On Chaos Theory and Board Games

Posted on Mar 8 2012 by pomomojo in Uncategorized
Life is full of twists and turns

Life is full of twists and turns

There are many reasons why someone might enjoy playing a board game.  Some like the pure competition of a game like Chess.  Some find a game of Trivial Pursuit with friends a relaxing way to structure an evening and inspire conversation.  Some play Poker and other games for money, thrilling at the high stakes of each card flip.  Some might enjoy the physicality of sturdy game pieces and the sociality of sharing a gaming space with an opponent as opposed to playing a video game or watching a movie.  Although all of these apply to me to some degree or another, I find that the main reason I enjoy playing board games so much is the opportunity they present to make decisions that matter.

Now I am an educated adult who has chosen to get married and is now raising two children so, obviously, I make decisions that affect my life and my family’s lives every day.  Certainly these decisions matter in the sense that they will have repercussions for our lives, but there are so many such decisions each day and their effects are spread out over years and years that it’s hard to evaluate each one.  Should I set rules about how much TV my children should watch?  Is it time to change careers?  What should I make for dinner?  I may never know whether any of these choices were good or bad or how they influenced later choices.  The system that my choices exist within (the world) is simply too complex and multifaceted for anyone to track the effects of a single choice.  Chaos theory suggests that small changes can have unpredictably large effects.  This is epitomized by the famous image of a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world and causing a hurricane somewhere else.

What does this have to do with board games?  Although when we buy a board game we are buying a set of cards or dice or tiles, what we are really purchasing is a set of rules.  The rules of a board game structure its reality, limit what choices we have each turn, and govern how those choices affect who wins or loses.  Although dice rolls can be unpredictable and card distribution is not guaranteed to be fair, the world of a board game is circumscribed enough that a player can evaluate each of his choices at the end of the game.  And, unlike in real life, if I make a poor choice in a board game I get to start over and play again and see how things would have turned out differently.

The choices I make in a board game are clearly not as important as the ones I make in my real life, but because the choices I make in my real life are often made with imperfect information, unclear rules, and within the context of billions of other decisions made by other people,  it is very invigorating and satisfying to spend an hour or two simply trying to choose between one card and another and then watching the effects of my decisions unfold right before my eyes.

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