Tuesday, January 01, 2008

An evening of intimacy and lessons from Snakes and Ladders

Linda and I spent our Eve of the New Year edifying ourselves with champagne while playing children’s games including a Peter Rabbit version of Ludo/Sorry, and this beautiful version of “Burrows and Chutes” (Snakes and Ladders) with the hand crafted rabbits; I think I was Mopsy and Linda was Cotton-Tail. Linda won most of the games that night. This Burrows and Chutes game got us started on a binge of playing different versions of “Snakes and Ladders” boards. In the past I had collected old board games and we had some vintage 1930’s-1950’s boards to play.

For those who remember Snakes and Ladders you may remember a sort of “lucky” versus “unlucky” game where you go up ladders or down snakes depending on the roll of the die. But Snakes and Ladders was originally a game used to teach heavy and blatant morals to children. These included the different morals for boys versus the ones for girls. This made our playing the games much more fun, with lots of laughter as we tried to figure out what the lesson from the pictures meant. Then we became obsessed with counting the gender ladders versus the snakes (there were always FAR more girl ladders than boy ones, and more boy snakes than girl ones: Gender Theory according to Snakes and Ladders is that girls ARE nicer than boys). And then there was the comparison between the two boards. One seemed British and was far harsher than the other. For example, square 64 shows that if you aren’t a ‘good girl’ and leave the sidewalk safety while skipping rope you will have a horrid accident and end up in an accident at square 60 with a Bobby (UK police officer) putting a cloth on your head. There were “lessons” for boys which seemed a bit redundant like if at sq. 16 you take a hammer to your cart, then at sq. 6, your cart will be bashed in. It scares me that someone had to include this in a game to try and teach young boys, but then I have friends who have two and three year old boys so maybe not so far-fetched (while their grandmother napped they decided to decorate their room with a bag of flour).

On this board I got the best ladder, sq. 28, where a daily watering of a garden leads to flowers way up at sq. 84. Linda got the ‘swot’ ladder at sq 51 where by tattling on who broke the window, she gets a book prize! What? I assume her book had a book plate inside saying “Awarded for Honesty.” I love the incredibly harsh life lesson to females from square 93 which shows that if a girl is spoiled and wastes food, what awaits her in square 73 but DESTITUTION and selling flowers on the corner in rags. Or, again, making some moral comment on the nature of boys, the bizarre sq. 95 which shows that if boys do not keep themselves busy DOING something, then they will end up down at sq. 75 doing general mischief (in this case eating jam out of the pantry). There were ones which showed up on both boards, namely that if little girls were VAIN and looked in the mirror too much then they wouldn’t have any friends (and that boys like to climb trees and fall out of them). And another big no-no was that females should never, ever get angry (or show any emotion other than kindness and befriending people – a sort of brain-washing board game). On this board it informs you that if you at sq. 49 get angry and shake dolly, then you will end up at sq. 11 crying because now dolly’s arm has fallen off. Shame on you!

The other board was done in imitation depression pictures and there was less emphasis on money and much more on the gender ideals when it comes to morals. For example boys in sq. 27 should be saving girls from drowning, and thus at sq. 56 would be rewarded. And again, at sq 69. Boys should work at crafts and thus make a toy like a sailing boat at sq. 87. While the rewards for female were kinda lame: I mean look at sq. 79, which shows if you are polite to your elders......you get tea with more adults at sq. 98. My memory wasn't a lot of tea: In my life if I was good at age 3, I got a box of “caps” (tiny amounts of gunpowder), a hammer and some safety glasses.

Okay, heavy duty brainwashing coming up, first, most of the “ladders” for girls were being kind and being friends and the reward was......people like you (get that socialization in hard and fast!). I think of the Simpsons and the mother telling Lisa, “Just remember, if you smile, people will like you.” (Shudder!) And if you as a girl “have an attitude” while having tea at sq. 58 then you will end up at sq. 45 standing in the corner. But the most UNJUST is that as a girl if you get ANGRY and kick a stool (a stool!), then you drop from sq. 61 to sq. 22; 39 whole spaces for losing your temper (ooooooh! That is so unfair it makes me want to kick a stool!). While if a boy FIGHTS a boy, at sq. 42 he is dropped to sq. 17, a loss of only 25 spaces. So what does that say about fighting, temper and gender?

