Board games, or the perfect reflection of our civilization

Each year approximately 1,200 new board games come to life. In 2021, 30 million boxes were sold in France, testifying to the population’s relentless enthusiasm for this hobby. And if board games have never experienced a lack of players, it is because they have evolved along with civilizations. Games do not call themselves “society” for nothing. More than a way to relax, games are also a reflection of social practices and the civilization in which they were created and produced.

With Dimitri Pavlenko, Élisabeth Belmas, professor emeritus of modern history at the University of Paris XIII and general secretary of the Scientific Interest Group “Games and Society” and Dominique Desjeux, anthropologist and professor emeritus at the Sorbonne, explained how the mines became game. archaeological information. Speaking of childhood, leisure, education, art, but also religion, economics or death, games are rooted in our social relationships.

The reflection of beliefs and social evolution

For example, between 200 and 400 BC, the sketch game took off, says the aptly named Dominique Desjeux. Created in 2500 BC, it is a mix between the game of goose and the game of chess. It was played a lot during the great era of the Egyptian pharaohs and took the player to hell or the afterlife. A deeply rooted issue, certainly, in Egyptian mythology. “The game has to do with chance, with death, with health, and for me, this is the basis of the history of games”, summed up the anthropologist on the Europe 1 microphone.

Another Egyptian game takes the form of a game of goose, in which a snake is joined to itself: this is the Mehen. “It is more important from a symbolic point of view, because the snake is an animal with telluric forces”, underlines Elisabeth Belmas. “So yes, games reveal endless things about societies and their evolution also says a lot about social changes.”

The game thus finds a function in every society. The transition from polytheism to monotheism is felt in ways of playing, for example, such as technical and technological development. According to Professor Emeritus Elisabeth Belmas, if its main function is entertainment, it also serves to educate society, “to learn respect for others, to share”. We can mention the ancient game drawn by Plato, using cubes and containing “a whole series of values ​​useful for education”.

The challenge of war games

During the Middle Ages in the 10th century, chess invaded Europe. A significant moment in the development of the game as we know it today. Later, in the 17th century, the game experienced a real and very important turning point. At that time, the rules of the main games we currently play were fixed, especially with the advent of the card game, a paper derivative of chess.

Chess, the most popular board game in the world, is considered an image of society but also of war. The pawns collide, merge, until only one wins. This is the case with many games that originated in the Far East and Middle East. The ancient game of go, for example, allows you to socialize and prepare for the art of war. In this game, “you have to conquer territories, corner your enemy, but not necessarily eliminate him”, says Dominique Desjeux.

Monopoly, the best selling game every year

As capitalist societies grew and western wars subsided, then came Monopoly, still today the best-selling game every year. “Games reflect society”, reiterates Elisabeth Belmas in Europe 1. “It is interesting to see that Monopoly was created after the great economic crisis of 1929 and it is a game that is an embodiment of capitalism.”

Today, board games have become a real industry, which has experienced a breath of fresh air with the confinement and the Covid crisis. This is also the case of the video game, which is perhaps the result of our current society, where technology is placed at the heart of our development.

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