Published: Verve Magazine, July 2012

In a swiftly-changing world peopled with inner demons, complex characters and spiralling violence, games and activities for kids have considerably morphed…

Remember the classic old-fashioned board game? The well-worn box that contained innocuous tools that began describing who we were to become as people, began giving free play to our subconscious personalities, whether dominant or submissive, as we learnt how to manage money, life, homes, countries, and even run medical check-ups, all in one night. We lived to spend hours in cozy drawing rooms and nurseries getting feisty over fake wealth, secret missions and die rolls. When did we trade in competitive fun for corporate ladders and managerial snakes? When did we keep aside the Monopoly money for hard cash and real real estate? When did we abandon Scrabble for SMSes?

Smartphones, iPads and computers make it possible to play games virtually. But having real people across the board to trash talk to, midnight feasts and conspiratorial whispers, and even reaching out to the board and flinging it across the room and watching all the little pieces scatter when you lose, is not quite possible in a stale, impersonal, virtual world.

Virtual games tend to walk on the evil side of life in their full experiential fantasy. Stealing cars, sniper games, subterranean ninjas, they make you more exhausted mentally and emotionally than relaxed. British nursery rhymes had a dark side that found roots in the time of war and the plague and served to prepare children for dark times. If our stories, games and activities for children are a sign of the times, we live in not-so-happy times. Building nuclear missiles, being trigger-happy, a desperate desire to save the world – it says something about the current state of society. Where childrens’ tales once spoke about an evil aunt or teacher, it’s our world that is now evil. We are fighting bigger and stronger forces than we ever imagined. We need armies. They have armies. Where once children were made to come to terms with death, today they are dealing with and becoming accustomed to killings. It’s mass bloodshed. Young boys hook up with prostitutes inside a stolen car and then kill the prostitute cold-bloodedly in the multi-award-winning satire on American life, Grand Theft Auto series. Its adult and violent content has not stopped it – in fact it aided it – in becoming one of the most popular video games worldwide.

What’s changed is that it is not as simple as good and bad any more. Characters have grey shades, they have a background, they bring baggage to the table. People are more complex as are the situations they are entwined in. We are teaching our children that the world isn’t a simple place. We are encouraging them to learn that it’s mean out there and to come to terms with their own inner demons. We are suggesting that they find an aspect of their personality that allows them to be bigger and better than the low-lives they are observing and role-playing.

It’s our subversive fascination with darkness and evil. If Shakespeare set the trend, then the gaming industry has perpetuated it. Clue would need to be updated to not finding the murderer, but being the murderer. Monopoly and Risk would go one step further: taking over and then destroying places and continents. Snakes & Ladders would be about killing the competition, not just winning over the competitors. Basically, playing fair would be taboo.