The Game of Life

The Game of Life

While life has existed for millions of years on planet Earth, it wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century that a game was invented to mirror it. Back in 1860, it was considered “America’s Favorite Parlor Game” and when it was reintroduced by the Milton Bradley Company a hundred years later, it proved just as popular and remains so to this day.

Milton Bradley, a lithographer from Massachusetts invented and printed what he called “The Checkered Game of Life” in 1860. Bradley’s game took off, proving more popular that travel kits of pocket sized “Game of Soliders” and his notorious quiz games (the precursors to Trivial Pursuit). Time and technology took their toll, however, and before long, Bradley’s checkered game of life went on extended hiatus from the public conscience.

In 1959, Milton Bradley, now a toy and game company hired toy inventor Reuben Klamer to develop something extraordinary for the company’s centennial anniversary. Reuben puttered around in the company vaults and stumbled upon the company namesake’s “Checkered Game of Life.” With a modernizing overhaul, Klamer gave The Game of Life (commonly referred to as simply “Life”) to the twentieth century and it became one of America’s most popular and recognized games. Even Art Linkletter backed the product, giving his picture to the game’s cover.

The Game of Life, unlike its reality based counterpart, was quite simple. Two to six players chose a small plastic car and began life at the end of high school. The burden of adolescence and puberty safely in the game’s backstory, players only had to choose whether to leap into the rat race, or put themselves in collegiate debt in order to better their future financial opportunities. Each player started out with ten grand in seed money (a number that ballooned to forty if college was chosen) and sent on their way. A dial in the center of the board was spun to determine how many spaces a player moved on each turn. At the end of college, a player randomly chose between any three careers and salaries. Yes, in the game of life, you could major in Art History and still enjoy a successful six-figure salaried career as a doctor. Those who opted out of college randomly chose one job card and one salary.

The road of Life wound through various choices and options with marriage, home ownership, and retirement being the only inevitabilities. Red spaces indicated monumental life choices like nuptials, home buying, and job searches. Blue spaces indicated optional choices. Life spaces contained the evidences of traditional wholesome living, such as family activities, community service (the voluntary kind), and various other good deeds. Career Spaces denoted a debt to either the bank, or to another player in the event that that player held a particular career card. For example, going to a rock concert meant shelling out to the artist while taking tennis lessons meant paying the athlete. And of course, the green spaces indicated payday, that day beloved by denizens of real and game life alike.

Another possibility was children. Blue boy pegs and pink girl pegs filled the back of the car as man and wife cruised toward retirement. Players could also prevent certain disasters with a purchase of auto or homeowner’s insurance, or buy stocks that paid out with a spin of the dial. When money became tight, players could take a loan out of the bank at a whopping twenty-five percent interest, even during the Clinton years. Night school, lay-offs, and mid-life crises might also compel a player to randomly select yet another career and salary.

Life ended at one of two retirement homes. The safe and cozy Countryside Acres, or for those confident that their financial assets outdid everyone else’s, Millionaire Estates. Once every player had made it to the end debts were subtracted while assets were added and the player with the most moola won.

Life enjoyed another modernizing make-over in 1992 to reward players for things like recycling, learning CPR, and refusing drugs. CD-Rom versions have also put their own cyber-spin on the famous game. Although now enjoying a permanent home in the Smithsonian’s American History collection, Life enjoys a worldwide audience and is distributed in more than twenty languages. After all, life itself is a universal experience. Why should The Game of Life be any different.

If you have fond memories of sitting around the table with family and friends and playing this addictive and iconic board game, we hope you’ll take a moment to share your thoughts in our comments section below.

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