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The Rise of Roblox

How a gaming platform has helped millions of Americans through a challenging time.

From the October/November 2020 Issue

Learning Objective: Students will compare and contrast a video game platform and a board game and the role they’ve played in Americans’ lives.

Lexile: 700L-800L, 800L-900L
Guided Reading Level: R
DRA Level: 40

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Compare and Contrast 

As you read, look for what has made Roblox and Candy Land popular. How are they alike and different?

The Rise of Roblox

How a gaming platform has helped millions of Americans through a challenging time

Last March, Robby Scianna invited his friends to a party for his 10th birthday. They ran around playing a battle game. They sang “Happy Birthday.” And when the party was over? They all logged out.

That’s because Robby and his friends weren’t together in person. They were celebrating on the gaming platform Roblox.

Robby had planned to have his birthday at an escape room. But then Covid-19 began sweeping across the U.S. Just days before the party, Robby’s California town went into lockdown. So his dad came up with the idea to try a Roblox party.

“It wasn’t as fun as a normal birthday party, but it was fun,” Robby says.

Last March, Robby Scianna invited his friends to his 10th birthday party. They ran around and played a battle game. They sang “Happy Birthday.” Then the party was over. So they all logged out.

Robby and his friends weren’t together in person. They were celebrating on the gaming platform Roblox.

Robby had planned to have his birthday at an escape room. But then Covid-19 began sweeping across the U.S. Just days before the party, Robby’s California town went into lockdown. So his dad came up with the idea to try a Roblox party.

“It wasn’t as fun as a normal birthday party, but it was fun,” Robby says.

Millions of Players

Chances are that you don’t need to be told what Roblox is. Two-thirds of all U.S. kids between 9 and 12 years old have used the platform, according to the company. Packed with more than 40 million different games, it has something to appeal to every kind of kid—sort of like the YouTube of gaming.

You can chase bad guys in “Jail Break.” You can whip up pies in “Work at a Pizza Place.” You can find a furry pet to love in “Adopt Me.” And if you somehow don’t find a game you like? You can make your own in the company’s easy-to-use game builder, Roblox Studio. Most of Roblox’s games have been created by its users.

Since it was started in 2005, Roblox has grown into a worldwide hit, with more than 120 million regular players. And between February and March of this year, players started using the platform 40 percent more.

That isn’t surprising when you think about what was happening last March. Millions of Americans, like Robby and his family, had been told to stay home to stop the spread of Covid-19. We couldn’t go to school. We couldn’t go to a movie or eat pizza with friends. To pass the time, some of us baked or did puzzles. Others binge-watched TV shows.

And millions played on Roblox.

You likely already know what Roblox is. Two-thirds of all U.S. kids between 9 and 12 years old have used the platform, the company says. It has more than 40 million different games—something for every kind of kid.

You can chase bad guys in “Jail Break.” You can whip up pies in “Work at a Pizza Place.” You can find a pet to love in “Adopt Me.” You can even build your own game in Roblox Studio.

Roblox was started in 2005. Now it’s a worldwide hit. It has more than 120 million regular players. Between February and March of this year, players started using the platform 40 percent more.

That isn’t surprising. Think about what was happening last March. Millions of Americans, like Robby and his family, were told to stay home. We couldn’t go to school. We couldn’t go to a movie or eat pizza with friends. To pass the time, some of us did puzzles. Others binge-watched TV shows.

And millions played on Roblox.

The Power of Play

LYNNE SUTHERLAND/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Roblox games are not the first to become popular in a difficult time. During the Great Depression in the 1930s, when millions of Americans lost their jobs, families played board games like Monopoly and Sorry!

Why do humans turn to games during challenging periods?

“Games are great at fixing our mood and reducing our stress and anxiety,” says Rachel Kowert, a psychologist who studies gaming. That’s because when we play, our brains release chemicals that make us feel good.

But there’s another reason Roblox has brought people comfort during quarantine. As Robby explains, “It’s easier to play with your friends than most games.” Players can add friends and talk to each other through a built-in chat window. Like an endless online playground, Roblox is a place where kids can skip together from one game to the next.

