This Arranged Marriage Board Game Points Out Everything Wrong With Matchmaking

The aim of the game is to avoid the matchmaker or ‘Rishta Aunty’

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When Nashra Balagamwala was pressured to get into an arranged marriage at 18, she refused, decided to pursue a career and personal love interests instead, and then came up with something much, much better.

An arranged marriage board game exists, and what on the surface may seem like a colourful cultural pass-time, aims to shed light on the social pressures many young women of the South Asian community are facing.

Entitled ‘Arranged!’, Balagamwala came up with the idea for the board game five years after her family tried to get her to marry someone they had chosen for her. No match made in her own heaven, the budding entrepreneur took to creating an arranged marriage board game that follows a similar story. Players choose to be one of three women, with the key objective of avoiding the matchmaker (“Rishta Aunty”) as they move through the levels of not having “child-bearing hips”, “praying five times a day” and “only having female friends.”

Tip-toeing along a balance of the humorous and the heartbreakingly honest, the game provides an original and fresh medium for exploring a central aspect of South Asian culture: marriage.

If you’ve ever watched a Bollywood movie, you’ll know that a wedding sequence (featuring a very catchy song – I’m picturing K3G here) is almost always a must. And whilst Bollywood plays on a stage far from everyday realities, the pedestal on which marriage is placed remains equally high. Even in non-Asian circles, marriage and family rings in as a central pillar of adult #LifeGoals. Yet in India and a little beyond, the stakes are much greater, the rites are entirely different, and the traditions are more deeply rooted – which is exactly what this game conveys.

Matchmaking is a fully acceptable (sometimes even desirable) way of bringing two people together, yet it’s all fun and games until someone gets an unwanted arranged marriage.

The trial and tribulation of a ‘love marriage’ over an ‘arranged marriage’ is the subject of many (even Bollywood) films and cultural products of and on the region, yet Balagamwala’s board game takes things a few nuances deeper, by assuming the roles of those to be arranged versus those arranging.

Packed with cards stating things like, “you want to pursue a career… move four steps”, the arranged marriage board game toys with everything Balagamwala herself did to “avoid” getting an arranged marriage. She tells Mashable, “wearing fake engagement rings, getting a tan or being seen with male friends in public, [these are] the things I had done to avoid an arranged marriage myself.”

And in the game, these are all the things that really get players ahead.

Linking seemingly scandalous acts (you got a tan!) to winning points in the game, Balagamwala clearly draws out the social convictions that inevitably force young women to fit into particular ‘acceptable marriage material’ patterns. And whilst the game is, of course, based on stereotypes, they’re stereotypes that bear their origins in very hard-hitting and very real concerns.

“At the beginning of the game, players usually think it’s all fun and games, however, they start to realise the deeper issues that are present and have the urge to talk about it,” Balagamwala states.

And people are talking alright.

After the budding 24-year-old shared the idea for her arranged marriage board game on Kickstarter, donations came pouring in. Soon Balagamwala had received more than double the $6000 she originally pledged as her campaign goal. “I’ve had several Pakistani and Indian girls reach out to thank me for finally speaking up,” she says.

Furthermore, the game has helped the Pakistan-borne woman come to terms with her own situation. “This game has really helped decrease the pressure of getting an arranged marriage. Ever since I’ve spoken up… I’m no longer the perfect submissive bride these women are looking for, because I’m… too strong-minded and independent.”

And perhaps being strong-minded and independent is the true jewel of the game. As players move through the different stages, it becomes increasingly clear that the winning formula lies in self-confidence, independence, and determination. You only ever really win the game if you get to marry the ‘Golden Boy’ of your liking, not the other ‘Mama’s boys and womanisers’ the matchmaker aunty has in mind.

(Staying single or marrying same-sex is no option – but that’s a topic for another time)

All images cr: Arranged!/Kickstarter

Regardless, not everyone has been saying “I do” to the game.

“I’ve also dealt with a lot of criticism,” Balagamwala states. “Many Pakistanis have said negative remarks and have made it clear to me that I’m a disgrace because I’m bad mouthing the society.” Nevertheless, she hopes to empower women, even just a little bit. “Although a game cannot change the world, I am hopeful that by discussing the problems these societies face, they might start to realise how flawed these norms are and eventually work towards fixing it.”

Bringing the subject to the table through the form of a board game, it’s definitely an interesting way to reconsider how we play our cards in a society where this game is a reality for many, many people.

Find out more about ‘Arranged!’ over on its Kickstarter page, and then go out and get a tan and hang out with boys.

What do you think?

h/t: Mashable