Gaming is one aspect of Mormon culture not often discussed in Sunday School or BYU religion classes. A Mormon games exhibit is currently on display at the Harold B. Lee Library through July for students, faculty and staff to enjoy.
Curator of 21st century Mormonism and Western Americana Trevor Alvord said the exhibit’s main purpose is to showcase “the history or the evolution of Mormons in the gaming community” and that “Mormons can have fun too.”
Alvord and his colleague Dainan Skeem, a curator of Mormon and Western manuscripts, are working together to build a comprehensive collection of Mormon games so Special Collections can have the games for future research. The games’ accumulation was the genesis for the Mormon Gaming exhibit.
“I realized that nobody else out there was doing it. There was no record. There’s nothing official or anything online that has a documentation of how Mormons have interacted with this medium,” Alvord said.
The exhibit contains three display cases which lay out pieces of seven board and card games. Each game contains deeper meaning and reflects different eras of Mormon culture. The games also provide an insight into who Mormons are.
“There is a pretty large narrative out there that Mormons are very fundamental — we don’t dance, we don’t laugh, we don’t see movies, we certainly don’t play games. But I think this shows that that’s not the case. This is breaking that stereotype. Mormons do interact with culture and society just like every other group does,” Alvord said.
The existence of the games also highlights the importance family holds in Mormon culture. Kent Tschanz, owner of Tschanz Rare Books and specialist in Mormon material, said, “I can’t think of another group — cultural, religious, social — that has this many board games dedicated to what they are doing. And it makes sense because of how important family and spending time with your family is to the Mormon faith, so it’s a natural fit.”
Most — if not all — of the games are copycats of well-known titles like “Risk” or “Monopoly,” but with a Mormon twist. “The Greatest Mission is the World” is similar to “Risk” but is infused with Mormon culture. The game’s goal is to be the first to spread the gospel to every nation.
“It is taking culture from abroad and trying to imprint your own individualism on it,” Alvord said.
“Book of Mormon Who?” is an iteration of the popular “Guess Who?” but with Book of Mormon characters like King Lamoni and Nephi’s wife. “Cues ‘n Clues” is a $20,000 “Pyramid” look-alike but with Mormon-themed cards and titles that reference food storage, the plagues of Pharaoh and ward choir.
Skeem and Alvord said the makers of these Mormon-themed games needed a guaranteed way to make money, so copying already-popular and successful games was a natural path to take.
One of the better-known games in the exhibit is “Seek,” a trivia game that tests players’ knowledge of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ standard works.
“It’s funny because you go around and even here in the department you can talk to people about Seek and the older — probably 50 or older — people are like, ‘Oh I remember that game. I used to play that at my grandma’s house or in my mom and dad’s house.’ But you talk to people closer to our age, and they’re like, ‘I have no idea what Seek is,’” Skeem said.
The games displayed in the exhibit are only a fraction of the Mormon games that exist. Alvord and Skeem plan to expand the exhibit in 2021. The future exhibit will be more expansive and comprehensive on the history of Mormon gaming and will include pioneer games, board games, card games and video games.
The goal is to make the exhibit more interactive, possibly allowing students to come and check out the games to play.
“We have a little bit of difficulty trying to work that out, but the hope is yes. They would have to play them here, but eventually maybe FHE groups could come in and check out the first Mormon board game and play it,” Alvord said.
The evolution of Mormon gaming is an ongoing process. Members of the church can see their heritage through these games.
“If you are interested in finding some of these games, one of the best sources to find them is at DI. In any of these second-hand stores very frequently you will be able to find Mormon-themed games,” Skeem said.
“Or eBay, if you want a complete one,” Alvord responded.