Board Games Can Bring Out the Best In Us. But What Shall We Play? | Sojourners

Board Games Can Bring Out the Best In Us. But What Shall We Play?

Expanding our spiritual and ethical imaginations through play.
The box of the board game Wingspan has a white bird with outstretched wings on it.
Stonemaier Games

WHEN ELIZABETH MAGIE invented The Landlord’s Game, known today as Monopoly, she drew up two sets of rules: one “monopolist,” employing fierce competition and cutthroat property snatching, as the game is played today; the other “anti-monopolist,” namesake of a larger movement intended to demonstrate the dangers from unregulated wealth accumulation by the few and economic inequity in the late 1890s. Magie hoped that soon “men and women will discover that they are poor because Carnegie and Rockefeller, maybe, have more than they know what to do with.”

For Magie, daughter of an abolitionist and anti-monopolist, game creation was not simply an innocent pastime. She resonated with how games could provide a way to envision a new reality and usher in robust ideas.

When I was in college, several of my classmates in a world Indigenous literature class talked about how games we grew up playing—from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan—embodied settler colonialism and capitalism. In Settlers, the goal is to build as much as you can in unoccupied land and accumulate resources. In Monopoly, you aim to procure ownership of as many properties on the board as you can, raising rent to force other players into bankruptcy while you elude jail. Ticket to Ride-USA encourages players to build railroads across the United States, invoking the forces of manifest destiny without a critical lens. Jamaica is a board game where European pirates surround the island and battle for the most resources. Bang! The Dice Game catalogs life in the “Wild West,” where the French, Mexicans, and “Indians” fight each other; one dice roll can “save” a player from an “Indian attack.”

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