Would I Lie to You?

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.


11 thoughts on “Would I Lie to You?

  1. Excellent questions.
    Consideration 3 – I would consider this to be evil. It is out of the context of the other games. I do not know a game where I leverage my relationship with someone, unless what you really mean is use my knowledge of their personality. For example, I think I’d be far more likely to catch one of my kids bluffing at poker than some strangers. Being perceptive is different from using a relationship as leverage.

    But you are right, what do you do? Does teaching kids to deceive have bad consequences which may make you wish you played more hungry hungry hippos? I think so. But I think there’s a difference between a game where you hide things or keep things secret and where you intentionally state that the opposite of what is true is true. And I think the heart intention behind it is important.

    For example, was Tim Tebow a crazy liar every time he faked a handoff? Or even if he faked right and ran left? He deceived his opponent then tried to praise Christ on TV??? I pick a silly example on purpose. I don’t think anyone would say a fake handoff in football is lying and thus, sin.

    What about undercover police? Do you think they catch the bad guys by telling the truth the WHOLE truth and nothing but the truth the whole time? Seems most would agree there is room for at least hiding truth. Some may go so far as to say outright untruths are not sinful lies in this context or others.

    What about acting? Do you know any good actors? Basically liars. Pretenders. I have a daughter who can make herself cry instantly. It’s crazy. Knowing this fact, it DOES make me wonder if she’s authentic when she cries sometimes. I say that to agree with you that I think practicing games with deception, e.g., CAN create difficulty in your daily life with relationships.

    I have a tendency to make a lot of jokes with a straight face. I say believable things then a punchline hits people and they realize the entire thing was a joke. I guess in a sense am I temporarily lying? I have found that there are times I’m deadly serious and people don’t listen to me nor believe me…citing the fact that I look no different than when I am joking. Maybe I need to repent of this behavior entirely?

    What do you think? And if you say, “Michael, I think you should get your own blog,” then LOL, sorry for the long comment.

      1. I feel like there was some confusion – and maybe you didn’t understand my incoherent rambling…because I agree with your premise and it seemed like maybe you thought I didn’t.

        And I agree with you on consideration 3. That was my point. If you are using your real life relationship to take advantage of someone’s trust in a game, I believe you are either sinning – or you are setting yourself up for some distrust at a time you will need it.

        My point in bringing up different scenarios is that I was thinking the principles applied need to be able to survive each of those scenarios. I like the extended joke scenario you brought up.

        Like, are you lying if someone asks you if you’ve planned a surprise birthday party for them and you say No, in order to keep it secret? Or would it be best to take up a policy of never answering that type of question…that way your lack of answer casts no suspicion when the answer is affirmative?

        I’m particularly interested because 2 of my kids came back from camp this Saturday and the “new game” at home is called Mafia. I am intrigued for them to show me the way to play….

      2. Thanks for telling me I should write more often. Maybe one day I’ll be more consistent.

      3. Interesting. Well, depending on the age of your kids, it may not be a problem to play the game as long as you counsel them on how *not* to play the game? I hope this discussion gives you some helpful ideas. Thanks!

      4. I think there are two factors we want to remember, brother.
        1. Children’s age may or may not really matter. But along those lines, their maturity level and/or their holiness in Christ could be factors. I would be more concerned with whether I can have a coherent (logical) conversation with the youth. Secondly, I would want to know if that person maybe had a problem with honesty. I wouldn’t play one of those games with a 40 year old man who I knew had a problem with honesty.

        I trust that was what you were really getting at; I just put it into detail.

        2. Sin is always a heart issue. All the discussion is on external actions and reactions, which is fruitful, but we need to remember that we are being watched by Almighty God who cannot lie. I don’t know your heart when you are playing balderdash, right? I think a thoughtful guy like you will find success because of your humility and openness about learning these things. Instead of acting like you already know it all, you ask good questions. I trust you will bring this up with your playmates and come to a wise conclusion.

  2. To add some context to Consideration #3: In a game like “Mafia” or “The Resistance,” I have heard people try to convince other players that they are not the traitor/saboteur by saying things like “I’m your roommate/husband/best-friend. Look me in the eye. I swear, I’m being totally honest right now.” Then, it is revealed that they were lying the whole time. When I was playing this recently with a group of friends, someone who was listening in but not playing remarked that it was a little scary how easily a friend of mine (who is in full-time ministry) deceived the other players. So it wasn’t merely bluffing that I was addressing, but the pointed, personal deception that uses relationship and past trust as a tool for manipulation.

    To address your other comments: I think your scenarios are incomplete for this analogy. I’ll address them in turn.

    Forgive me if I dismiss the football fake-hand-off one completely. This is a legal move done in full view of players and spectators. You might as well cry foul (no pun intended) of a pitcher with a nasty curve-ball.

    What of the undercover officer? If, after clocking out for the day, he goes home and deceives his wife or children in their personal affairs by carrying on a “double life” with a mistress, should we consider that the tricks of the trade have made their way into the rest of his life?

    When an actor performs a role, the audience knows this is fiction. When I see Han Solo walk into the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon, I know that’s Harrison Ford in a vest, standing next to a man in a Wookie suit. (Sorry, spoilers.) There is a willful suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience but this is not deception. However, if an actor uses that same ability to project false emotions and manipulate others thoughts or feelings in order to take advantage of family members or cheat on a significant other, could we suggest that his polished approach may be the fruit of a career of practicing dissemblance?

    When it comes to joking, there is a sense in which there is a temporary deceit that is later revealed by the “deceiver.” My dad does this by beginning a story about his workday that I quickly realize is a “story.” However, if as a joke, I told a new friend that my parents had disappeared when I was a child, and keep up this ruse for years before they found out, I can try to say “What a good joke, huh?” but I’m pretty sure I would be called a sociopath and the friendship would end.

    To sum up: I get what you’re saying. There are contexts in which temporary deception may be necessary. Again, I’m not saying that playing deception-based games is sinful in and of itself. My consideration is that playing these games frequently may have unintended consequences outside of the context in which deception is part of the game.

  3. Fun. Right now I am trying to explain to a 14 yr old that even though there are sites which will show her movies for free, that doesn’t make it right.

    Hopefully, my night won’t be spent fixing viruses.

  4. That said, it annoys me when married people will look at each other and say, “I’m your partner. Am I lying to you?” I always try to break that off. I say, “That never works, you can’t tell, you see what you want” or something similar. Because, it doesn’t work. People do see what they want. And maybe the married couple needs to think it does work; maybe they need this as a sort of “safe word” thing, for situations when they want to emphasize their truthiness.

    I play mafia every two weeks, btw. Group at a bookstore. All adults, though. But as for children, children learn via play. They learn so much via play. Play is a safe environment to experiment, inherently. I say go for it, as long as they’re old enough to know it’s a game.

  5. I never got a chance to get to this. I just got busy. I meant to.

    I think it is quite humorous to be in the dilemma of pretending to be a Mafioso and “taking people out” but then being concerned about bluffing and lying during the game.

    Normally, I would not be concerned about “bluffing” or deception during a card game. However, this statement got me a bit more concerned: “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).” This statement implies much more than then merely bluffing during the game. It seems to involve actual lying and using your personal relationship to make the lie more convincing. And there seems to be concern that the lying could carry over into “real life.” Now that is a bit more than laying down extra chips at a table to convince people you’ve got cards you don’t.

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