I have an interesting Christian ethics/morality question that I’ve been mulling over, and I’d enjoy some feedback from you, the 4DB family of readers.
My wife and I are becoming avid board game fans (though I think I’m a little more into gaming than she is, at least in some cases). There is a genre of games I’ve started looking into and playing that are classified as “deception/bluffing” games.
The most basic of such games that I’ve played isn’t even a board game–it’s a large-group game called “Mafia” (or “Werewolf” in some circles). Using a number of standard playing cards, 1-2 players in the group of ten or so are secretly assigned to be the Mafia/werewolves. During each turn, they “take out” a player in the night (when the other players’ eyes are closed), and then it’s up to the rest of the “townsfolk” to determine who the villain(s) are. The villain(s), however, must lie and manipulate to divert suspicion and keep from getting caught. The game ends when the townsfolk single out the villain(s), or the villain(s) eliminate all the other contestants. Recently, I played a similar game called “The Resistance,” which employs this deception mechanic in a dystopian setting. There are spin-off games in the same “world” that use the same concepts for gameplay.
I enjoy these games, because I enjoy the psychological challenges they pose–they’re strategy games that require you to interpret human behavior. However, invariably these games include players using personal relationships and personal reputation as a means of covering deception, and often a player will “swear” that they are telling the truth or lean on their relationship and trust that has been built up with another player (all the while lying to his or her face).
Which brings me to the conundrum: when the game ends, where do we stand in terms of our integrity?
I’ve been teaching through the Sermon on the Mount on Sundays, and recently my co-teacher covered the section about oaths. Jesus’ instructions to His disciples are clear: let your “yes” be “yes,” and your “no” be “no.” He tells His followers not to swear by anything, but to let their verbal integrity be such that no amplifiers are needed. (Incidentally, this is something that the Holy Spirit has been convicting me on, when it comes to making promises and meeting deadlines.)
It occurred to me the other day that this presents an interesting consideration about deception/bluffing-based games. I don’t think playing such games is inherently “sinful.” If you are playing the game according to the rules (i.e. you’re not “cheating”), and everyone understands that playing the game involves deception, then you are not sinning against your fellow players. However, I think there may be deeper implications of such games, in certain contexts.
Consideration #1: How does playing such games affect our attitude toward deception in real life? I’m not arguing that playing “Mafia” will make you a profligate liar and con artist after a single game. But is it possible that repeated gameplay may subconsciously affect our inner comfort level with deceit, making us less sensitive to the “white lies” we are tempted to tell? This is worth our consideration, Christian. At the minimum, we need to be aware of this potential effect.
Consideration #2: How does playing such games affect children/younger players? What really got me thinking through this question was considering how playing deception-based games with my future kids might make them second-guess my honesty. (Don’t get excited: I’m not going to be a father yet. I’m just thinking ahead. Plus, we often host teenagers from the group home we have connections to, so we play board games with them all the time.) My concern would be that my children would develop an expectation that their dad is a man of integrity in normal life, but once he sits at the game table, he’s a dirty, rotten liar that can never be trusted. Would they have difficulty keeping those two scenarios apart? How long before they start to question if my word can be trusted once I get up from the game table?
Consideration #3: If deception-based games lend themselves toward players using personal relationships and reputation as leverage to deceive their opponents, how does that impact our relationships with each other when we leave the table? Even if it’s done as part of gameplay, if I use my relationship with my wife as a pry-bar to convince her I’m being honest when I’m not, won’t that memory come to mind the next time I insist that I’m being honest with her?
Again, I’m not arguing against deception/bluffing games themselves. What I’m asking here is whether or not the *way* we play these games has implications that reach beyond the games themselves.
I leave it to you, gentle readers. Have you ever considered these questions? And having these questions posed, how would you respond to these considerations? Please comment below. Let’s talk about this.