I really thought in writing this post, I’d go through a theology of laughter and joy, showing how God gave us humor and enjoyment as a foretaste of the glorious enjoyment we’ll possess forever in eternity. Then I’d turn that theology toward our proclivity to play as the reasoning for why we play games together as a family.
But we really just play games because it’s fun. And we really like to have fun. I can work my way backwards into it, retconning a relatively convincing answer. But the truth is that we have shelves of games and kids who love games because…we think it’s really fun.
So there’s that.
BUT…I have found that there are a great number of “side effects” that come from playing games, many of which is highly helpful as parents and disciplers of our kids. Aside from the more obvious parts of games like learning strategy or good teamwork (which truly are great skills to learn), there are some less tangible benefits that we get from playing games. Here are some of them:
It’s a great tool for encouragement. Games are places to see players do both some pretty awesome stuff and some pretty awful stuff (think Pictionary here, people). Every time someone does something cool or impressive—whether teammate or competitor—it’s a great opportunity to verbally encourage. And every time someone bombs or does something dumb, it’s a great chance to build them up and help them not get discouraged.
It’s a great tool to teach a Law that stands outside any of us. Despite our fluffy age of “following your heart”, games don’t allow for that. There are rules. Everyone has to follow them. It’s just a thing. Unless you’re one of those weird families that just make up your own “house rules” to everything (i.e. you just stink at following rules), the rules are an outside authority we are bound to obey in order to play the game. And it’s highly instructive to see which ones of my kids feel the need to buck against those rules (the prodigal rebels) and which ones are Nazis about following the rules (the legalists).
We get to help the sore loser. Sore losers abound in our family. I have a great many who resort to anger and/or pouting when they don’t win or things just don’t go the way they’d hoped. Losing is a means of embracing humility and rejoicing with those who rejoice. Besides, there are plenty of times in life when others around us will feel like they have “winning” lives while ours feel like loser lives. Sore losers come out in a number of ways.
We get to help the jerk winner. As much as I have sore losers, I also have punk winners. You know what I’m talking about: they brag and gloat and self-congratulate. This is an opportunity to remind the winners to mourn with those who mourn, seeing the sadness of losing in their brothers and sisters—and having compassion for them. Furthermore, it’s an opportunity to learn humility in the face of success—especially since in all games, there is some element of chance (the right roll of the dice, the right card drawn, an opponent’s mistake) that led to victory. Thus, a win is never truly “I did this!”
In disputes, we get to put to practice following Jesus in loving others more than ourselves. This is a biggie. It’s really easy in games to always work an angle, trying to get things our way or bend the rules our way or simple shout out in rage, “That’s not fair!!” But in playing games, there is always room to put others first and be willing to be defrauded for the sake of the gospel. So, in a moment of dispute like two players shouting the answer at the same time, having the grace and love to offer the point to the other player simply because the first will be last and the last will be first.
It’s a chance to fail in front of others, but it doesn’t matter. A loss hurts. There are frequently tears shed during or at the end of a game. Whether that’s because of poor performance or just poor “luck”, it hurts to lose. This is different from the sore loser, because this isn’t pouting but just plain old sadness because losing sucks. But in this, we get to find a place to lose that has no moral, physical, or financial effect. One of the coolest things about a game is that you can lose and then immediately say, “Let’s play again!” Losing in real life is so much harder, but the skill to mentally say “Let’s play again!” after a loss is so valuable.
It’s a chance to remind everyone that in order for there to be a winner, there has to be a lot of losers. When I’ve interviewed for jobs in the past, it has struck me that if ten of us applied for a single position, only one of us will get it and the other nine will be left with disappointment. Playing the odds, that means most of us spend our time as losers, not winners. And that’s true all over the place. Despite the inner desire we all have to always be winners, the fact is that we’re usually not. This is simply a fact of all games, but also a fact of life, too—one that I’m still trying to learn.
They get to see Mom and Dad mess up, too. Maybe I’m the only one here, but games sometimes bring out the worst in me, too. Sometimes I’m petty or will find a way to play the system or I’ll be grumpy when my time is getting stomped. In games, the kids get to see me in a tense and stressful situation—and they get to see me screw it up, too. So hopefully they also get to see me repent, confessing my sins freely. And on that note…
Games afford MANY opportunities to ask for and grant forgiveness. Games are like a cesspool for sinning against each other—yelling, cheating, pouting, accusing, taunting, insulting, mocking, etc., etc., etc. There are TONS of opportunities in games to ask forgiveness and confess sins for the stupid, sinful things we do. And that also means that there is lots of room for extending forgiveness and finding reconciliation, too.
We get to remember that it’s just a game. While I’ve just offered all of these real-life ways that games can help us disciple and train our kids, the fact is that they’re just games. And there are moments where trying to get that win becomes more important than anything else—more important than loving one another, more important than doing what’s right, more important than serving King Jesus. In those moments, we get to offer perspective and remind our kids that it really is just a game and doesn’t really matter worth anything. And the ability to see something inconsequential become our idol-of-the-moment—and then just be able to say, “It’s just a ____” is something I still wish I could learn to do.
These are a just a few of the side benefits that I’ve seen come out as we play games together as a family. What about you? How have you been able to train or disciple your kids through games?