Sunday, September 24, 2006

Why medieval games were better

Meditation on a rainy day with the kids, running around a local toy store:

A chess set featuring berserkers as knights versus Mall Madness ("Updated for the 21st century and redesigned to reinforce the important skills of shopping sprees, discounts and clearances")? Hurry up and invent that time machine, please!

(Illustration is of the stunning little works of art known as the Lewis Chessmen, c.1150, discovered in the Outer Hebrides where they were hidden under mysterious circumstances. Vikings played chess? Maybe I should have mentioned that in my letter to Capital One).


Anonymous said...

Ok - system ate my first response.

MM is just a variation on a common board game strategy (collect so many items, avoid so many hazards and be the first one home). Cluedo, Cat Attack (pretend you're a cat,collect various feline foods and fight off other cats, Shakespeare the Bard Game (collect all you need to rehearse and stage a play) ... and so on.
I agree imagining yourself into Shakespeare if somehow more elevating than racing round a Mall but ...

there must have been a medieval version of this treasure-hunt scenario - but what? N50

Jeffrey Cohen said...

I just hate that this Mall Madness game is marketed for kids, and that one day my daughter will be its demographic ... I'm not anticonsumerist per se, but this thing really revels in its utter shallowness.

I'm trying to recall what other games medieval kids played. From the Second Nun's Tale and its reference to a pierced air-filled bladder, it's clear that in the absence of rubber based balls the kiddies had to inflate organs and toss those around ...

Karl Steel said...

Well, there's also the jousting on the Thames I mentioned in my medieval grab bag. Perhaps not the best sport to train children in,* but certainly thrillng.

Computer RPGs that I've played--back when I thought I had time for such things--also all seem to be varients of the treasure hunt. Gather gather gather, return to originary point to report, repeat ad infinitum. These are by and large examples of medievalism: but somehow, N50, I don't think that's what you're aiming at. I find I have a chivalric narrative on the edge of my consciousness in which some knight has to gather something to, uh, gain something. Anyone want to help me out with this? After that, there's this movie I'm thinking of, you know, the one with that guy who goes to Paris and, uh,...

Maybe I'll remember it tonight as I slip off to sleep.

* I did my jousting from bicycle when I was a kid. Number that as another of my favorite activities that I hope my children, if I have any, never take up. They're welcome however to engage in the (swear to god) massive Viking v. Anglo-Saxon games of tag I concocted on my 5th-grade playground. What other profession could have taken me?

Anonymous said...

It will give her (like St Francis?) something to rebel against when she grows up! Suddenly struck me how anti-consumerist the younger generation of my own extended kith and kin are – and I think this is part of a wider trend. Among the generation aged 15-30 there are:

2 living ‘self-sufficiently’ off the land.

3 teens doing unpaid voluntary work with charities IN PREFERENCE to having a paid Saturday job.

2 rejected high paid city jobs – one to do a PhD, another to work for an NGO. Quote: ‘there is more to life than money’.

3 teens requested ‘ethical gifts’ for their birthdays (eg a goat for Africa). Such gifts have become very fashionable here – most charities offer them.

5 committed and active environmentalists. Ditto ethical vegetarians.

All of these (except the teens!) are self-supporting – not living off Mum and Dad.

Essay Topic: compare and contrast with attitudes to holy poverty in medieval urban Europe! {And so link to Karl's post on MEAT which I am not clever enough to do!)

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Karl, you are truly a medievalist ex nativatate. I will not allow my son to hear about such madness as bicycle jousting.

On medieval kids and jousting, though, I have this bit in Medieval Identity Machines:
Ramon Lull called for the establishment of schools of chivalry that would emphasize training in the proper use of weapons and horsemanship, and numerous manuscript illustrations depict young men hard at work, learning the proper somatic contours of knighthood. In one especially amusing illustration (Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 264, f. 82v) a youth is seated atop a plank of wood attached to four beams, a rough quadrupedal form. In place of hooves these legs are attached to four wheels, and the contraption is fronted by a lifeless animal head. Employing an overly lengthy stick as a spear, the young man threatens a target attached to a post. Two servants or friends use long ropes to set the horse-machine into motion, simulating an equine charge. A bird with a long beak looks on disdainfully. For youths and knights alike, mechanical simulations like the quintain were essential pedagogical components that taught the squire how to function within a play of forces in which his own body was but a single participant.
The manuscript iillustration is really something else! I reproduced it in the book but don't have an electronic copy.

Anonymous (N50?): You're right! A cranky friend once observed that the reason she hates kid movies (e.g., Babe) is their vegetarian agenda: animals have become so cute, they aren't edible. I said I'm not sure that any kid film has ever caused a child to hesitate over the fact that a little bord had been processed into his/her chicken nugget. I'd like to think, though, that the environmentalism and sensitivity to larger pictures that you describe really do take root in enduring ways. I wonder, though, why so many young people lose that early ardor for the earth's health.

Karl Steel said...

A bird with a long beak looks on disdainfully

I have to say that that sentence in MIM made me laught the first time I read it. And even now.


Matt Cartmill's excellent A View to Death in the Morning: Hunting and Nature through History (Cambridge, MA, 1993) tells the story of the making of Disney's Bambi. The original work was violently misanthropist, as were early drafts of the film. As I understand (I haven't seen it yet), the film itself is hardly more kind to humans. Apparently, also, the film's a bete noire in the hunting community, in part because the author was a Viennese Jew and the translator a young Whitaker Chambers (perhaps hitting the trifecka of right-wing prejudice: Jews, communists, and gays). I also remember a book on the making of the Chronicles of Narnia, Past Watchful Dragons, that I liked as a kid. It cited some of Lewis's juvenalia, including a story of a young fellow who understands the language of birds and trees and so forth. When he breaks a branch off a tree for kindling, he loses his understanding. I remember the sense of loss and isolation stricking me very deeply. It's a long way from that animist dream of originary togetherness to the adult Lewis, who declared the most natural condition for an animal is being tamed (since God gave animals to us to dominate).

If I had time and the ability, there'd be more to say about children and animals: Watership Down, The Yearling (hardly a children's book, if by that you mean inadequate), The Rats of NIMH, and so forth. The trick would be to distinguish between those works that anthropomorphize and those that don't.

Oh, I should have mentioned this in the above post, but I remember the ending of the film Madagascar (which wifey and I saw in York because, well, it's York and there's not much to do), where the carnivores make peace with the herbivores by turning to sushi. Fish are of a third nature indeed! Don't watch that back-to-back with Finding Nemo!

N50: how to make a link:

where I have * in the below put <. Where I have & put >.

*a href="url"&link text*/a&

Jeffrey Cohen said...

I must admit -- and this will no doubt hint at my serious need to get over myself - that the line "a bird with a long beak looks on disdainfully" cracked me up when I first wrote it, cracked me up every time I looked at it in revision and copyediting, and sadly enough continues to make me smile every time I read it.

mich109 said...

What is this MM anyway? How is the game going to help the kids' mental creativity and EQ? I wonder if the game creators ever consider these concerns of the parents....