The history and evolution of murder mystery games

Murder mystery games have recently because hugely popular, with a surge in online games that could be played while everyone was stuck in their homes, but they’ve been around far longer than that. Boxed murder mystery dinner party games could be picked up from charity shops second hand or bought brand new from game shops for decades.  But where do they originally come from? Their origins come from literature and parlour games and gradually developed into these modern incarnations in board games, video games, and interactive theatre. These immersive experiences have endured the test of time and in this blog, we delve into the history and evolution of the murder mystery games, tracing their journey from the pages of classic detective fiction to the screens and stages of contemporary entertainment, all he way to your living room.

The roots of murder mystery games can be traced back to classic literature, where authors such as Edgar Allan Poe and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle laid the groundwork for the genre with their masterful detective stories. From Poe's enigmatic sleuth, Auguste Dupin, and Doyle's iconic Sherlock Holmes these unusually clever men have captivated the imagination with their brilliant deductive reasoning and their ability to solving perplexing crimes. These literary works not only entertained but also inspired social gatherings and parlour games centred around mystery-solving and playing characters.

The 1920s and 1930s marked the "Golden Age" of detective fiction, a period defined by the emergence of authors such as Agatha Christie, who became known as the Queen of Crime and whose novels have been translated into multiple languages and published globally, she became one of the best and most published authors of all time. Her intricate plots, memorable characters, and clever twists captivated readers worldwide, as their predecessors had done before them, shaping the landscape of mystery storytelling for generations to come.

These novels were often the inspiration for many popular radio dramas and shows such as "The Adventures of Nero Wolfe" transported listeners to shadowy alleys and elegant drawing rooms, where cunning detectives pursued justice and unravelled complex conspiracies. These radio dramas not only entertained but also fostered a deeper engagement with mystery-solving, as listeners eagerly pieced together clues alongside their favourite sleuths. The accessibility and immediacy of radio broadcasting brought the mystery genre directly into your homes.

In 1949 Cluedo (or Clue as it became known in the USA) was invented by a British man named Anthony E. Pratt, it was published by Waddingtons and has been updated and developed by many others since then. Cluedo quickly became a popular pastime, at parties and family gatherings as it allowed players to immerse themselves in thrilling murder mysteries while socializing with friends and family. This fusion of literature and interactive entertainment laid the foundation for the emergence of murder mystery games as we know them today.

The transition from radio shows to television and film suddenly brought these stories to even wider audiences, solidifying their place in popular culture. Television shows like "Murder, She Wrote," “Poirot” “Miss Marple” and "Inspector Morse" became household names, captivating viewers with their intricate plots, memorable characters, and suspenseful twists. These series not only entertained but also invited audiences to become amateur detectives, eagerly attempting to unravel each episode's central mystery alongside the protagonists as the radio broadcasts had done before them. Similarly, classic murder mystery movies such as "Murder on the Orient Express" brought literary works to life on the silver screen in full colour with star-studded casts. Through these visual mediums, murder mystery stories reached new heights of popularity, expanding their audience and influencing game design for years to come.

When murder mystery dinner party games became popular, audiences could feel like they were really engaged in soling crimes, playing a character, questioning suspects as well as attempting to deceive others at the table, providing a more interactive experience than traditional board games. The late 20th century saw a resurgence of interest in murder mystery board games, such as "Mysterium" and “Betrayal” with their intriguing narratives and well developed game mechanics. From here murder mystery games found a new frontier in the realm of video games also offering players immersive storytelling experiences and challenging puzzles to solve. Beyond the confines of traditional gaming formats, interactive theatre experiences such as Murder Mystery Dinner Parties and Escape Rooms have redefined the boundaries of audience engagement, breaking the fourth wall and inviting participants to step directly into the heart of the mystery and become active participants in crime solving.

During lockdown in 2020, many murder mystery companies such as Masters of Mystery reworked their games to work on digital platforms where you could download all the information rather than needing to purchase a boxed game, these providing a fun way for friends and families to connect remotely during the times of uncertainty and isolation from one another. As restrictions eased, these games adapted once again becoming versatile, able to be played online as well as in-person allowing anyone to be involved.

As we can see, from their early origins in literature and parlour games to their adaptation across television, film, board games, video games, and interactive theatre, murder mysteries have consistently captivated audiences with their intricate plots, compelling characters, and immersive environments. As the popularity of these games continues to grow, fuelled by advancements in technology and evolving storytelling techniques, the future promises even more exciting possibilities for engaging with the art of mystery-solving. Whether played around a dining table with friends, experienced through the screen of a gaming console, or immersed in the atmosphere of an interactive production, murder mystery games remain a beloved form of entertainment that invites players to embrace their inner detective and unravel the secrets of their fellow players. With their timeless appeal and endless potential for creativity, murder mystery games are sure to remain an integral part of our cultural landscape for years to come.

Here at Masters of Mystery we have a wide variety of games, themes, and styles for all ages. So why not have a browse through our collection? Whether you are a new or returning customer we are sure you’ll be able to find something to spark your interest.