Thursday, September 28, 2006

Session Report, in Which Offense is Inadvertantly Given

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is here. Games
played: Quo Vadis, Santiago, Rheinländer*, Cosmic Encounter, Princes of Florence, Magic: the Gathering, Settlers of Catan, Capitol*, Bridge.

*games abandoned midway

Here's the story:

One of last night's players brought Rheinländer, another of your typical Euro-abstract games with a medieval theme thrown onto it. In fact, like many of these games, the artwork for the theme seems designed to make the game more confusing, rather than more interesting. The board winds back and forth, and it is sometimes hard to see when border areas touch and to which areas the castles and churches adjoin.

Anyhoo ...

The owner of the game felt uncomfortable with the Christian symbols that appear on some of the game's useless pieces. There's nothing unusual about this.

Some of you may recall that I felt uncomfortable about one of the phases in Amun-Re, the one that required me to say "now we all make sacrifices to Amun-Re". In order to get around this discomfort, I simply changed the phase to "now we all bribe the corrupt water official". If I had actually owned the game, I probably would have blackened out any references to the sacrifices on the game's pieces, but mine was a borrowed copy.

I don't particularly feel any discomfort with simply having Christian symbols on my game pieces. My wife is a PhD candidate in medieval literature, so I'm used to having the New Testament and the Koran in my house, books I would otherwise have no use for.

However, I perfectly understand those who would feel uncomfortable with symbols of other religions on their games. Such as the owner of this game. So it didn't surprise me that the owner had blackened out these particular pieces in order to cover over the crosses.

As we began to play the game, I had absolutely no idea about any of this, of course. I saw some little disks with black abstract squiggles on them and didn't look closely at them. Those pieces were wholly irrelevant to the game play, anyway. Nor did I notice when Brendan began to take notice of them.

Brendan is a lovely guy from Australia who is in Israel for the better part of a year, and has been a regular at the group. He is also a religious Anglican. We have become friends, even though we find ourselves quite divided over certain political issues with regards to Israel.

Brendan is very friendly, and usually smiling, even when he is upset by something. So I took no notice when he was closely examining these little pieces.

Somehow he figured out that the pieces originally had crosses on them that had been squiggled over. I looked at them later and still have no idea how he figured this out. They were covered very well.

Brendan then asked the owner why he had drawn on them; he appeared to be considering the possibility that the owner may have had some visual problems with the pieces and had drawn on them simply to up their contrast or something similar. I don't remember the owner's answer. But I remember what came next.

Brendan, still smiling, but obviously troubled, said that he could no longer play the game, as he felt uncomfortable playing a game where his religious symbol had been desecrated. This was my first indication that something was wrong, and only then did I begin to piece together what I have already explained up until now.

He left the room and came back. He magnanimously said that he understood why the owner had done this, but that he couldn't continue with the game. I got the feeling that he was struggling with a certain amount of anger with the owner despite knowing that the owner had a right to do as he wished with his own game.

Naturally, we put the game away. We suggested that either we avoid playing this game in the future, or simply replace the marked pieces with poker chips which would serve just as well. We left this up in the air.

It got me thinking about Judaism's own symbols. Jews couldn't care less about a drawn over Jewish star, assuming that it was not drawn over specifically as an insult, in which case it is the insult, not the star, that would bother us. This is because the star is a nationalistic symbol, not a religious one. We don't feel it's destruction as any real sort of desecration.

On the other hand, we would feel that way about holy books or scrolls that have God's name in them, or about certain spaces, such as synagogues or our temple, or certain times, such as Yom Kippur.

I apologized to Brendan on behalf of the group. And I put it to you: Has anything similar ever happened to you?



Anonymous said...

"And I put it to you: Has anything similar ever happened to you?"

Actually when I read your use of "desecrate" as though this string had some event-level reality I was disturbed because until then you seemed so rational.

I read that some "radical" Islamists would bulldoze the little blockhouse at the center of the big mosque in Mecca because it signifies idolatry. Many "Americans" would like to evaporate Mecca entirely although more for revenge than ideology.

Hooray Jews, not so hooray Judaism!


Coldfoot said...

Knizia's Tower of Babel is too pornographic for the sensibilities of one member of our group.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

William: I'm not entirely sure that I understand your criticism.

I would like to distinguish strongly between desecrating a religious symbol on an object you own in the privacy of your own house, versus desecrating a religious symbol publically even without any intent of others knowing that it has occurred, but especially with.


Anonymous said...

I have a problem with the game Ra due to my religion as well. I understand that your gaming group plays a homebrew version called Lo Ra. Would you be so kind as to provide me with the details of the modification? I'm also wondering did you do the modifications on the actual Ra set or created a new game set for it on your own? Thanks!

The Wandering Author said...

I hope I won't cause offense by saying this, but I am a Christian, although admittedly not Anglican nor Episcopalian. I don't understand why he was so offended. I take my religion seriously, but for someone to remove a Christian symbol from their own game, with no intent to desecrate it, would not offend me.

If it had been deliberately mutilated with obscene or blatantly offensive symbols, I could understand the reaction. But for the owner to remove a symbol he doesn't believe in, I would be more inclined to respect him for his honesty.

I admit I am more familiar with history than many people, but in specific, after all the outrages which those who called themselves Christians committed against Jews in the name of their faith, I would be startled to find a Jewish person who wouldn't find Christian symbols on their own belongings uncomfortable at best.

If I had been present, I would have been more puzzled by your Australian friend's reaction.

Oh, and by the way, I can't make much sense of William Loughborough's comment either.

Pawnstar said...

As much as I can respect the thoughts of both parties here, in a world gone mad over what is politically-correct and how people ought to be respected I find myself sympathising more with the player who refused to play.

I am not going into my personal political or religious views here, but this reminds me of when I saw a newspaper report about hoiw a particular town council in England had ordered that the flag of St George could not be publicly displayed because it caused offence to a certain group of people in the area. I cannot remember whether this was through politics, religion or ethnic background; but to be told by those that govern you that you are not permitted to be patriotic because a minority are offended just struck me as ridiculous.

How much of the story was accurate (let alone relevant)I never got to find out; but the point I am trying to make is that however ridiculous it may seem if you have no intention of offending somebody then you have to respect their views - if this means I have to take down the flag (however ridiculous it seems to me) then I will take down the flag (but as soon as they're gone it goes back up the pole).

Of course, if you're offended by my expression I'm not cutting my head off...

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Matt: I will try to get you our version. It was created by Nadine, who designed the entire thing frm scratch and printed and laminated new pieces.

WA: I understand Brendan's reaction. I would have felt the same way if I found out that someone had written over a torah scroll in their own home. Unfortunately, it could be interpreted that we have an obligation to remove Christian symbols in our own home, and the owner of the game so interpreted.

I don't blame him in the least. The cross may represent God to Christians, but that's not what it represents to Jews. And the owner wouldn't have brought the game if he had known that it would be offensive to Brendan.

fellon: We have the same issue with Wagner's music in Israel. It is offensive to Holocaust survivors, and it is restricted on that basis, as well it should be.


Anonymous said...

Interesting, Yehuda.

Just curious. Why did you abandon your game of Capitol in the middle?

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Anon - Nothing special. Brendan's ride had to go.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Yehuda, will appreciate whatever resources you and Nadine can provide. You can reach me at soojin at singnet dot com dot sg :)