Playing Fictions

There are eighteen board game adaptations of Dracula, nineteen based on Sherlock Holmes, and seven dedicated to the Frankenstein tale.  Far from antiquated forms of entertainment, board games are experiencing a renaissance of sorts: new games are released each month, and game shops and international conventions regularly draw enthusiasts.  Many board games are also under-analyzed modes of textual adaptation.

Games based on literary texts give players an intensely participatory experience of the text, making them unusual among adaptations.  The newer smartphone and tablet apps approximate this level of involvement, but what makes board games unique is the length of time they take to play—typically between one and three hours.  While an app like Dracula Draculaura Hairstyle may be played in a few minutes and Vampire Slayer Squad Lite may be played in short installments and put on hold indefinitely, the board game Fury of Dracula takes two hours or more of continuous play.

This lengthy focus demands and cultivates active participation, and the length of some board games and the type of participation involved is particularly suited to nineteenth-century literature.  It is no mistake that board games are experiencing a resurgence at a time when our culture is, by many accounts, losing its ability to focus on a single text for long periods of time.  Board games are not on a continuum with smartphone apps; they are the anti-app—communal antidotes to solitary and fleeting entertainment.  Board games based on literary texts revise the idea of the reading community and perhaps allow us to explore new definitions of “adaptation,” “reading,” and “text” alike.

A culture can be understood, in part, through the games it plays.  The Victorians played games such as Beggar My Neighbor, Speculation, and Commerce—games that reflect an interest in the world of finance.  What do the eighteen board game adaptations of Dracula say about us?

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