Conversion: the board game

The new game of human life, Victoria and Albert Museum

John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, first published in 1678, was, and remains, immensely popular, and has never been out of print. Bunyan’s allegory of spiritual trials and eventual salvation offered a powerful model for Christians writing in the emerging genre of spiritual autobiography, who wanted to narrate their own struggles and conversions, whether those conversions were understood as a turn to the Christian faith or an intensification of religious feeling.

‘The new game of human life’, a board game dating from 1790, gave families the opportunity not just to read Bunyan’s allegory but to experience it in the form of a parlour game. According to the instructions, if parents or tutors encouraged children to stop at each character and drew ‘their attention to a few moral and judicious observations, explanatory of each character as they proceed and contrast the happiness of a virtuous and well spent life with the fatal consequences arising from vicious and immoral pursuits, this game may be rendered the most useful and amusing of any that has hitherto been offered to the public’. It’s not clear what children thought of such a carefully moralising game — but anyone keen to experience it for themselves can find a modern version to try at home!

7 thoughts on “Conversion: the board game

    • Hi Annah, and thanks for commenting. No, the modern version wasn’t designed by the project team — although that might be a great way both to raise awareness of our project and to make some money! As far as I can find out, there seem to have been versions of this game, more or less explicitly linked to Bunyan’s text, since at least the late eighteenth century.

  1. Hi, I am curious about the game and the association with age 84. Was that in the book? Do you know of any historical or cultural precedent for associating 84 with immortality, eternity, and a virtuous life? I ask because it shows up in some Eastern ideas.

  2. Hi, I have a copy of this game on watermarked paper but the last owner moundted it to a canvas. Were any replicas made? How can I tell mine is real?

    • Hi Charlie — this sounds fascinating. There have been lots of different versions and adaptations of this game through the eighteenth century and right up until the present day. Does your version have a date on it? What kind of condition would you say it was in before it was mounted on the canvas? Is the watermark textured (i.e. can you tell if it is printed on to the paper or woven into it)? These clues might help you to start to work out if it’s a modern reproduction or an earlier edition. The best bet is probably to find a reputable local dealer in second-hand books and take it along to get an opinion. Hope this helps!

  3. I have a copy of the Game of Life mounted on plywood. It’s set in my closet for the last 10 years and is the same as the one at Victoria and Albert Museum. The fringes are a little worn.. I’m not sure how to perserve it; so it sits.

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