HEFFERNAN: Childhood board games offer unrealistic view on “Life”


I recently had one of those moments when you look back on your childhood and think “Wow, that was sort of messed up.”

I have come to the conclusion that many of the board games of my generation are a bit twisted at best, especially the “girly” games.

Sure there were plenty of harmless rounds of charades and Scrabble, but I remember games that proclaimed girls were winners when they got the right amount of bling or found themselves a frost-tipped ’90s man and I played the plastic race to financial prosperity that is the “Game of Life” more times than almost any other game.

These games may have been made with the good intentions of encouragins family bonding and problem solving skills, but looking back, their logic seems more than a bit flawed. More often than not they led to boards being flipped, pieces thrown, false expectations raised and some pretty messed up ideas lodged in the brains of ’90s kids everywhere.

Pretty, Pretty Princess

You might remember this game as the item of choice at girly ’90s birthday parties everywhere. It is a sort of dress up-board game combination.

The goal of “Pretty, Pretty Princess” was to collect the bracelet, earrings, ring and necklace in your chosen color, while avoiding the black ring—presumably an un-princessly blemish of color coordination failure.  When you win, you are awarded the crown from the treasure box and are instructed to look into the mirror on the opposite side of the spinner and proclaim “I am a pretty, pretty princess.”

Besides making little girls say this evokes creepy horror movie children, I can’t remember a single game of “Pretty, Pretty Princess” that didn’t end in tears, thrown plastic rings or crown-stealing coup d’états.

But these dramatic tantrems only follow the twisted logic of the game. The mark of success is complete riches and girliness. The way to get there is through catty competition to find success and avoid the semi-accessorized fate of the ugly, ugly peasant.

Women are already predisposed to fight over looks, wealth and who can get them all first, so why in the name of the 90s, scrunchies and sparkly butterfly clips was “Pretty, Pretty Princess” in the closet of half the girls in my class?

Dream Phone

I remember playing this once a week for months when I was about 10-years-old. This “girly” game makes “Pretty, Pretty Princess” look like a women’s lib rally.

The goal of the game is to pick up a fuchsia (super-90s!) cordless phone and ask a series of eligible bachelors questions to discover which of the cioffed dream boats had a crush on you. Apparently all the men were open to being called up to drop hints like “I’m not wearing a hat!” and “you crush is not at the beach!”

Players had to search a series of teen hangouts like the snack shop, the gym, the movies and, of course, the mall to rule out different men and locations. It was like a sort of vapid “Clue.” It’s Carlos with the hat at the gym!

This game trained us in the intricacies of gossip and boy craziness. As preteens we were taught to swoon over pictures of boys at least 24 or 25. Rumors, crushes and notes that said “check yes or no” would inevitably come into our lives, we didn’t the practice of “Dream Phone” to speed it all up.

The Game of Life

“The Game of Life” is not a ’90s-exclusive, but is actually one of America’s oldest parlor games. The original game went under a redesign in the ’60s to resemble the game of careers, salaries, stocks and marriage we know today.

Now, I get that it is fun to play a game that mirrors life (and I have many beautiful mansions logged in “The Sims” to prove it). But have you ever considered that you win the “Game of Life” by having the most money when you die? Through all the life events, disastors and home buying the only way to win is to have the greatest value in your paper money and cardboard life cards. What a terrible concept! To create the idea that life is just one big race to die with the most cash.

In smart “Game of Life” strategy, too many kids can hurt your chances. Your salary is in no way connected to your career, so you can be a poor superstar or a filthy rich police officer. The game makes you strive for the perfect corvette, spousal bliss, and the key end move of landing in the “fancy” retirement home, Millionaire Estates, and not among the “poors” in Countryside Acres.

By its very title, “The Game of Life” sets up the wrong kind of goals and paints a picture so far from the messy unpredictable maze of successes, failures and meaning that makes up a life, where there is no winner and money isn’t everything.

These childhood games have you strive for just the kind of world I don’t want to live in. They proclaim that money and superficiality are king, stereotypes are valid and when it comes to beauty, love and life there can only be one winnner.