Daily Archives: Monday 7 January 2008

A Presbyterian game

While we were on the road and in the air from New Zealand to Australia, living in motels and with family for seven weeks, all our stuff was packed up in a container making slow progress across the Tasman, and very, very slow progress through the Australian docks, not helped by the Christmas break. But we got it all back last Wednesday, and we have spent the time since then unpacking and rediscovering it all.

We had a few toys and games with us for the girls, but not many, given airline baggage allowances. The toys included a travelling version of Snakes and Ladders, nice enough, but it was not until we rediscovered our full scale version that we realised that the travelling version fell far short of the Victorian morality of the real thing. No little moral tales on the travel set, just plain old snakes and ladders.

On the real thing, good deeds lead to ladders, and misdeeds to snakes. There are nine snakes and nine ladders, although according to the Wikipedia article, the very first versions of the game had more snakes than ladders – we live in an evil world after all.

So what do we learn from the game?

Sympathy leads to grace.
Unity to strength.
Patience to attainment.
Courage to reward.
Generosity to gratitude.
Thrift to fulfilment.
Industry to success.
Penitence to grace.
Confession to forgiveness.

On the dark side:

Ill doing results in trouble.
Pugnacity in pain.
Conceit in friendlessness.
Temper in regret.
Indulgence in illness.
Mischief in woe.
Disobedience in disgrace.
Dishonesty in punishment.
Indolence in poverty.

Each little morality fable is accompanied by pictures of children doing the wicked or good deeds, and receiving the appropriate reward. Mischief is a boy climbing out along the branch of a tree, presumably over a river or a pool, because the snake down which the player slides ends in a picture of the lad falling into water. An indulgent boy gorges on apples, only to end up ill in bed, and a conceited girl with her nose in the air slips down to sitting alone with no friends. (The pictures of wicked deeds and their outcomes are much more entertaining than the doings of the goody-two-shoes, but surely there’s scope for an adult version of the game canvassing the appropriate outcomes for sins like exploiting immigrant workers, or drink-driving, or polluting waterways. Hmmm…. a bit dull – maybe an x-rated version could be the go?)

But it’s the unstated moral lessons that are troubling. It hadn’t occurred to me until we rediscovered it as we unpacked, that innocent Snakes and Ladders, with its Presbyterian values of thrift, industry and honesty, could be susceptible to a gender analysis. There’s probably something to be said about which virtues and vices are attributed to which gender (courage is evidently male, and sympathy female), but that engages in too much essentialism for my comfort. A straightforward sin (and goodness) count is much less contentious.

The sins are reasonably evenly distributed between boys and girls – five sinning misses, and four sinning lads. But the goods deeds aren’t so evenly distributed. At face value – they are. There are four good boys, and four good girls, and one set of pictures depicting generosity, where it’s hard to tell whether the lad is giving something to the lass, or vice versa. So that one’s ambiguous.

But of the four good deeds attributed to girls, two of them, penitence and confession, imply preceding ill-doing. Perhaps there’s nothing too much in this, except that when it’s stacked up with the preponderance of female bad deeds, it all just seems a bit too skewed in one direction. There are five bad girls, and only two unambiguously good girls, compared to four bad boys, and four good ones.

Alas, I have had the board out in order to write this post, and my daughters are entranced by it, so they want to play with it. I think I might check out the Monopoly set next.