Chutes & Ladders

The heat and humidity did one good thing for my family: it got us away from the TV last night and into the air-conditioned bedroom for a game of Chutes & Ladders. I’d never played the game before, and I have to say that it sure does neatly illustrate a fucked up cosmology.

Ladders to heaven, chutes to hell. That much is easy to read into a game where landing on a ladder square shows a positive action a child could take connected to a positive outcome at the top of the ladder, with chutes doing the reverse.

The traditional Indian version in which the snakes outnumber the ladders

I’m down with that whole karma thing big time (turns out the game comes from India with roots in Hinduism), but here’s where it gets disturbing: you spin an arrow to find out how many squares to move. So whether you commit a positive or a negative act is determined only by a spin of the wheel. No active choice. It’s as if the game is telling you that yes, there are consequences for every action, but the actions you will take in life are themselves the result of chaos, random chance, and the haphazard collision of your DNA with the environment.

A terrifying model of the universe that just might be true, neatly packaged as a child’s board game. I bet there’s a story in that.


3 thoughts on “Chutes & Ladders

  1. Jeff Miller says:

    This ain’t no JUMANJI – whatever story erupts out of this, It would likely sit nicely next to some 80’s-era King. I imagine an elderly insomniac or an innocent child at the nexus of many worlds, unwittingly (or unknowingly) setting wheels in motion, turning tables, and generally making the characters move.

  2. sayfsharif says:

    Growing up we played Snakes and Ladders (thanks to a British mom) rather than the more docile Chutes and Ladders. The game board had horrible things happening to people who landed on the Snake spots, with the results shown at the end of the snakes tail. Getting eaten by tigers, webbed up by giant spiders, etc. It’s interesting looking at it as a model for the universe. I’ve played games, now with my kids, where the games go forever and everyone gets a combination of snakes and ladders. I’ve played other ones where (usually one of my kids) gets all the good ladders and finishes the game in less than 10 moves, and I’ve been eaten by multiple snakes and still on the bottom row.

    It’s slightly disturbing thinking of it as a model of the universe…

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