One of my earliest memories with my dad alone is him teaching me to play chess. I'm pretty sure it was somewhere before kindergarten since it was in Ohio shortly after we moved. I probably wasn't very good at that time, and I'm still not great at the game, but I will almost always say yes to a game or two.
Board games* hold a special place in my life for several reasons. My family played them as I grew up, I have many holiday memories with my cousins playing games, and during college I started playing games with friends again. Funnily enough, it was those years in which I didn't have time for games that I struggled the most in my relationships with God and other people.
When playing a game, we are forced to spend time with another person. We are also forced to consider actions with consequences. Usually, both of these prompts force us, at least momentarily, out of our normal routine. The balance between routine and change produces some of the best fruit in my own life. When we never alter our routine, we take for granted those experiences which should surprise, thrill, and challenge our perceptions and skills. On the other hand, constant challenge leaves us harrowed and gaunt spiritually. Rest must be found in the tension and space between the two.
In the past few years, I have enjoyed the trend in our culture to return to board games. For several years, the men of my generation were drawn much more towards video games. The movement toward board games has given me the opportunity to renew and initiate relationships with many more people. The level of engagement in community during video games is usually very low. An individual can spend hundreds of hours in virtual worlds crafting a pleasure prison for their souls while ignoring the needs and joys of the people they may be playing alongside. Not so in board games.
The reality of the person making a choice while we wait on them to choose their next action forces us to come in contact with them. This person is not myself and has different concerns than myself. Sometimes, it is as simple as waiting for the other person to return from the restroom during a longer game. The patience required to interact and play with this other individual allows me to realize what it means to live the other person as myself. If I do not extend the same courteous patience to those I play games with, other people will not want to extend those courtesies to me. Implied in this realization is the notion that the other person is equal to and same as me in importance. In other words, patience cannot be merely transactional to be effective. If my patience only lasted for the length of the game, I may be able to fool the other participants, but I could never fool myself. There is no lasting reason to play board games with other people versus video games if I cannot enter into non-transactional relationships.**
The same fact is true for many human activities such as cooking, teaching, sports, music, and even daily work. These acts cannot be true in the fullest sense until they are each done in the spiritual manner which allows us to see other people as equals. This posture enables us to serve one another rather than demand service. Counter examples seem to beg the question, but suffice it to say that no human activity can remain fulfilling when done only for the preservation of self. Even the most egotistical person must momentarily shut their mouth to listen and respond to the needs of those around them if they are to succeed in any measure in these endeavors. A failure to do so leads to the implosions of celebrities so often celebrated in tabloids and other bastions of misery.
Returning to the point at hand, board games and other human activities realize their purpose only insofar as they further the purpose of bringing people together as equals. Board games must spark conversations. They must destroy boundaries. They must help us to serve one another or they aren't very good games at all. Winning isn't everything, it's not even the main thing.
*I use board games to refer collectively to games people play at a table, surface, or shared space together even if those games are technically party, card, tabletop, role-playing fantasy games, etc.
**In the back of my mind while writing this post were Mark 12:31 & Luke 6:38