I spend a lot of time considering the term ‘board game’ against many different kinds of games- whether they be interactive like Twister– or focus on the use of cards like in Money or Quackery. So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I am now curious to consider the idea that the infamous Ouija Board qualifies as a real ‘board game’ vs. a controversial and potentially dangerous method of communication to the spiritual powers that be.
As you may be aware there is a film that recently came out called Ouija: The Origin of Evil. Even if you’ve never heard of a ouija board, the trailer for this film alone is quite suggestive in implying the explicit dangers in using one.
There is substantial historical value to these claims, even though nobody really knows where the board comes from. Ouija historian Robert Murch has been researching since 1992 and was alarmed to notice early on that there was little to trace in terms of it’s conception. Something that was marketed as an “interesting and mysterious” “wonderful talking board” quickly revealed a dark side to those who felt uncomfortable meddling too far into the spiritual world.
Many say the Ouija Board is the direct result of 19th century American Spiritual obsession- where people heavily relied on the possibility of communicating with the dead. Back then, death came to most around or before age 50. Women would die during childbirth, there were few cures for what are now considered common, easy to treat disease, and people clung to Spiritualism in order to cope with the hardship.
In fact, communicating with the dead wasn’t considered weird, taboo or strange in the 19th century. Table readings, seances, and even prayer to the ‘holy spirit’ was an accepted practice encouraged by most who met personal struggle.
The first producer of the Ouija Board was the Kennard Novelty Company around 1886. They decided to capitalize on this growing desire of the masses to communicate with their deceased loved ones- paying no mind to any potential repercussions. It’s quite funny to learn that the patent office did not want to grant permissions without proof that the board was proven to work- so they quite literally brought it into the office to demonstrate its abilities. And while the first patent doesn’t state how it works, it admits that it does. It is shown through the incredible popularity, that people enjoyed the sense of mystery over an explanation of function. There was and still remains to be mass appeal across all demographics- from scholars to children- groups of friends to large families- all who marvel at the option to tap into a realm full of mystery… but in 1973 the attitude toward the Ouija board greatly changed.
Oddly enough, the film The Exorcist- woke many people up to the fact that not all spirits are inherently positive, or good. The implication that a 12 year old child became possessed by an evil spirit as a result of playing with the Ouija Board sent the masses into extreme panic and gave the board a new name “devils tool”. Ever since, Ouijas have been referenced in almost too many horror films and stories to count- Paranormal Activity 1 & 2, Breaking Bad, to name a couple. It has become synonymous with “opening the depths of hell” and “soul shredding”. Suddenly it was no longer considered family entertainment to tamper with the invisible lair we living beings know nothing about. But here’s the problem- there is no proof to suggest the board does anything other than what we ask it to. So, are there rules? Is it considered a game?
To me it seems more of an exercise in creative thinking & imagination than anything else. Traditionally, board games don’t carry with them any promises beyond forming strategy and delivering a winner and a loser. With a Ouija board, we are in charge of what to do, how to use it- what to say and even what it says. We are in charge of what we get out of it too. Scientists say nothing powers the board but ourselves and our own wishful thinking- as disappointing as that may be. It is nothing more than a device to convince us we are conjuring up deep undiscovered truths that aren’t really there to find.
If you consider a game to include anything you can derive entertainment from- then perhaps there’s room for it to qualify. But in my equation, a board game should come with rules and playing pieces- an objective. It should not be a stand in for a visit to the therapist or a session at church.