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The Game of Life / 30 December 2015

multicoloured plastic spinning wheel from the Game of Life

multicoloured plastic spinning wheel from the Game of Life

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Christmas, amongst other things, is the season of games.  Reminiscing about a childhood favourite I started to contemplate The Game of Life. This board game simulates a person's travels through his or her life, from college to retirement, with jobs, marriage, and possible children along the way.  I loved the plastic landscape with bridges, churches, country houses and the possibility of retiring to the millionaire’s mansion.  I also particularly enjoyed setting off as a small peg in my car and collecting other pegs (in the form of a husband and children) along the way.  However, it puzzled me as to why the very mundane nature of this game held such an appeal for me.  But it appears that the Game of Life does not only appeal to me.

I was surprised to discover the game was originally created in 1860 by Milton Bradley as The Checkered Game of Life and that it sold 45,000 copies by the end of its first year.  In 1960, the 100th anniversary of The Checkered Game of Life, the first modern version of The Game of Life was introduced. 

It is still going strong today so why are we so intrigued by the fundamental principals of the Game of Life?  Perhaps it is because at the beginning of our journey we never really know what lies ahead of us and this game is a form of escapism where anything is possible.  Consequently I was interested to discover that an updated version of the game was released in 2005 and the new version reduced the element of chance.  Surely that is the whole point and joy of the game?  However this made me wonder whether this actually says something quite profound about our modern aversion to chance and instead our race towards being given more and more information in order to make our own decisions.

I had always intended to create some kind of interactive element to the piece of work at the Science Museum and had been contemplating a digital game.  Revisiting this classic board game has given me a new area of enquiry to explore.  It also seems to symbolise the heart of the more modern day dilemma of genetic screening.  The problem of choice and information as opposed to having to face whatever the game of life throws at you.   

So my thoughts have turned towards creating a game of chance or choice.  If you spin the wheel what will unfold before you or if you take an information card how will you make the choice and progress through the game? 

Now that I am following along this pathway the imagery and visual language is also falling into place.  A comic strip set of questions and alternatives, following two couples on their journey as potential parents. A 1950’s couple setting out on their own game of life based on chance, spinning the Game of Life wheel, or a future couple presented with knowledge and decision cards.  Which game path would you set out on?


Esther Fox

2 January 2016

Hi Colin

I don't think the board game is connected to Conway's Game of Life - but I've just been reading about it. How fascinating. It also leads on nicely to how I see the work developing in the future. As part of an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project - D4D, I am planning to work with the Bristol Robotics department to develop evolution software which will be based on algorithms enabling audiences to make a whole series of selections and discarded choices to create a series of plant forms which will be projected in public spaces. The theme's of how we make choices and what we value will again be a key component of the work. However, in this instance I wanted to focus on more of a human narrative and somehow feed in some of the voices of those who have been interviewed about pre-natal screening decisions. Thanks for highlighting this for me - I will certainly look into this more for the next phase of work!


31 December 2015

Do you know if your board game bears a relationship to Conway's Game of Life? Just been reading the wiki page - sounds very interesting