The game was Battleship. Milton Bradly brought it to market almost 60 years ago, in 1967. Before that, it had been published by different companies dating as far back as the 1930s, as a game played with paper and pencil.
Later, in 1979, Battleship was one of the first games to get produced as a computer game. Flash further forward to 2012, and there was Battleship, the action movie. Distributed by Universal Pictures, it stared Liam Neeson, among others. I mean, really: How do you blow shit up without Liam Neeson?
But I’m drifting away from the point of my upcoming rant.
Recently, I was visiting my brother in the great state of Maryland. He and his wife had recently redecorated their living room. You can see where this is going. No? Well, wait. There’s more.
After going through a wall unit they were getting rid of, they’d come across a stack of old games, one of which was Battleship in its original box.
With a bit of devilish glee, my sister-in-law said, “Honey, you have to see this.” Out came the box. At first, seeing the vintage art made me smile, then…
Oh, my hell!
The illustration on the box lid depicted Dad and Son in their sweater vests and crisp white collars playing the game of Battleship at a dinette. Son calls, “G-4.” Dad holds his head, “It’s a hit!” Oh, the drama of suburbia in the 60s.
But wait. There’s more.
If you look way off in the background, behind dad and son, you can see into the kitchen where mom and daughter are contently washing dishes, happy they’ve freed up time so the males can enjoy a moment of to play. Thus is the way of society and they have fully embraced their Stepford Wife’s (and daughter’s) place in it.
Wow! Think about it. This was only one or two generations ago. How did any young girls grow up to be independent thinkers and pro-active doers?
Am I reading too much into this box lid?
Perhaps. Perhaps dad had made dinner from scratch for the entire family. Perhaps a Thai-Polish fusion thing he’d been wanting to try, with vegetables from his garden that he’d had fermenting for the last three months. Perhaps.
Or maybe dad and son did the dishes the night before while mom and daughter were free to enjoy a game of Global Thermal Nuclear War. Maybe.
But probably not.
I remember back when I was working in New York advertising. One of my accounts was Parker Brothers’ Nerf. This was decades after the creation of the gender prison of the Battleship box. I still had to fight to get girls in on a Nerf gun battle. The thinking? “It’s a toy for boys. They won’t want it if they see girls playing with it.”
Major head shake.
In Milton Bradly’s defense, they changed the Battleship box art three years after its original issue, in 1971. In this version, two clean cut kids, a girl and a boy, play at a table with a plain blue background. Are they at home? In a church? Detention? Some creepy guy’s basement? In this antiseptic version, Girl calls, “G-6.” Boy holds his head, “It’s a hit!”
Virtually the same dialogue as the original box lid, save the “G-4 turning” into “G-6.” Is that a coded message? Does it mean, “Fear not, Girl has already finished the dishes”?
And where are Mom and Dad? Did the sight of his wife with a dish towel make Dad too excited to sit with his son and tiny plastic ships one more second? Is he now launching his own torpedoes? (Yes, I went there.)
So much to be learned from a seemingly innocuous game-box lid. Such a flash from my past with more messages than I’d remembered.
I’m curious: What did you glean from this static moment in the lives of these total strangers from board-game history? I'd love to get your comments.
Cheers and stay careful-ish,
Honey Parker has been writing, writing, writing for decades, decades, decades. In there, she has also been a standup comedian, a Hollywood screenwriter, a director, and a co-author of edgy business books. Careful-ish is her debut novel. It is the first in a trilogy. It is comedy-ish.