Candy Land: Fun for Kids? or Not. (New Publication)

May 18, 2011 at 11:09 am 6 comments

Ever wondered what the board game Candy Land has to do with polio, Hansel and Gretel, and rotten teeth? Now, thanks to the diligent efforts of the Candy Professor Research Labs, all your Candy Land questions are answered.

You can read the full story in the latest issue of The American Journal of Play. My article is called “Polio comes Home: Pleasure and Paralysis in Candy Land.” Since you probably don’t have a subscription yet, here is a handy link to my article.

The article is a bit of an octopus, I start with the origins of the game and then spin out to make connections with candy, literature, parenting, cold-war culture, education, disease and health. It was fun to write (and my apologies if it isn’t as fun to read as this blog, it is a bit, ahem, academic).

I started researching Candy Land because of the candy, of course. But the candy is not the whole story. This game is one of the most successful board games ever. So why is it that most people find it so boring, not fun at all? I began my research with the small fact that Candy Land was invented by a school teacher who was recovering from polio. This led me to consider the connections between the game and broader ideas about childhood, safety, learning, and play. Despite the huge commercial success of Candy Land, I’m not convinced the game has much to do with real kids or fun. Instead, I think the game tells us a lot about adult ideas about children: what children should like, what they should do, how they should play safely.

Keeping kids safe seems to be the major theme of parenting these days. It is so interesting to me that Candy Land repeats this theme both as a game and in the candy image. Better to keep the kids busy with a board game and send their imaginary pawns on an imaginary adventure than let them roam the vicious streets! And better to keep they sated with imaginary pictures of candy than to let them eat the real stuff.

It isn’t just Candy Land of course. It’s helmets and padding and fenced yards and organic snacks and Wii. It’s “don’t” and “be careful” and “you might fall” and “no.” It’s adults who can’t just leave kids to be kids. Candy Land looks fun, but it is a totally fake kind of fun: nothing to do, and no candy to eat. Safe and boring. As far as I’m concerned, Candy Land is a perfect metaphor for the rip-off that is contemporary childhood.

Your thoughts? I’d love to hear comments on this project.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ken  |  May 26, 2011 at 7:11 am

    Thank you for sharing this most interesting article. You raise very relevant issues, including what is meant by autonomy in economic decision making–and what these seemingly trivial shifts may mean as children make their transition to adulthood.
    I worry that consuming parental desire to protect children does come with frightening cost–that is, developmental delays that extend well in to someone’s 3rd decade of life, and a set of compensatory legal prohibitions (such tobacco, alcohol and other drugs) for a population of individuals that are inept at self regulation. Yipes!

  • 2. Candy Yum Yum  |  June 13, 2011 at 9:19 pm

    Candy Land truly is one of the worst games around. It NEVER ends. In fact, a friend of mine leads programs at area libraries called “Beyond Candy Land.” He introduces parents and children to board games that are actually fun and beautifully crafted.

    • 3. Candy Professor  |  June 13, 2011 at 9:57 pm

      What a great project for your friend. I didn’t think I would survive the “Dora Edition” when my mini was 3. Curse that grandmother who sent it!

  • 4. Lori  |  January 13, 2012 at 11:57 pm

    I thought I received a Candy Land Board Game as a kid in the 60’s which included a box inside of real candy suckers……like a package of six or so. Did I just dream this or what?!?

    • 5. Candy Professor  |  January 20, 2012 at 11:20 am

      I never heard of a package that included candy from the factory. But that’s not to say that someone couldn’t add a box of suckers to the game for an extra treat!

      • 6. Lori  |  January 21, 2012 at 11:49 am

        My mother always took a photo of us on our birthday with our gifts…..I’ll try to find this particular one and see if the game box is fully shown. It may have been a unique edition. Get back to you…..

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Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

Welcome to Candy Professor

Candy in American Culture What is it about candy? Here you'll find the forgotten, the strange, the curious, the surprising. Our candy story, one post at a time.

(C) Samira Kawash

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