Here is my absolute favorite section of this board when it comes to unequal gender morality and expectation. If as a girl, you are LAZY and do not do all your homework in sq. 94, your reward: DESTITUTION (sq. 64). That’s right, don’t do all your homework and lazy off and you end up in rags huddled in the doorway, probably just a step on your way to becoming a “lady of the night.” Think that is harsh? Well if you are a BOY who not only doesn’t do your homework but blatantly CHEATS and copies from your smarter friend in sq. 97, then do you get destitute? No, you get a caning on your hand (in a modern edition you probably would be given a job based on your plagiarized resume). I just can’t get how on BOTH versions of snakes and ladders girls were told for very minor things....hey, you’re going to end up destitute on a street corner starving before you sell your body until you DIE! Is this really what my mother and grandmother were told every time they didn’t wash the dishes well enough? No wonder they turned out a 'bit' neurotic (kind of like how the Hindenburg had a ‘bit’ of a landing difficulty).

So with these to keep us amused we drank our Rose Champagne and kissed at midnight. That actually what counts as a good night around here these days; a fun time, talking and laughing, sharing time and thoughts with something nice to drink, chocolates and a bit of intimacy. It was like we were back dating again. Something this disease has taught us is that just two hours together pain-free, spent as companions who love being in each other’s company is a gift and a memory to keep. Only now I want to make my OWN snake and ladders game, where if the girl takes up kickboxing she advances 20 squares or if she joins her schools’ gay-straight alliance she goes up 25 squares. And people who talk down to people using wheelchairs or crutches have to start from the beginning. Yeah!


Hermes said...

Its even more interesting when you realise it was originally a Hindu game designed to teach religion to children, then adopted by the Victorians.


Still a fun game anyway, though my 8 year old grandson seems to prefer Halo 3.

Elizabeth McClung said...

That's actually pretty cool, thanks for the history - I have a reproduction of the Victorian version but we didn't play in that night; trust the Victorian to steal not just the architecture, but the games as well.

Lisa Corriveau said...

Glad to hear you enjoyed New Year's. I think the more low-key ones are better anyway. All the times I tried to have a big fancy dress-up & go to an event New Year's, they always bombed somehow.

I'm interested in the board game collection. Never thought of collecting variations on the same game. How many do you have?

alphabitch said...

That's fascinating. No wonder my mother wouldn't allow that game in the house. That or "Mystery Date." Of course, we didn't have barbies, either.

My favorite one was called Mousetrap! and you'd spend all this time building this crazy-ass machine, and when someone landed on the wrong (right?) spot, a marble would roll out of a cup and initiate a chain reaction that would ultimately drop a little basket on the loser's little game token.

There was also one called 'Don't Spill the Beans' which I found unbearably anxiety-inducing: you'd put dry kidney beans into this already-unbalanced plastic pot, and the player who put one too many on the pile would cause them all to spill out, and of course lose the game.

I got Elvis Monopoly a couple years ago for Xmas but I can never get anyone to play.

saraarts said...

I can't WAIT to see your snakes and ladders games.

Now, if game characters are going to be in wheelchairs, will it be snakes and ramps? Or will ladders or stairs be punishment?

Marla said...

Sounds wonderful! The boards are gorgeous. I love things like that. I especially like the Peter Rabbitt one. Happy New Year!

Veralidaine said...

I never gave this much thought to a kids' board game! Next time I am at the thrift store, I will have to check out the games section and see if I can pick up any old snakes and ladders boards...

And I would TOTALLY buy a copy of your version.

Gaina said...

As someone who dislikes crowds, pubs and...well in fact is generally misanthropic that sounds like wonderful way to spend New Year :).

I had never looked at snakes and ladders like that before, and of course now I'm incredibly cross (haha).

I think I'll go in search of contemporary versions of the game and see what I can find.

Have you read 'Women who Run with the Wolves' by Clarissa Pinkola Estes? It's my favourite book ever and beautifully illustrates societies' expectations of what 'Nice Girls' do. And how those expectations can destroy a woman's psyche.

