, whose motto is "Making the World Smile," recently made its shareholders happy as well. It reported a 77% increase in net income and a 38% rise in revenues for the first quarter of this year from the comparable quarter last year, causing its stock to hit a 52-week high. The toy maker's reliable games line -- traditional board games as well as video and interactive computer games -- played a key role in that upsurge.
The history of the game business in America reveals not only the fun side that everyone expects but also secondary personality traits -- some of which are disturbing, as recent events in Littleton, Colo., suggest.
No event could have better illustrated the peculiar mixture of sentiment about video games and their cousins, movies and songs, than a gathering in Denver earlier this month. Some of the 40,000 people who attended the
celebration wore silver and blue ribbons to honor the victims of the Columbine High School shootings. But some fans posed for execution-style pictures with
storm troopers, according to
The concerns about violence surely were not lost on Hasbro, a big
toy producer; along with
and others, it matched donations collected in Denver. And the debate is just getting started in Washington, where the
voted on Wednesday to require a federal investigation of the impact of violence in video games, music and movies on children. (Since we're talking about history here, the U.S. Senate had concluded in 1993 that video games encourage violent acts by teenage boys, the principal market for these games.)
The U.S. game business has tended to have controversial secondary personality traits since its inception. But the current debate on video games and violence has a distinctively passionate flavor.
The first board game in the U.S. was the
Mansion of Happiness
, introduced in 1843 by Miss Anne W. Abbot, daughter of a New England clergyman, according to "Games People Played," a 1972
article. A product of moralistic New England, it did not use dice because of their association with gambling. Instead, a dial called the teetotum (in deference to the Temperance movement) was spun, advancing the player along his path to heaven -- the game's goal -- if he or she managed to avoid the snares of "cruelty, immodesty and ingratitude" en route.
created the Checkered Game of Life. It too was an exercise of pursuing virtue -- "happy old age" -- over a road with rest stops like "honor" and "truth," bypassing the lurking villains of "idleness" and "crime." Bradley, an educator from Springfield, Mass., was an able promoter of his product. His Games for Soldiers, a collection of nine games on lightweight paste board, was marketed to Union soldiers during the Civil War for their amusement in the field. The package included imported games like checkers, chess and dominos and, of course, the Checkered Game of Life and was credited with the spread of board games in the U.S. beyond New England.
In 1883, a 16-year-old
George S. Parker
, made Salem, Mass., the "game capital of the world." Begging three weeks off school in December so he could go to Boston and peddle a board game named Banking he had invented, George made a 200% profit on the $40 of savings he risked. Parker was more fun loving than he was pious. His new game replaced the players' goal of joy in the next life with the accumulation of wealth in this one. Like getting into heaven, making money was a proper, even praiseworthy, Yankee theme.
After his high school graduation, Parker opened a manufacturing facility in Salem. Called
, it would produced scores of games reflecting the events of the Gay '90s -- like the discovery of gold in the Klondike, the
Spanish American War
and even its booming economy. The box of Parker Brothers' Wall Street game depicted a bull and a bear shearing a sheep.
The popularity of board games as inexpensive entertainment continued through the 20th century. Parker Brothers' Monopoly, created by Charles B. Darrow during the Depression, sold an incredible 1 million sets in its first year and is still the world's most popular game. Clue, a 1944 murder mystery game, is marketed today in more than 40 countries. The company formed by Civil War entrepreneur Milton Bradley produced Scrabble in 1938, and 100 million sets have since been sold. In the 1940's, Milton Bradley also introduced children's games like Chutes and Ladders and Candy Land Company.
Pawtucket, R.I.-based Hasbro has been maintaining New England's dominance in the game business by playing its own game of Monopoly for the last two decades. It now owns all of these traditional board games and many more, having acquired both Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley.
Video games were born in the 1960s. And, thanks to the computer, the industry later grew in public arcades and on home consoles -- and eventually in cyberspace.
This expansion can be traced to a primitive computer game, called Spacewar, that an
student created in 1962 on a computer that was larger than an car and cost $120,000, according to a 1997
article titled "Super Mario Nation." By the 1970s, one of the game's devotees had designed a smaller, less expensive machine on which to play the game, one that could be placed in arcades and bars, for example.
was the result,and the game was called Pong. Soon, consoles were developed to play the same video games at home.
Video game arcades were everywhere. At the high point, in 1981, Americans dropped 20 billion quarters a year in video games, allowing the industry to outgross the movie and the recording industries. Then, unexpectedly the market slumped until the mid-1980s, when
of Japan and
re-established video games' popularity.
And while Sega is laying off workers, Nintendo's new video game Pokemon -- short for Pocket Monsters -- and its spinoffs -- like trading cards, T-shirts and a TV cartoon -- have already generated nearly $5 billion in U.S. revenues since their September introduction.
The next sure stage of growth seems to be in interactive computer games known as "casual games." Developed by
GT Interactive Software
of New York and others, these games let players on PCs do the things they wish they were doing in real life -- like hunting, fishing and playing cards.
, a research firm cited in a recent
New York Times
article, five of the top 20 best-selling computer games were of this genre. Of course, hunting was the most popular topic, which has some people up in arms about ... violence in video games.
Richard B. Marrin has practiced litigation and corporate law for nearly 30 years and is a partner in New York City law firm Ford Marrin Esposito Witmeyer & Gleser. He is the author of several books and a number of articles on American history. He can be reached at