Last month I spent a few hours in the internet’s darkest corners on the lookout for interesting, rare and otherwise strange board games.
Sadly, there were so many games of questionably racist themes that I decided to compile them into a list of the most shocking ones I stumbled across.
One such game stood out as in particularly poor taste, even among the others. Darkies in the Melon Patch is allegedly an ancient game that was little more than a product of the racist times it was born in.
The thing is, when I started to investigate exactly which year it was first published for the purposes of the article, I started to get a bit confused.
I was getting a wide range of information including everything from 1901 all the way to the late 1940s. Something was certainly fishy with this terrible title.
I found a post that was published on boardgamesgeek.com 11 years ago that asked: “I heard somewhere that this is a recent printing of a game that was never released. So even though it looks like it was published in 1935, it wasn’t. Anyone know for sure?”.
The ensuing conversation started to reveal some increasingly sketchy details.
First, all online evidence of its publisher and any kind of supplementary information appears to have been deleted or otherwise 404s.
Secondly, the address of the so-called publisher isn’t even a real place. Like, even the street it was supposedly on doesn’t seem to have ever existed.
Some users on the same forum fiercely insist that the game is a genuine article from years gone by, but already I’ve decide I’m not so sure.
The most impassioned post defending its authenticity was made by someone called Gary Malkin, whose only three posts in his 11-year account history are about protecting the credibility of the game. The conversation soon deteriorates into Godwin’s law territory, of course, with petty squabbles about the game quickly developing into personal insults.
Further research needed, methinks.
I found another forum thread posted five years later that got the conversation going once more. Someone called Alfred Wallace claims to have spent twenty minutes searching through historical publishing databases for any trace of the game between 1890-1920, but to no avail.
Again, the thread swiftly becomes a juvenile debate about UK-US relations and the users predictably manage to find a way to mention left and right wing politics, slavery, the American civil war and even Holocaust denial.
Finally I find something more helpful. It seems that someone called Joseph has been on this journey himself, and he’s willing to share what he found.
Joseph actually took the plunge and bought a copy of the game. Essentially, he discovered, it’s a Snakes and Ladders ripoff, but reskinned with ludicrously racist overtones. His version apparently dates from 1910.
He carefully makes note that the playing pieces are made from something called Sculpey modeling clay. Now, this kind of clay wasn’t publically available until at least the 1950s. The paint used to colour them also seems to be suspiciously modern in origin.
Furthermore, he notices that upon extreme magnification of the box art, the text features that pixelated staircase-style angled graphics, a fault unique to the digital age. Most graphics software today has anti-aliasing built-in as an option, which might have reduced this effect, but ultimately it looks like whoever made the box art forgot to enable it.
To get to the bottom of the issue, Joseph even calls up an antiques expert. After following her advice, he dismantles some of the game and together they confirm that the game is unlikely to be more than a couple of years old, let alone an original item dating from more than a century ago.
Comments on Joseph’s research seem to verify his conclusions. The font used on the cover is a variant of Mistral and Arial, typefaces not invented until 1953 and 1982 respectively. Moreover, the type of printing used wasn’t available until at least the 1930s.
Evidently, Darkies in the Melon Patch is nothing but a fraud. There’s a pretty sick market for collectible black Americana, items that evoke the politically incorrect eras from America’s past.
This game is just someone’s disturbing desire to manufacture a made-up racist game to cash in on this phenomenon. For me, that’s far worse than if the game had ever existed for real in the first place.
It’s far more troubling that modern, enlightened minds, fuelled by the lust for profit, could fabricate this offensive piece of tat than it would be to discover that a different, less progressive society had crafted something so obviously crass more than 100 years ago.
The main reason we wanted to publish this at Best Play is draw a little more attention to this unpleasant, erm, black market and to deter anyone from believing this item was the real deal.
Steer clear, and play one of our much better Funny Old Games instead.