BBC – Games Britannia (2009)

BBC – Games Britannia (2009)
English | Size: 2.27 GB
Category: Documentary


Benjamin Woolley presents a series about popular games in Britain from the Iron Age to the Information Age, in which he unravels how an apparently trivial pursuit is a rich and entertaining source of cultural and social history.

Chapter 1: Dicing with Destiny
Woolley investigates how the instinct to play games is both as universal and elemental as language itself and takes us from 1st-century Britain to the Victorian era.

Ancient and medieval games were not just fun, they were fundamental, and often imbued with prophetic significance. By the late Middle Ages this spiritual element in games began to be lost as gaming became increasingly associated with gambling. Dice and card games abounded, but a moral backlash in Victorian times transformed games into moral educational tools.

This was also the era in which Britain established the world’s first commercial games industry, with such classics as the Staunton Chess Set, Ludo and Snakes and Ladders leading the way, all adaptations of original games from other countries.

In the case of Snakes and Ladders, what once represented a Hindu journey to enlightenment was transformed into a popular but banal family favourite, and Woolley sees this as the perfect analogy for how the sacred energy which once imbued games had become gradually drained away by commercialisation.

Chapter 2: Monopolies and Mergers
Woolley traces the surprising political and social impact that board games have had in Britain over the last 200 years. It was the British who developed the idea of the board game as an instrument of moral instruction and exported it to America. There, it was adapted to promote the American Dream of free enterprise and economic success.

This crusading element in board games is perhaps best exemplified by the best-selling game in history – Monopoly – which celebrated wealth and avarice in the wake of the Great Depression. Ironically, this most capitalist of games was derived from a radical socialist game first published in Britain in 1913.

Woolley goes on to trace the development of board games through their post-war heyday, when together with Cluedo and Scrabble, Monopoly formed a holy trinity of British family favourites that endures to this day.

Now in the information age, board games have evolved to include fantasy role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons – an American invention. The British continue to produce niche political games like War on Terror which plays on satire, but mainstream British games designers have joined the computer games revolution.

Chapter 3. Joystick Generation
Woolley explores the journey games have taken from the board to the screen, reflecting the rapidly changing history of modern Britain.

In the 1980s, the power of our imagination was harnessed in early video games like Elite, putting the audience at the heart of a space adventure they could influence. The British boom years of the 90s introduced characters like Lara Croft to a world beyond video games and players were propelled into the internet age.

Woolley’s investigation leads to the present day, where he finds our morality tested in the world of Grand Theft Auto and our identity becoming transported to the digital domain with virtual realms like Runescape and World of Warcraft.

Further Information

BBC

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