Visit us on Social

The Ethical Gamer #2 – Trash Talking in Games

The Ethical Gamer series explores issues in boardgaming through an ethical and scriptural lens, by Josh Jones.

Over the holidays, I made the mistake of trash-talking a child. My nephew and I were playing Fibbage, and we were jokingly taunting each other. In our first game, he doubled my score and made it known far and wide to whoever would listen. It was all in fun, and we were both having a good time. But our second game turned a bit sour. I won with 11,000 points to his 1,000. So I jokingly shot back, “Hey, remind me again what you were saying about doubling my score…?”

Well, suddenly he was not in the mood for banter. He got real quiet and mumbled, “I don’t want to play anymore.” I immediately realized his feelings were hurt and apologized. And even though he accepted my apology, it took about 10 minutes for him to shake the melancholy and join back into the game.

Without realizing it, I had crossed a line and caused him pain. So here’s the question: was it wrong of me to make that joke (even though my intentions weren’t malicious)? That’s kind of hard to say. At the very least, I should’ve been more careful to gauge how my nephew was feeling. James 1:19 commands us to be quick to listen and slow to speak. If I had kept this in mind, I might’ve avoided the offense.

When me and my friends play board games, it’s not uncommon for there to be some light ribbing. But from what I’ve witnessed, there are three main ways that trash-talking can cross into sin. So let’s take a look at them, so we can guard our speech:

1. When you are genuinely being disrespectful. Healthy banter is playful and harmless; it should never belittle or hurt the other person. If you find yourself trying to get under your opponent’s skin or making them angry, you’ve crossed a line. Remember that these are your friends, not obstacles to overcome.

2. When you’re coming from a place of arrogance. Sometimes joking can subtly transition into genuine pride. If you find yourself feeling boastful and ego-driven, it’s time to dial it back.

3. When you stop considering the feelings of your opponent. You’re responsible for the damage your words inflict. In fact, the Bible says someday we’ll have to give an account for every careless word we speak (Matthew 12:36). Proverbs tells us that “the tongue has the power of life and death”, and James 3 describes the tongue as being “full of deadly poison”. That alone should cause us to slow down and be a bit more deliberate with our words. Your tongue is a loaded weapon; don’t handle it carelessly.

Now, don’t misunderstand. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that all banter is morally wrong. People establish intimacy by pushing against social boundaries, and when done right, ragging on a friend shows that you’re comfortable with each other and light-hearted in your interactions. I have a few board-gaming friends who love being competitive, and we always trash-talk. But we are intentionally playful with our jokes and never mean-spirited.

Trash-talking in an ethical way takes precision and an ability to read social cues. There is a thin line between teasing and insulting. And we should keep in mind that sometimes a joke that would be well-received at the outset of a game will sting when the game’s underway. As I learned with my nephew, it’s important to keep a finger on the pulse of your opponent’s feelings. With the Lord’s help, we can learn how to keep our speech pure and make jokes that don’t leave any scars.

A Message To Families

It’s important to recognize that children are naturally far more sensitive than adults. Emotions don’t follow logic; so it’s very easy for their mood to shift dramatically when they begin losing or feel embarrassed. Ephesians 6 says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children.” And we’d all do well to keep this in mind in competitive atmospheres. Be extra patient and considerate towards the kids in your life, and don’t forget that they are learning sportsmanship from you. If you poke and prod them as a joke, it can hurt their feelings more than you realize and may teach them to say hurtful things to others. It’s probably wisest to avoid teasing until you’re certain they’re mature enough to distinguish a joke from an insult.


How about you?

Do you and your friends trash-talk during board games?

Have you ever crossed a line and regretted it?

Leave your thoughts in the comments!

It’s by constant use of God’s Word that we train ourselves to distinguish good from evil. So spend some time in the Word today! (Hebrews 5:14)

– Josh

Josh Jones is the lead playtester for Seven Day Games, a contributing writer for the blog/newsletter, and the planting pastor of Three Trees (a small church in Hartford City, Indiana). He loves strategy games and the relational, community-building aspect of board gaming. In his free time, Josh is currently developing a game based on the Biblical year of jubilee.

2 Responses

  1. Most of the time, I don’t understand where the line is and I usually cross it any time I make a joke in games or otherwise. So, I have to intentionally be silent or serious unless I am with people who know my shortcomings. It’s something I am constantly working on, too, because it isn’t easy. I only share this here in case someone else has similar stumbling blocks. It also helps with having the Poker Face.

  2. Thanks for sharing Jason! Yeah it can be tricky. I find that the longer things carry on into the night the more likely feelings are to get hurt.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: