Games Britannia @ BBC 4
Episode 1 – Dicing with Destiny
Three-part series presented by historian Benjamin Woolley about popular games in Britain from the Iron Age to the Information Age, in which he unravels how an apparently trivial pursuit is a rich and entertaining source of cultural and social history.
In part one, Woolley investigates how the instinct to play games is both as universal and elemental as language itself and takes us from 1st-century Britain to the Victorian era.
Ancient and medieval games weren’t just fun, they were fundamental, and often imbued with prophetic significance. By the late Middle Ages this spiritual element in games began to be lost as gaming became increasingly associated with gambling. Dice and card games abounded, but a moral backlash in Victorian times transformed games into moral educational tools.
This was also the era in which Britain established the world’s first commercial games industry, with such classics as the Staunton Chess Set, Ludo and Snakes and Ladders leading the way, all adaptations of original games from other countries.
In the case of Snakes and Ladders, what once represented a Hindu journey to enlightenment was transformed into a popular but banal family favourite, and Woolley sees this as the perfect analogy for how the sacred energy which once imbued games had become gradually drained away by commercialisation.