Board games are not really my thing, but I had one brought into my mind the other day because someone was talking about their kids loving 'chutes and ladders,' there were three brits in the room and we all raised our eyebrows and looked at each other with that derisive British 'oh those poor Americans' look. Chutes and Ladders is the americanized name for Snakes and Ladders, a long time board game that I was surprised still had currency with kids, but there again, games are games and the simplicity has an appeal I suppose. Snakes and Ladders came from India, and made its way into British culture in the victorian era, around 1892 apparently. The earlier roots of the game were linked to various religious streams in India, the earliest perhaps called, Moksha Patam was concerned with concepts of fate and karma, later versions were linked to other ideas connected to Hindu thought and practices around everyday consciousness. Life as a mixture of skill and good luck, the ladders representing virtues such as faith, generosity and humility, the snakes, lust, anger, theft, with the overall lesson being that a person can attain salvation(moksha) by acts of virtue, and the snakes will slide you down the karmic scale into the lower depths of rebirth. Who knew? And the phrase, "back to square one," apparently came from this game.
So much of our life is coloured by things that emerged from times when religion played a much greater role in the shaping of the fabric of life. of course, snakes and ladders is not presented as a religious exercise, simply a kids game that brings fun and enjoyment. most games seem to trade in the same binary oppositions that S+L trades in, whether it be defeating an enemy, winning positions, gaining points etc. Below is what Salman rushdie wrote about snakes and ladders in his book, Midnight's Children, I appreciated his comment about the lack of ambiguity, this to me, is the great challenge for schemes to portray the world, how does one convey a key element of life and of any religious ideology--ambiguity?
“The moment I was old enough to play board games I fell in love with Snakes and Ladders. A perfect balance of rewards and penalties, seemingly random choices made by tumbling dice. Clambering up ladders slithering down snakes I spent some of the happiest days of my life. When in my time of trial my father challenged me to master the game of shatranji I infuriated him by preferring to invite him instead to chance his fortune among the ladders and nibbling snakes.
All games have morals and the game of Snakes and Ladders captures as no other activity can hope to do the eternal truth that for every ladder you climb a snake is waiting just around the corner and for every snake a ladder will compensate. But it's more than that no mere carrot-and-stick affair because implicit in the game is the unchanging twoness of things the duality of up against down good against evil the solid rationality of ladders balances the occult sinuousities of the serpent. In the opposition of staircase and cobra we can see metaphorically all conceivable opposition: Alpha against Omega, father against mother. Here is the war of Mary and Martha and the polarities of knees and nose... but I found very early in my life that the game lacked one crucial dimension that of ambiguity - because as events are about to show it is also possible to slither down a ladder and climb to triumph on the venom of a snake... Keeping things simple for the moment however I recrod that no sooner had my mother discovered the ladder to victory represented by her racecourse luck than she was reminded that the gutters of the country were still teeming with snakes.”