The Role of the Rules

One of my earliest memories of playing board games was playing the game of Life with my sister. It was somewhat rare for us to get along for long periods of time, but we could put aside our sibling rivalries for an afternoon of Life. We loved the game. It was our chance to pretend we were older, when getting older was still desirable. We loved getting married and getting to put another little peg in the passenger seat of the tiny plastic car. We loved getting a career and gaining money on paydays. It was one of our favorite games and we would play it all the time. We played it so many times that we never had to consult the rules to play, the game was like second nature.

Later in our actual lives, my sister asked for the game of Life for Christmas. Santa Mom delivered, and my sister marveled at the beauty of this gem from our past. Later in the day, we excitedly sat down to play the game again. We reminisced about how much we loved the game and how excited we were to play it again. The years away from the tiny pegs and cars had wiped our memories clear of the rules we once knew by heart, so we had to review the rule book. As we played, we realized the game seemed different than the magical game we played as kids. Had the game changed, or had we changed?

The answer was actually that we, as kids, had changed the game. As kids we had played the game how we wanted to, not how the rules told us to. In all honesty, we cheated. I think we just kind of liked driving around the game board in those tiny plastic cars, imagining we were adults. Nobody was there looking over our shoulders making us actually take that career path with the low salary, or to live in that Split Level House. You know, the one with the literal crack down the middle of it. I’m not sure how we came up with the rules we played with as children, but somehow we had created a game that fit us. We created a game focused on laughing and having fun. We created a game that helped us get along, which was quite a feat when we were young. We changed the rules we didn’t like into rules we did like. Who knows if we would have spent as many hours playing the game if we had actually played it correctly.

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It quite possibly sounds ironic for a person who spends their time teaching people how to play the rules correctly, to be talking about a game she only enjoyed because she played it incorrectly. Yes, it is important to know the rules of the game, otherwise they are no more than a game board, cards, tokens, pawns and dice that you have no idea what to do with. The point is, it’s ok to change things in a game to fit the preferences of you and the other players. Maybe you adjust something so the game is not so long. Maybe you simplify something so a younger child can play. It’s ok! We all know the old saying, “Rules are meant to be broken”. The rules are just a more popular route from point A to point B, plenty of detours are available. It’s all about having fun! You have the freedom to make a game what you need it to to be so that you and others can have fun. That is the true purpose of a game, isn’t it?