“Games, then and now, often possess this unusual, revelatory quality, offering participants and spectators new insights into themselves and the world around them.” —Dr. Ken Evers-Hood
My daughters and I love playing “The Game of Life.” For them, the game is about who can finish first. They love rolling a ten every time they set their fingers on the spinning wheel. According to the rules, the order in which a player finishes is inconsequential. It doesn’t matter. The winner is actually the person who finishes with the most money. So when we play together as a family we seem to be playing for different reasons. Sometimes there’s even more than one winner. I wish the real game of life would be so kind. Even though finishing first or finishing with the most stuff isn’t what the Gospel says is the way that leads to life (Matthew 7:14), games do offer us great insight in who we are, whose we are, and the world around us.
There are three ways in which games help us understand identity. First, games teach us strategy. Some strategies call for a big picture perspective, like national politics, the stock market, and international diplomacy. Other strategies work on a smaller scale–how do I navigate my workplace, the local PTO, and how do we organize the best Strawberry Festival we can muster. Still other strategies work on the smallest scale, and it is at this level where we learn who we are and whose we are–teaching children about moving forward after failure, the whispered conversations of intimate relationships, communicating difficult news with an aging parent.
Secondly, games offer us a “no fear” arena. While playing a game you can learn the art of strategy, and if you fail, you simply play again. Right now I’m enjoying playing “Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time,” which is taking more time than I would like to admit. Every time I meet a “Big Boss,” the large villain at the end of each chapter, I fail over and over again. All I have to do is learn from my mistake, and try the level over again. There’s a freedom in playing when you know you can simply start over. In this way, games teach us about grace and the need for offering our neighbors the space to fail while we together seek God’s kingdom.
Finally, games teach us about what “winning” means. It would be short sided to look back and say that the times I didn’t finish “The Game of Life” with the most stuff was somehow a failure. The experience of playing the game with my daughters is fundamentally what it’s all about. The game is about the journey, the memories, the cultivation of trust, and time well spent. Games help us learn the art of working together, calling us to let go of fear, so that we might fall in love with the journey toward the Kingdom Christ established.