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The Ethical Gamer #3 – The value of rules

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

When I started this blog post, I was planning to talk about a variety of values we learn from board games, but one in particular captured my attention. Today I want to look at how board games teach us the worth of a set of rules. The more I play games, the more I realize that’s all a game is: a defined end-goal with a set of rules to guide how you get there.

The end-goal of chess is to capture the opponent’s king; the end-goal of Catan is to be the first to reach 10 victory points; and the end-goal of For Sale is to sell properties at the best price. But the rules are the game. They are central to everything that happens and dictate every action taken. 

Imagine if I sat down to a game of chess and said, “Let’s just play it without any rules.” Suddenly, everything that made the game brilliant falls away. I can move pieces anywhere. I can cover the board with mashed potatoes and declare myself the winner. My opponent can make a counter-argument that, in this version, winning is losing. Nothing matters! What was once a timeless and well-crafted game devolves into nonsense. 

Chess has been played by mankind for over 1,400 years and is played in every country on earth. The reason it’s so popular is because the ruleset is beautifully-balanced and brilliantly-designed. When you fall in love with a board game, what you’re really falling in love with is an intelligently written ruleset. That’s what brings it to life! 

As I thought about this, it struck me that this same principle applies to all of life. To live with purpose, we must define our end-goal and create a set of rules to guide how you get there. As a Christian, I am called to think very carefully about the ruleset which guides my days. A life that is well-balanced and guided by wise rules is extremely enjoyable and fulfilling. But a life guided by poorly-chosen rules, inconsistent rules, or (worst of all) no rules at all is foolish, purposeless, and miserable. A good ruleset is the foundation for a good life, just like a good ruleset is the foundation for a good board game. 

In Matthew 7, Jesus said it this way, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” Jesus is saying, “I’ve given you a perfect ruleset, now apply it to your life!” We’ve been given the blueprints for a purpose-filled, satisfying life that keeps us safe from the storms of this world. All we have to do is begin living according to the ruleset of Jesus’ words. 

A naive person might think a set of rules restricts you and limits your life. But in a world with infinite possibilities and only about 80 years to do them, you are in no way limiting yourself by choosing a ruleset. What you are doing is defining your direction, removing unhealthy things, and embracing the values that will bring fulfillment to your days. Choosing a wise ruleset moves you towards your end-goal. 

To use an example from a game: Chess involves 32 pieces and 64 squares. It has a very rigid and precisely-defined set of rules. And yet, there are more possible match variations than there are atoms in the observable universe. In theory, you could play chess for a million years and never play the same game twice. 

Rules don’t limit our lives; they provide structure. If you’ve never clearly defined the rules that guide you, I’d strongly recommend putting to words the ruleset that will order your days. To me, this involves a strong and consistent moral code, proper priorities, a balance of work and rest, investment in relationships, time devoted to knowing God personally, care for your body, and any number of other healthy practices. 

“Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.”

— Psalms 119:35 — 

(If you want to see the words of someone who really appreciates a good ruleset, read Psalm 119!) 

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A Message To Families 

As you play games together, don’t miss opportunities to teach your children the values they can learn from gaming. Be intentional to talk about sportsmanship, teamwork, patience, perseverance. Teach them to lose with dignity, to win graciously. Teach them calmness in the face of difficulty, the value of relationships and time spent together, the wisdom of planning ahead. There are so many good lessons to draw from board games and life in general. Be intentional and make the most of every opportunity! 

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What are your thoughts? 

Are there any games you’ve found with brilliantly-written rules? 

How have you been intentional to order your life in a healthy way? 

Leave your thoughts in the comments below! 

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 Lead Playtester for Seven Day Games and contributing writer for the blog. He is 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.

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