and so more available for play. Originally invented in China in the ninth century, playing cards were brought to America by European immigrants, and were the first and most profitable things printed by American printers.

Checkered Game of Life

What do the earliest American games have common?

Early American games were religious and morally themed or educationally based. Classic 19th-century board games such as Mansion of Happiness and The Checkered Game of Life rewarded virtuous behavior such as punctuality and sobriety while punishing less acceptable social behaviors. Nineteenth-century map puzzles taught geography or demonstrated America’s westward expansion. Gaming was viewed as a waste of valuable time, or simply bad; so printers made wholesome games for people to play on their Sunday day of rest.

How did games change during the late 19th century?

Increased leisure time, a growing middle class, and urbanization led games to lose their moral overtones. A series of rags-to-riches “messenger boy” games, inspired by the then-popular youth novels of Horatio Alger, rewarded hard-working strivers with financial gain rather than spiritual riches.

What major 20th​-century events are reflected in games?

President Teddy Roosevelt, the Philippine War, and WWII were the subject of many games of their time.

How did the Great Depression affect games?

People had to make do with inexpensive games, like playing cards or rented jigsaw puzzles (a craze that peaked in 1933). But Monopoly, with its capitalistic and cruel winning strategy seemed to fly in the face of the Depression.

What changes in gaming came about after WWII? 

The birth of the baby boomer generation—and mass production using the newly developed material, plastic—caused demand for games for children to substantially increase. 

What are some contemporary influences on toys?

More and more, games focus on characters from popular culture and media. Licensing a Justin Bieber image for a puzzle, for example, is cheaper than inventing a new puzzle. Collectible cards (and card games) feature every new popular movie.