When life throws you lemons, thank it for the snack

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Using Parcheesi to Review Catholic Catechism

I have a tendency to make odd connections between two seemingly unrelated subjects in my efforts to gain understanding of the universe around me.I do this with just about every TV show I watch, making connections with psychology (sometimes it's just in a vain effort to find a reasonable excuse to show the program in my classes). I also sometimes make connections with games and life lessons. A couple years ago, when I first taught CCD ("Sunday school") at my parish, I ran into a two or three weeks when I knew I would not have too many kids in my class--it was spring break time, so most of them were out of town with their families. I did not want to teach an in-depth lesson to just a few students. One of my personal pet peeves is having to repeat myself, though you wouldn't know that to watch me teach, as I feel I repeat myself too much because there's always someone who wasn't paying attention. Well, we were in Lent and we had just finished learning about the seven deadly sins and their counter cardinal virtues (I use Spongebob to bring this lesson home). I wanted the few dedicated students to have a break from lecture, but still learn a life lesson. I decided to use Parcheesi as an illustration of our life path and how we can sometimes face setbacks on our way to heaven. Like my students, you might have to open your mind to metaphorical thought to follow me. And I did use this "life lesson" recently with my 7th and 8th grade CCD students this past week.

Starting Out
In Catholicism, we believe that the best way to start out on your path to heaven is through baptism. We strongly encourage baptism of infants so that they can make their way through life, with the help of their parents and godparents, from the beginning with a clean start. Sometimes a person does not get the opportunity to receive baptism in infancy. Sometimes they have to wait until later in their life. Not everyone gets to start off at the same time or under the same circumstances.
In Parcheesi, everyone has to start out on a roll of 5--either an actual 5 or a 1+4 or 2+3. As with baptism, some people get to start out early (the dice come out favorably) and some people have to wait quite a while before the right roll comes along.

The ultimate goal in life for Catholics is to reach Heaven so that we can be united with God. For some people this path is easy and smooth. For others, it is fraught with temptation, peril, "bad luck" and poor choices. We all go at our own pace through life, determined by a myriad of variables that include our own decisions.
The goal in Parcheesi is to make it "Home" with all of your animals. We hope to be reunited with our loved ones in Heaven, just as our little elephants want to all make it to their Home zone. Some players will be able to make it quickly, some will face many obstacles (in the form of dice rolls and other players' choices, as well as their own decisions) on their journey home.

Blockades and Obstacles
We face many obstacles in life on our way to heaven. Sometimes our path is blocked by temptation. When we sin we send ourselves back on our path. We can get back on the path through Reconciliation and penance. Sometimes our path is blocked by the decisions of others. Other people can stand in our way and try to prevent us from doing good (or just avoiding evil) by offering temptation or by trying to force our hands. Sometimes they do wrong to us and we want to avenge that wrong. This, too, can become a divergent path toward sin. One of the main lessons of Catholicism (any Christian faith, actually, as it comes directly from Jesus) is to treat your fellow humans with compassion, to be considerate of them, to do no harm. Unfortunately, sometimes it is easier said than done as we stumble along and lose sight of our end goal--getting into Heaven.
This is actually the main reason I decided to use Parcheesi in my CCD class. The game is set up to create opportunities to block other players in the hope of getting your animals home first while you stall others. Unfortunately, a blockade requires you to keep two of your pieces permanently in place, meaning the most you can do is get your other two pieces home while you block everyone else. We cannot move forward in the game until the barrier is removed. Just as in life, when we try to create a barrier for someone else, it ends up biting us back. Plus, as Parcheesi is a competitive game, creating that blockade often inspires the other players to do the same thing to you. And, when another player "captures" one of your animals, it has to start all over again. This parallels the idea of penance. Once the proper dice roll comes up, you can start back on the path to home in the game. Once you have completed your penance, you can regain your sanctifying grace and return to your path back to Heaven.

Decisions to Cooperate or Compete
We come across many opportunities in life to either work with our fellow humans so that everyone can benefit or to try to maximize our personal benefit at the expense of someone else. It is not meant to be an easy pathway. If life were simple or obvious, then Heaven would probably not be much of a reward because you would not have worked for it.
Parcheesi is set up the same way. Some players try to be cooperative with others, setting up truces and making deals to not interfere too much with each other. Unfortunately, like many truces in life, a better one may come along. Alliances and loyalties may shift. After all, the end goal is ultimately to get your pieces home, to get your soul into Heaven. I suppose we might be selfish by nature, or we just haven't found a way to make cooperation maximize our personal benefit. Cooperation always seems like we have to give up something from our realm so that another person can be raised to the same level. Fairness is in the eye of the beholder and most people's idea of fairness is whatever profits themselves.

One other random parallel I noticed between Parcheesi and Catholicism is numbers, specifically the number 7 and the number 12. There are 7 spaces from your start to the next safe space. When your animal is on a safe space (a lotus), it cannot be captured (sent back to start). There are 7 sacraments, 7 deadly sins, 7 cardinal virtues, 7 seals of the apocalypse, and probably many more sevens throughout Catholicism. Parcheesi also has 7 spaces within your home path, which are the last spaces you need to climb before your goal. The game board has a total of 12 lotus spaces. This can be used to remind students of the 12 apostles. Okay, that last one was obvious, but remember, I use this to teach and remind my students about our faith.

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