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The Theory of the Greater Good in Board Gaming

The Theory of the Greater Good in Board Gaming

You have a choice in the board game called Euphoria, do you continue to increase the collective knowledge of your people so that they become aware of their true situation of living in a dystopia and leave your city or do you keep them just ignorant enough so that they continue to be good citizens and stay where you can control them?

By the way, your goal is to be the best Dystopia among all the others and that can only be achieved by the sweat and blood of your citizen's ignorance. And for today's arguments sake, let us assume that if your dystopia is the best, all the lives of your ignorant citizens are improved better than if they decided to leave and live in the wasteland. 

"Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."

The above statement was said by the character Spock from the Star Trek Franchise, whose defining personal philosophy is, of course, Utilitarianism. The core theories of Utilitarianism have existed as far back as the Qin Dynasty's Legalist movement and is still going strong to this day, influenced mostly by the modern founding of Utilitarianism by Jeremy Bentham and improved by John Stuart Mill

Now from the above example of Euphoria, some may say that one is taking the game too seriously, that it is just dice and cardboard. In that case, winning is the goal but for the more thematic players, if one is willing to see the dice in the game as people and are willing to keep them from achieving their full potential for the greater good of the society, it is also to reach the goal of winning. Thus if both are done with the same goal, should not the morality for one apply to the other?  

There is no straight definitive answer to that question but if one is looking at it in a Utilitarian way, it is not wrong but often Utilitarianism gets criticised for not putting more emphasis on the individual in moral philosophy. 

That though is not entirely true as it is important to understand that although Utliliarism does focus on the group, It is also a theory that is respectful of the individual. This is because it counts every persons' happiness/utility equally. For example, from the top 1% to the bottom 1% of society. It is just the result that benefits the most people in the real world that the Utilitarian favours and why another term for Utilitarianism is Consequentialism. This is what we will be exploring today, using board games.

As a civilisation, we should definitely strive to help as many people as possible but on the other hand, one also does not think it is insensitive to make the statement that it is quite the impossibility to help everybody. Thus the issue really is how many do we have to sacrifice before an action or decision becomes an immoral one? 

The answer is, it depends and as unsatisfying as that may sound, to assume what is moral without deep thought is to do the theory and the people it will affect a lot more harm than good. So in the hopes of allowing you to make an informed decision, here are the 2 competing theories in the Utilitarian branch of Philosophy. Act and Rules Utilitarianism. 

Related: Get Brainy...Set.. Go!

Act Utilitarianism

In the Act version of the Philosophy, the morally right thing to do is the one that produces the best possible results in that specific situation. For example, Let's say if you are playing Dead of Winter, where you are all trying to survive the Zombie Apocalypse and you have already taken 1 of your 3 wounds and you have found some medicine. You wish to use the medicine to heal your wound but the group decides that it is needed for a group mission. Which is right? 

In Act Utilitarianism, the right choice would be the action that helps to maximize as many people's happiness as possible in the group. Thus, in this case, you would have to give up your chance to heal that wound as the good that medicine does for achieving the mission results in more overall happiness.

Rules Utilitarianism  

The Rules version of the Philosophy is based on an action that leads to the greatest good if a rule, law, etc is followed. So using the same above example, it might not be a moral thing to force the person to give up the medicine for the group as if the rule was, 'You always have to give up your resources if the group requires it.'. It might then lead to people hiding their resources and this suspicion would result in overall less happiness than if the rule was 'You can choose how to use your resources.'


No Philosophy discussion would be complete without a mention of what others think is wrong with said idea and thus here are the major problems people have with Utilitarianism.

People are just numbers

Probably the biggest point against Utilitarianism is that even if everyone's happiness/utility is counted as equal. It still means, in the end, that everyone is basically just a number and that does not take into account an individual's dreams and aspirations etc.  Much like the start of the article you are just a piece of the bigger board game of life to be used to reach the goal of the majority. 

How does one calculate utility? 

The "Utility Calculator" has been a contested issue since Bentham came up with Utilitarianism. It might seem simple to just count each person's happiness as 1 utility but each person's happiness is relative to that person. For example, a sadist might derive happiness from being canned or one might find more pleasure when playing board games than eating at a fine dining restaurant. 

Also, with the issue of vested interest, not only is the way the calculation is done a problem but also who are the ones to judge what is the correct utility calculation. How can they assure that they not biased and keep things totally fair?  


The world is an unpredictable place even with all our modern sciences, eg. the many financial crises. Thus when you base your moral philosophy on the consequences, it becomes an issue if one cannot readily predict outcomes of said moral actions or rules. 


In conclusion, when you play a board game especially one that is of the optimisation sort. I hope you can now imagine what it is like for a government or a leader has to consider when they are implementing a system of law based on creating the most wealth and happiness for its citizens as a goal for example.

One also hopes that anyone reading this has learned something on the idea of the Greater Good and will continue to look up more moral philosophies and that board games can be more than just for fun and can be great tools that can uplift the minds of Man and have a rolling good time while doing it too!  

Zhou Huibin is a smith of words who majored in Philosophy & History from the University of Western Australia and whose life has followed the flow of his hobbies. He seeks continual contentment in his ponders, reading, writing, painting and board games which fills almost all of his time.
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