Why Candyland doesn't suck

The latest installment in Greg Costikyan's indespensible game-review site, Play This Thing!, is a long, serious, thoughtful look at Candy Land, the game everyone loves to hate. Not so fast, says Greg, there's plenty of juice in that orange. Pieces like this are why Greg's one of my top five games-writers of all time.

To begin with, let us view Candy Land as a mathematical entity. It is very nearly a Markov chain, a stochastic process in which, given the current state, future states are independent of past states. (It would be a pure Markov chain if the deck were shuffled after each play; instead, it is a crippled Markov chain coupled to a push-pop stack.) As such, it is a metaphorical representation of the fundamental ideology of the United States; the past is no constraint on the future, and each individual should strive resolutely for personal advance despite whatever the past may hold. The child born in a log cabin may achieve the presidency, an immigrant boy who grows up in the slums of Brooklyn may become a real-estate magnate, an Ivy-educated scion of wealth may wind up on a bread line, and a double green will speed you to the fore. Though there are winners and losers, initial conditions are no determinant of outcome in the freedom of America. The subtext, of course, may be that success and failure is entirely random and has nothing to do with individual initiative and hard work, a concept alien to the Platonic ideal of the American dream, but perhaps a more accurate representation of reality than the Horatio Alger myth.

Next, let us consider the role of Candy Land in the acculturation of the American child. The characters represented in the game, through whose desmenses the players pass, are all representations of sickly, in many cases objectively repulsive, sweets: Princess Frostine, the Gingerbread People, Mr. Mint, Gkoppy the Chocolate (formerly Molasses) Monster. There's a clear message to the American child here, one our business establishment is at pains to transmit through all forms of media -- most importantly, of course, through the thundering waterfall of commercial blandishment none of us is permitted to escape, whatever media we peruse. That message is, of course: CONSUME. Consume candy. Consume everything. But for children, candy above all; the natural childish instinct to like what in more mature mouths is repulsively lachrymose is the key, the first way in for inculcation of the consumer instinct. Candy good. Consume candy. Whine at your parent until she, or as it may be, he, buys you the packet of Lifesavers. St. Francis Xavier, founder of the Jesuits, said "Give me the child until he is seven, and I will give you the man," meaning, of course, that if you brainwash small children with any idiot set of beliefs (like, say, the virgin birth, divinity of Christ, necessity for ritual cannibalism, and triune nature of the Godhead), you'll have them by the frontal lobes of the brain for the rest of their lives. They will never escape it. Thus, while Abbot no doubt had no such intention for her game, Candy Land also serves as an important element in the indoctrination of American youth in the cult of excessive consumption and extravagant and unnecessary use of resources, the fundament of our society and economic growth since the end of the Second World War.

Candy Land