Jill Lepore's new book takes its title from The Mansion of Happiness, a nineteenth century board game that demonstrated Christian morality. Like children's literature of the time, such didactic games were quite popular, but are also timeless: one such board game, The Game of Goose, has origins in ancient Egypt!
Originally marketed in 1843, The Mansion of Happiness became very popular in America, as did a number of similar games that followed. As society's focus moved to industrial growth and economic gain, board games shifted from encouraging morality to encouraging strong financial and capitalistic behavior. The Checkered Game of Life, a sort of hybrid between checkers and the modern board game Life, was one such game.
Other modern advances, such as increased travel and women's rights, can be seen through board games such as Round the World with Nellie Bly which features an ambitious, independent traveling woman. Nellie Bly was the pseudonym for a real-life journalist, Elizabeth Cochrane, who worked outside the home when few women did.
As Lepore observes, these games show a shift in the way Americans have determined a "good" life: ones that focused on religious devotion gave way to those that prize financial success. Eventually, these series of board games grew into the ones that we all recognize today: Life, Monopoly, Chutes and Ladders, and others.
Some of the highlights of the Checkered Game of Life are captured in this video below:
This article was originally published in August 2012, and has been updated for the
March 2013 paperback release.
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