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Famous Board Game Reflects Our Changing Values

The hugely popular board game by Milton Bradley called The Game of Life went through the following variations—all of which reflect the changing values of our culture:

In 1798, before Milton Bradley was born, a board game from England arrived in the U.S. and became popular. It was called The New Game of Human Life. Acquiring virtues sped you through the game while vices slowed you down. Parents were encouraged to play this game with their children. The game's main point was, "Life is a voyage that begins at birth and ends at death. God is at the helm, fate is cruel, and your reward lies beyond the grave."

In 1860, Milton Bradley invented a simple board game and called it The Checkered Game of Life. The good path included Honesty and Bravery. The difficult path included Idleness and Disgrace. Industry and Perseverance led to Wealth and Success. Bradley described it as "A highly moral game … that encourages children to lead exemplary lives and entertains both old and young with the spirit of friendly competition."

In 1960, Milton Bradley Company released a commemorative edition, called simply The Game of Life. It sold 35 million copies. In this game you earn money, buy furniture, and have babies. Vices and virtues are non-existent. The winner of the game is the one who at "Life's Day of Reckoning" makes the most money and retires to Millionaire Acres.

In the 1990s Milton Bradley game designers tried to make the game less about money. They emphasized good deeds like saving an endangered species or solving a pollution problem. However, the only reward for these good deeds is cash. You can earn as much by winning at a reality TV show.

In the 2011 version, players can attend school, travel, start a family, or whatever they want. If they earn enough points, they can reward themselves with a sports car. There is no end or last square to the game. You can stop any time. The box says, "A Thousand Ways to Live Your Life! You Choose." Values are up-for-grabs—you get as many points scuba diving as you get donating a kidney. The description on the website says: "Do whatever it takes to retire in style with the most wealth at the end of the game."

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