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This weekend, I had the unique pleasure of playing two very old, very kitschy, very gender-norm-reinforcing board games from the swinging 60s. First up was cultural icon Mystery Date, a game where you go around a board collecting pieces of outfits—there’s formal wear, a bowling outfit, beach gear, etc. all to complete a “look” for a dream date. Then, when you have a full outfit, you open the door in the middle of the board and hope the boy waiting on the other end is a match!
The game teaches excellent values like, if you dress right, you might get a man and be ok in life! And also: watch out for the dud! (The “dud” is the cutest boy and dude just looks like he hangs out in Brooklyn, so, idk man).
It was released in 1965 and marketed to girls 6-14, so, you know we’re in pretty nasty territory here, in terms of strict gender roles and the way those are communicated to children through toys. I mean, we still are: toys are still marketed heavily through gender stereotypes. And here’s another disturbing thing I noticed in the 1965 edition Mystery Date: everyone appeared to be white. Woof.
Interestingly, the 1969 What Shall I Wear was actually a lot more… progressive? For a game that shares a lot of the general mechanics—walking around a board collecting outfits for activities. Importantly, the activities don’t seem to all be dates—they may be outings with friends, like a trip to a road rally, or even—gasp—a college visit. This is a game for girls who have a lot going on in their lives beyond just dates and nailing a dude with good dress sense. And thank god, there are actually girls of color in the art around the board.
Is it still reinforcing ideas about being well-dressed? Shopping for clothes as the ultimate path to success and social happiness? It sure is. But at least it suggests that there are things in life beyond dating.
All of this brought me back to my own childhood in the early 90s, playing the hilariously heteronormative marketed-to-girls Dream Phone, a game where you had to call boys on a massive, 90s-appropriate phone and get clues about which boy had a big crush on you. Later in life (in high school, to be exact), my sister and I made all our actual dude friends and boyfriends play this with us as a sort of test. Would this 16-year-old Rhode Island boy swallow his macho pride and pink up the gigantic pink phone with us? Then he passed. I’m delighted to say I think all of them passed, which means we had excellent taste in dudes.
Ok dear readers. Have you ever gone back to a relic of gaming past (or even your own past) and been fascinated by its messages? Sound off on the forums!
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/a3ypd8/1960s-board-games-mystery-date