Friday, December 02, 2005

Why Religious People Shouldn't Design Board Games

From a patent application:

A game board apparatus having a game board horizontally divided into two sectors representing heaven and hell. The start position is at the bottom of the hell and the finish winning position is situated at the top of the heaven. The players use playing pieces to traverse spaces in the heaven and hell sectors, the amount of advancement being dictated by indicia provided on decks of question cards and answer cards.

Read farther down in the patent proposal and it becomes clear that the game is Candyland with religious overtones. Draw a Hell Card or Heaven Card (depending on where you are on the board)... then draw a "yes/no" card - and move accordingly. As Frank Branham, who pointed this silly thing out to me, said: "Apparently, there is no free will."

And just because I can, here's a few sample cards for you to ponder:

  • Would you make a deal with Satan? Yes: Remain on spot. No: Advance 5 spaces.
  • Do you have unclean habits? Yes: Remain on spot. No: Advance 4 spaces.
  • Would you sell your country's defense secrets? Yes: Go back to start. No: Advance 6 spaces.
  • Are you a self righteous person? Yes: Remain on spot. No: Advance 2 spaces.
  • Do you have ulterior motives for whatever you do for someone? Yes: Go back 10 spaces.
  • Do you sin constantly and ask for forgiveness? Yes: Go back to hell or satan red star. No: Advance 6 spaces.
  • Do you honor your parents? Yes: Advance 2 heaven stars. No: Go back to start.
  • Are you a procrastinator? Yes: Go back 7 spaces. No: Advance 7 spaces.
  • Are you an atheist or communist? Yes: Go back to start. No: Advance to next heaven blue star.
  • Would you give your life in the name of Christ? Yes: Advance to gold star and enter into the kingdom of heaven. No: Go back to start.
  • Do you despise the poor? Yes: Go back to hell or satan red star. No: Advance 6 spaces.
  • Is Christ first in your life? Yes: Advance to next heaven blue star. No: Go back to hell or satan green star.

So, evidently procrastinating is worse than being self-righteous. And sinning & asking for God's grace is a bad thing. And nothing says gaming fun like being told to "go back to hell." In addition, there is a "mercy" deck, which evidently dispenses 2nd chances as well as death (immediately getting tossed out of the game) and "rapture" (immediately win the game). The guys who wrote the Left Behind series are evidently getting a cut on the profits here. Look, although I'm having fun at the design/designers' expense, that's not my real problem with this game - or any "Christian" game, for that matter. Most "religious" game designs are not only bad designs (taking the worst element of Candyland or Monopoly and layering them with moral themes) but they're bad theology as well.

If the heart of the Gospel is the grace of God - that "while we were yet sinnners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8), then the legalistic "stick & carrot"/reward & punishment designs of so many "religious" games are seriously flawed.

Perhaps the very structure of a competitive game is antithetical to communicating Bibilical theology. I dunno - I'm gonna have to think about this one some more.

Addendum: The only "successful" (and I use that word in quotes on purpose!) religious games that I know of are retreads of good basic game designs with "bathrobe pageant" trappings:

  • Ark of the Covenant (which is a Carcassonne variant)
  • Settlers of Canaan (which is a Catan variant)
  • Bible Outburst (which is, obviously, Outburst with Bible topics)

Anyone know of anything that actually is enjoyable & good game design? I'm all ears!


keithmonaghan said...

I used to play Torment My Brother during services as a kid. The goal: get him to make enough noise to get the smack-down from Mom. Lottsa fun. No board required.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

I heartily agree with you. We've got a thousand crappy Jewish themed board games, the best of which imitate Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit, the worst of which are both brainless and morally unsound.

My own Hannukah themes game is unique, but the Jewish theme is pretty much pasted on to a set collection/auction mechanism.


Anonymous said...

Great ideas! I'm going to add a couple Deathbed-Conversion cards to the mafia game I'm developing.


Jonathan said...

By that logic, Christians who have their theology wrong shouldn't be making music, writing books, making movies, writing blogs, or talking to people.

Yes, it would be nice if everyone who called themself a Christian had good theology but they don't. The real question is how are you going to react to it.

Unknown said...


The game you described almost sounds like something you'd see on The Simpsons or Family Guy; it's sad to see faith and God broached so lightly and thoughtlessly. I can't say whether or not I would ever create a "Christian" game, write a "Christian" book, or act in a "Christian" film - but I would hope that if it happened it would at least demonstrate the amount of thought, logical approach, and reverence that I've put into pursuing my beliefs.

Thank you for referencing this post! You're a thoughtful, well-writing blogger.

- Thias

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Thanks, Matthias!

I'm with you - I want the "work" I do (whether artistic or simple day-to-day ditch digging) to reflect truth and give glory to God. That's hard to do when it's simply a retread of something someone else created - or the thoughtless thrown-together mess that I wrote about lo those many years ago.