Matthew P. Schmidt

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Are there games in Heaven?

Jun 25, 2020 | Thoughts, Writings | 0 comments

This is a question that has often perplexed me, being player of games myself, for one cannot find a dogmatic answer to it, and this is perhaps for the best. We know that we cannot truly imagine what Heaven will be like, and that we have have perfect natural happiness and, of course, our supernatural beatitude, which is the point of this entire endeavor. If there are no games of any sort, then we will still have the infinite glory of gazing on God Himself for all eternity.

But the question remains: are there games in Heaven?

After all, some activities are no longer available in Heaven, such as sex, preaching the Gospel, and war. Whatever joys, pleasures, sufferings or pains such things might bring are no more. They may be an inevitable part of our human condition on Earth, but that does not mean they transfer to Heaven.

Let me limit the question first to board games, though in Heaven the distinction would be meaningless, as with infinite time and resources any game can be made in any format. Play Tetris with physical pieces, play Minecraft with pen and paper, play Go with black holes and galaxies–what does it matter? But my first point involves multiplayer games exclusively.

Suppose you decide to play Tic-Tac-Toe every day for the rest of your Earthly life. There are only a few hundred meaningful game positions, and you will invariably see them all. The game tree is small. Eventually, you will see the same moves over and over again. It is for this reason that Tic-Tac-Toe in its basic form is not commonly played. 

This is obvious with Tic-Tac-Toe, because the game tree is indeed small. But suppose you wish to play, say, Innovation or Magic Realm for the rest of not merely your life, but for all eternity. Innovation has, as a rough estimate, 1.4 * 10^71 initial states. Even a slightly different move could result in the game taking a very different course. But 10^71 millennia is an infinitesimally small drop in the bucket compared to eternity. Given enough time, you would not only see the same game, but you would see it an infinite number of times.

It would seem strange, or even bizarre, if one’s experience of Heaven changes throughout one’s eternal life–or at least if it changed for the negative. Will you still enjoy games in Heaven, or at least in the same way, when you have “exhausted” all their possibilities?

But we should not think so quickly that such exhaustion is possible. Some games have pieces–usually cards–with rules text on them. If we model those mathematically as executable code, then as there is an uncountably infinite number of programs, there would thus be an uncountably infinite number of possible cards. Even if you did play one such game–say, MTG–once day, every day, for all eternity, you would indeed never run out of new cards.

Theoretically. But whether there are an uncountably infinite number of interesting cards is another story. Chances are there are. But it’s not necessarily true–such things cannot be proven through mathematics.

Still, can we do better than simply piling on complexity? It’s not as if seeing the same few cards pop up in Innovation is necessarily a bad thing. After all, you don’t necessarily know that the next card you return due to Mathematics will give you one card or another, even if you’ve played it before. But if you’d played it an infinite number of times before–and if there is no difficulty in your memory–you would eventually learn the best move in every possible situation. Then what?

Or for that matter, are there an infinite number of possible kinds of games? Mathematically speaking, yes. But most are not interesting, I dare say. There is only one Go.

Which does bring the question: would Heaven really be Heaven for a gamer–in terms of natural happiness, if there was no Go, no Tetris, no Splendor? Even with their imperfections? After all, there is a certain kind of pleasure which is found in gaming, and that pleasure must either be present or a truer form of it be found.

We simply don’t know which.

Let me offer two closing thoughts:

The first is that games depend on context, which includes both people and setting. Playing a game on a cruise ship on vacation, at a wedding party, in a tournament, or for the last time before a player’s death–all of these give the game meaning it would not ordinarily possess. I firmly believe that Heaven–if it is truly Heaven–provides an infinite number of contexts. There will be times to celebrate, if not times to morn. This is the time we played Innovation by the Tree of Life, and I won by Bioengineering, and we joked about leaves. That was the time we played chess, and even though we knew the outcome it was near the island where the whales play. Is that what we will say? I don’t know.

But the other possibility is that games are more like sculptures than activities. Perhaps one could admire the state tree of a game with a glorified intellect, and appreciate its beauty truly, even if one no longer plays it. Tolkien in his Leaf, by Niggle proposes a purgatorial experience for the titular artist, who sees his glorious tree in its new and magnificent and perfect form after a long journey. But after completing what was unfinished, he no longer needs it, and renewed and grown he climbs the Mountains that he only faintly glimpsed before. Perhaps game playing is indeed temporary, but the beauty of games is not.

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