In most of the games, the goal isn’t even to win. You can play hide-and-seek, visit a theme park, go to school, or simply hang out in a room together—many of the things that have been off-limits during quarantine. “It’s an experience you have with other people: a shared experience,” Craig Donato, one of the company’s leaders, told The Guardian newspaper.

Roblox games are not the first to become popular in a difficult time. In the 1930s, millions of Americans lost their jobs. This was called the Great Depression. Families started playing board games like Monopoly and Sorry!

Why do humans turn to games during tough periods?

“Games are great at fixing our mood and reducing our stress and anxiety,” says Rachel Kowert, a psychologist who studies gaming.

But there’s another reason Roblox has brought people comfort during quarantine. As Robby explains, “It’s easier to play with your friends than most games.” Players can add friends and talk to each other through a chat window. Roblox is like an endless online playground. Kids can skip together from one game to the next.

In most of the games, the goal isn’t even to win. You can play hide-and-seek. You can visit a theme park or go to school. Or you can simply hang out in a room together—many of the things that have been banned during quarantine. “It’s an experience you have with other people: a shared experience,” says Craig Donato, one of the company’s leaders.

Staying Connected

Experts agree that video games shouldn’t be the only way you get through a tough time. If you find yourself playing for hours every day, it might be time to cut back. They also warn that kids should never talk to anyone they don’t know on Roblox. (Make sure an adult checks your safety settings.)

But when played safely and in moderation, Roblox games can help us stay connected— making a strange time feel a little less strange.

Hopefully Robby will have his escape room party next year. But until then, he and his friends have millions of worlds on Roblox to explore.

Experts agree that video games shouldn’t be the only way you get through a tough time. If you’re playing for hours every day, it might be time to cut back. They also warn that kids should never talk to anyone they don’t know on Roblox. (Make sure an adult checks your safety settings.)

But when played safely and in moderation, Roblox games can help us stay connected. That makes a strange time feel a little less strange.

Hopefully Robby will have his escape room party next year. But until then, he and his friends have millions of worlds on Roblox to explore.

A Sweet Treat in a Tough Time 

The fascinating history of Candy Land, one of America’s most popular board games

ERIN CADIGAN/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO (GREEN PIECE); CHRIS WILLSON/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO (1955 BOARD & BOX); COURTESY OF HASBRO (MODERN BOARD & BOX)

The 2016 edition of Candy Land

As Eleanor Abbott looked around the hospital ward, what she saw was heartbreaking: row after row of children in beds.

The year was 1948. The children, as well as Abbott herself, were being treated for polio at a hospital in San Diego, California. Polio is a disease caused by a contagious virus. In its most serious form, the virus can paralyze the body and cause breathing difficulties. In extreme cases, it can even lead to death. People of any age can get polio, but it affects mainly young children. In the mid-1900s, polio was one of the most feared diseases in the U.S. Major outbreaks happened every summer.

Most of the kids in the polio ward with Abbott had never spent much time away from their families. Now they were on their own in a strange and scary place. They were homesick and frightened. They were also incredibly bored.

In the ward, there was nothing to do but wait—for the nurse to come by, for the next family visit, for the weeks or months it could take to get better. Abbott, who was a teacher, decided the kids needed something to take their minds off their illness and cure their boredom. So she invented a game set in a wonderful, imaginary world made of candy. Today, we know that game as Candy Land.

Eleanor Abbott looked around the hospital ward. What she saw was heartbreaking: row after row of children in beds.

The year was 1948. The children and Abbott were being treated for polio in San Diego, California. Polio is a disease caused by a contagious virus. The virus can paralyze the body. It can make breathing hard. In extreme cases, it can even lead to death. And it affects mainly young children. In the mid-1900s, polio was a feared diseases in the U.S. Major outbreaks happened every summer.

Most of the kids in the polio ward with Abbott had never been away from their families. Now they were on their own in a strange place. They were homesick and scared. They were also very bored.

