Board(er) Games: Space, Culture, and Empire in Jumanji and Its Intertexts
- Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures
- The Centre for Research in Young People's Texts and Cultures, University of Winnipeg
- Volume 12, Issue 2, Winter 2020
- pp. 40-61
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Two recent transmedia narratives—Karuna Riazi's 2017 middle-grade novel The Gauntlet and the 2017 film Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle—have attempted to reclaim the 1995 film Jumanji's colonial narrative (adapted from Chris Van Allsburg's 1981 picture book). Both present forms of the "portal fantasy," in which a protagonist supernaturally breaches the borders of another world. The Gauntlet transports its Muslim Bangladeshi American protagonist to a fantastical board game, whereas Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle reconfigures the genre as multimedia immersive gameplay in a fictional "other" realm. Although these reworkings seemingly destabilize white supremacy by centring multi-ethnic American identities, their negotiations with the board game, itself a product of imperial history and a manifestation of the "gamification" of empire (wherein progress is measured by control of the board) complicate this. The creation of an American neo-colonial nationalism through a system of orientalizing these fantastic spaces (the jungle within the 2017 film and Riazi's clockwork Islamic city) affirms the need for their control or eventual destruction by the protagonists. This effectively creates cultural borders that extend into these fictional spaces, playing out historical systems of empire in a bid to gain access to neo-empire.