‘Feminist coup’ at Cluedo, as Mrs White makes way for Dr Orchid – and not everyone is happy

Servant is replaced by career woman of Asian descent – but it’s not the first time the board game has changed to reflect the times, as other toys and comics have

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 July, 2016, 8:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 July, 2016, 8:00am

Hasbro. In the boardroom. With a press release.

That’s who killed Mrs White, one of the prime suspects in the murder at the heart of the board game Cluedo. Next month, the ageing cook will be replaced by a much more professionally accomplished character: biologist Dr Orchid, who holds a PhD in plant toxicology and appears to be of Asian descent.

Her back story is one of privilege and intrigue. She was “privately schooled in Switzerland until her expulsion following a near-fatal daffodil poisoning incident”. In a shocking twist, she was then home-schooled … by Mrs White.

Dun dun dun.

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In a statement published by the Mental Floss website, Hasbro Gaming’s senior vice-president of global marketing said: “It was a difficult decision to say goodbye to Mrs White – but after 70 years of suspicious activity, we decided that one of the characters had to go. Dr Orchid is a brilliant new character with a rich back story … We’re sure families around the world will continue to create thrilling murder mysteries with all six suspects inside the iconic Tudor Mansion.”

Though Hasbro hasn’t publicly stated its reason for the change, many see it as a feminist victory.

Writer Lizzy Acker has called the move a “feminist coup”. As Time magazine pointed out, this makes Dr Orchid the first female character in the game to have an official profession, as Mrs Peacock is a widow and socialite and Miss Scarlet is, well, a mystery.

She also becomes the first Asian character added to the classic version of Cluedo – although not the first added to the overall Cluedo universe, as the Lady Lavender character in the Clue FX game from 2003 appeared to be Chinese.

A petition launched on Change.com roughly three months ago seeking to give Mrs White a medical degree was signed by more than 1,800 people.

The petition stated: “Hasbro should change Mrs White to Dr White. By portraying her as a white-coated physician, surgeon, or scientist, it would show support for women in general, and give young girls an everyday image of an accomplished professional who just happens to be a woman. It may not seem like much, but it is these kinds of small gestures and images that subtly combine to make up the impression that young people have of other people and themselves.”

There’s a slight irony here.

Replacing or updating traditional characters with ones that reflect a more diverse set of characteristics is increasingly common in toys and fiction, from dolls to board games to comic books

Cluedo was conceived during the second world war by English musician Anthony E. Pratt and his wife, Elva, and was first released in 1949. The most common story is that he created it for people to pass the time in bomb shelters.

Patent paperwork from 1944 showed that Mrs White was originally supposed to be Nurse White, according to The Guardian.

Not everyone is happy with the decision, as seen on Twitter.

Still, it’s in keeping with current trends. Replacing or updating traditional characters with ones that reflect a more diverse set of characteristics is increasingly common in toys and fiction, from dolls to board games to comic books.

Earlier this year, Mattel changed the classic Barbie shape by adding three new body types: petite, tall and curvy. In addition, the company added seven skin tones, 22 eye colours and 24 hairstyles, “an effort to make the dolls look more diverse,” according to The Washington Post.

More recently, Marvel announced a change to its Iron Man comics that shocked some long-time fans. Tony Stark, the white man who had always been inside the superhero suit, will be replaced by Riri Williams, a black teenage girl with a genius-level IQ. And last year, Marvel announced that a new Hulk character would be a Korean-American teenager.

The move to replace Mrs White with Dr Orchid on Hasbro’s part is less controversial if one considers that this isn’t the first time Cluedo has been restructured. (Nor, it should be noted, are all versions the same - in America Reverend Green is a plain Mr).

In 2008, the game was updated to include three more weapon options and a second deck of cards. The mansion gained new rooms, such as a spa and a theatre. Finally, the characters were given more involved back stories – Colonel Mustard, for example, was now a former football star and Victor Plum lost his professorship to become a video game designer.

When explaining the changes, Rob Daviau, who helped design that version of Clue (as it’s called in the United States), said, “We wanted something that the mum or dad who’s bringing home for the family [could say], ‘This is what I remember, and this is what I want to play with my kids.’ At the same time, we wanted something the kids would feel belonged to them. And this is something that’s very appealing to them. So we tried to blend those two worlds. It plays like Clue, it feels like Clue, but it just feels like Clue that would have been created in the 21st century.”

The same, it seems, could be said of the new change.