In the ward, there was nothing to do but wait. For the nurse to come by. For the next family visit. For the weeks or months it could take to get better. Abbott, a teacher, decided the kids needed something to take their minds off their illness. So she invented a game set in a wonderful, imaginary world made of candy. Today, we know that game as Candy Land.

BETTMANN/GETTY IMAGES

Three Little League players visit with two young children recovering from polio in a hospital in New York in 1955.

An Instant Hit

Abbott’s game was very simple—and perfect for the young children in the ward who couldn’t yet read or write. Players moved along a curving path of colored squares, picking cards to see which color to move to next. The first player to reach the finish line won.

Candy Land was an instant hit with the children in the ward. It transported them from the hospital to a delightful world of sweets.

After Abbott recovered from polio and left the hospital, she took her game to a board game maker called the Milton Bradley Company. Milton Bradley bought Abbott’s idea. In 1949, the company created the first version of Candy Land that people could buy. Across the front of its box, in cheery cursive, was the game’s slogan: “A sweet little game for sweet little folks.”

It turned out to be the perfect moment in history for a game like Candy Land. That’s because it wasn’t just kids in hospitals who needed something to do. It was all kids.

From 1916 until the early 1950s, polio outbreaks led to the closure of many swimming pools, beaches, parks, and other places where people gathered. Worried parents kept their kids at home, hoping to protect them from catching the virus from friends or classmates.

Without computers, smartphones, or the internet, kids couldn’t keep in touch with friends the way they can today. There was no bingewatching Netflix or playing Roblox either. Many parents bought Candy Land to keep their kids entertained. It quickly became Milton Bradley’s best-selling game.

Thanks to Candy Land, kids stuck at home could wander through the Peppermint Stick Forest and under the Gingerbread Plum Tree. They could slide down the Rainbow Trail. They could visit a world where the worst thing that could happen was to get stuck in the Molasses Swamp for a turn or two.

Abbott’s game was very simple—and perfect for the young children in the ward. They couldn’t yet read or write. Players moved along a curving path of colored squares. They picked cards to see which color to move to next. The first player to reach the finish line won.

Candy Land was an instant hit with the children in the ward. It carried them away from the hospital to a delightful world of sweets.

After a while, Abbott got better and left the hospital. She sold her game idea to Milton Bradley, a company that made games. In 1949, it created the first version of Candy Land for people to buy. Across the front of its box was the game’s cheerful slogan: “A sweet little game for sweet little folks.”

It turned out to be the perfect moment in history for a game like Candy Land. Why? Kids everywhere needed something to do.

From 1916 until the early 1950s, polio outbreaks led to the closing of many swimming pools, beaches, parks, and other crowded places. Worried parents kept their kids at home.

Without computers, smartphones, or the internet, kids couldn’t keep in touch with friends like they can today. There was no binge-watching Netflix and no Roblox. Many parents bought Candy Land to keep their kids entertained. It quickly became Milton Bradley’s best-selling game.

Thanks to Candy Land, kids stuck at home could wander through the Peppermint Stick Forest and under the Gingerbread Plum Tree. They could slide down the Rainbow Trail. They could visit a world where the worst thing that could happen was to get stuck in the Molasses Swamp for a turn or two.

Generations of Children

At last, in 1955, a polio vaccine was introduced. By the early 1970s, polio was nearly gone in the United States. It took longer to get rid of the virus in some other parts of the world. But today there are only a few countries where it continues to spread.

Although polio has faded away here in the U.S., Candy Land has not. Over the years, many new versions of the game have been released, with new characters like Princess Lolly and Lord Licorice. There was a computer game based on Candy Land as well as an animated movie. In 2005, Candy Land was awarded a spot in the National Toy Hall of Fame. Today, more than 70 years after Candy Land’s debut, about 1 million copies of the game are sold each year.

Eleanor Abbott would surely be happy to know that her “sweet little game” has been enjoyed by so many generations of children.