Katrin said...

I think your version would rock!

KateJ said...

Happy New Year! It's great that board games - new and traditional - seem to be making a comeback. I know that my student son and his friends will sit up all night playing them. Well, maybe not quite Snakes and Ladders...

A friend of mine is making really old games, ones dating back to the Middle Ages, as played by the Vikings and whatever. An archaeologist by profession, he started making the games as a sideline to his main business of mediaeval-style wood carving and furniture, but now says they've become his main source of income. I bought one for my son and now all his friends play it too!

Cooper said...

That's odd..well, maybe not. The American version was "cleaned up" - i guess we couldn't handle snakes as kids. We had Chutes & Ladders... http://toy.lowpriced.org/B00000DMF6.html

Elizabeth McClung said...

Lisa: I have I guess just 40 or 50 games, about 5 or 6 of snakes and ladders; I tend toward anything odd, like the game Gothic, or the reproduction of the game Captain Cook took with him on his voyages called "The Captain's Mistress" which is just a wooden nautical connect four carved piece. I also like Winnie the Pooh and Peter Rabbit Games. I am sad that I let go a Battlestar Galactica Board Game and The Black Hole Game. But I have quite a few from the 30's-40's.

Alphabitch: odd since I too missed mystery date, I think because I had to play with my brother so they got us the Emergency 1 board game instead. I too found Don't Spill the Beans too tense to play since it was pretty much the "are you a failure" game. Too much pressure. I like Chess, which I played at a very early age, and every day from 7-10; my brother like games with dice; random chance. Ug!

Sara- yes, why shouldn't we make a disability game called ramps and beurocrats? (sic)

Marla: Happy New Year, the Peter Rabbit is beautiful as is some of our Winnie the Pooh ones with hand painted figures; when will you come with a car-full of girls so we can play them?

Veralidiane: Yes, well this is the joy/or not of playing with me - though it was Linda's idea to count the ladders and snakes according to gender. I tend to analyze everything.

Gaina: Well, a few more people to play wouldn't have been bad, but an intimate evening for two is good as well plus, no hangover!

I never read the Woman who Run with Wolves because it came out when I was in California and there were get aways for women to take back their "primal power" which involved getting naked and putting mud on your breasts I think - so I was like, oh no, is this a workbook for those get aways? So I should go back and read it - thank you.

Katrin: I do too, I think if you teach a cat to be an assistive animal, you get advanced like 80 spaces!

KateJ: Well, I did the war boardgaming for a while but I was *ahem* too good so the groups stopped playing with me after I hadn't lost a game in two years (I am really good at percentage and chess and coming up with really unusual plans so for war games, I tend to do quite well.)

That business is pretty cool, I only have one replica 14th century board game but several roman ones.

Cooper: I dunno, maybe they trusted seasame street and the muppet show to program morals into the kids?

Anonymous said...

The first gender board is the one I had as a kid. It didn't manage to teach me any morals whatsoever ;)

elizabeth said...

I LOVE that board game. The rabbits - so cute. Want one.

lilwatchergirl said...

Fan-tas-tic. I want one so I can laugh at the gender differences (and then get angry and write lesbian-feminist recruiting tracts).

Or, again, making some moral comment on the nature of boys, the bizarre sq. 95 which shows that if boys do not keep themselves busy DOING something, then they will end up down at sq. 75 doing general mischief (in this case eating jam out of the pantry).

Is it just me who would see getting to eat jam straight out of the jar in the pantry as a fun afternoon reward...?

kathz said...

I'd like to play the Landlord's Game - the anti-monopoly game on which Monopoly was based. See http://tt.tf/gamehist/mon-index.html

I've never played Anti-Monopoly either though I nearly bought it when I saw it on sale in Cambridge Mass in 1980.

Have you come across either game?

em said...

I marvel that you made it through a game of Chutes and Ladders. I guess the champagne and Linda's company must have helped. The last time I played Chutes and Ladders I collapsed into a fit and had to have hours of playing with my kid therapy to get back to "normal".

I love your public humiliation of it.