"Designed to be outgrown"

31 Jul 2019

Alexander B. Joy for The Atlantic:

The threat of polio has lessened over time, but Candy Land’s value persists because of what it teaches. This is not to rehash the usual litany of early-childhood skills some Candy Land proponents tout. Yes, the game strengthens pattern recognition. Sure, it can teach children to read and follow instructions. In theory, it shows children how to play together—how to win humbly or lose graciously. But any game can teach these skills.

Candy Land’s lessons are not to be found in the game, but in its results. Now that polio is a distant fear and mobility a power taken for granted, most games of Candy Land disappoint. The rules today are the same as they were in 1949, but something about the proceedings simply does not add up. Eventually, children recognize that they don’t have a hand in winning or losing. The deck chooses for them. An ordained victory is an empty one, without the satisfaction of triumph through skills or smarts.

When children want a more challenging experience, they leave Candy Land behind. And that, in the end, is what makes Candy Land priceless: It is designed to be outgrown. Abbott’s game originally taught children, immobilized and separated from family, to envision a world beyond the polio ward, where opportunities for growth and adventure could still materialize. Today that lesson persists more broadly. The game teaches children that all arrangements have their alternatives. It’s the start of learning how to imagine a better world than the one they inherited. As it has done for generations, Candy Land continues to send young children on the first steps of that journey.