It is almost too obvious to require saying: you reinforce the behaviors you reward. Why then, would any society intentionally train its youth to be dishonest?
One justification I’ve heard, more and more frequently in recent years, is that it’s all about winning—coming out on top. The motto of these folks is “do whatever it takes to win.” Yet this is a recipe for a disastrous life. In the words of Jesus: “what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:25)*
Our recreational choices say a lot about us and our values. Digital options have reduced the influence of board games, so one perennial favorite has devised a strategy to regain its market share.
Monopoly is based on accumulating wealth and, for the merciless, crushing one’s competitors. Some might argue that the capitalism which provides the basis for the game is corrupt in and of itself. Still, Monopoly has always had clear rules that governed actions.
But some players cheated. Capitalizing on this sinister impulse, Monopoly has created a new “Cheaters Edition.” Yes, you read that right.
Christian publications have announced the game’s arrival. The current issue of Citizen notes that even though cheating is actively encouraged in the game, negative consequences are also possible.
Mind you, it’s not that anything goes. Cheat successfully and you get rewarded; get caught and you get punished.
Even the “secular” Bloomberg review of the new game acknowledges the moral confusion of the product, closing its report with:
Clearly this begs some deeper philosophical questions about modern life and the future of morality and humanity, but, wait, did you just land on Boardwalk? Yes, I definitely always had a hotel on there! Trust me.
Nurturing Healthy Behaviors
One does not have to be a parent to recognize this wisdom of this Proverb: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
In fact, even pet “owners” know the necessity of training (e.g. housebreaking) our canine and feline family members.
Many games highlight positive choices, consciously or subconsciously reinforcing good. The simplest and most common method for this process comes not in a board game or a digital alternative. It is found in verbal praise.
There is ongoing debate about the value of praise. It’s clear that insincere or mechanistic praise would be of insignificant worth, and potentially dangerous. Some psychologists go so far as to state that “Positive reinforcement can undercut a child’s intrinsic motivation.”
C.S. Lewis understood that we cannot manufacture our own motivations.
I cannot, by direct moral effort, give myself new motives. After the first few steps in the Christian life we realise that everything which really needs to be done in our souls can be done only by God (Mere Christianity).
Despite this truth, it is also argued that our character can be shaped, in a sense, by consciously and repeatedly choosing to do what is right. Gradually then, by God’s grace, obedience may gradually give way to a more honest and natural motivation as the positive paths become our normal, well-traveled path.
This is not simply a “Christian” concern. The philosopher Aristotle noted “Good habits formed during youth make all the difference.” (What do you think Aristotle would think about the Cheater’s Edition of Monopoly?)
C.S. Lewis would doubtless concur with Aristotle. I assume most of Mere Inkling’s readers agree with the ancient wisdom as well.
A final thought. This cheater’s edition of Monopoly probably possesses less power to damage lives than Hasbro’s Ouijà board game. But that’s a subject for another day
* In Matthew 16 we read the more familiar “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”