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?

Post a Comment