Rules were made to be broken, when the system itself is corrupt.
Today I caught my kid cheating at Candy Land.
She picked a card, and the next card showed itself as well: the coveted pink bonbon that was meant to be mine. She looked at me, her mouth wide, her eyes hungry, then back at the card, back at me again, calculating.
“Umm, I’m actually gonna use this one,” she said, snatching the bonbon.
One of my earliest memories is cheating at Candy Land.
I played with my much-older cousin, and when he went to the bathroom, I carefully arranged the cards so I would win in the least amount of turns possible, and he would move only one space on each of his turns. The kicker was I set it up so the first card was bad, so I could, in a magnanimous voice, declare:
“You can go first.”
I got away with it. I mean, clearly he must have known. But I didn’t get in trouble.
Cheating’s only bad if someone gets hurt.
Does anyone get hurt when you cheat at Candy Land? For some reason, you want to win. Well, you can assume the other players do too. If winning feels good to you, losing feels bad to them; they’re hurt.
“We can’t always win” is a fine lesson, but no one wants or deserves to lose all the time. Not even parents or older cousins.
Still, I get why kids, even kids with a well-developed sense of empathy, would want to cheat at Candy Land.
The rules of Candy Land take skill and creativity out of the equation.
The board sends you on one winding, but choiceless, path, where the only interruptions from the path are governed by chance. You just keep hoping you’ll win the pink popsicle lottery; what other chance do you have?
Our minds are itching to be creative, to innovate, so it makes sense we would find ways to cheat. Especially when we’re told to follow a system that gives us so few options.
Cheating might be unethical, but what exactly is ethical about a game where the only way to get ahead is through chance?
What if the hand you’re dealt is a bonbon in view of the King’s castle, and the other player just gets a single orange square? Are you proud of yourself? Did you earn this?
We’re verging into some pretty obvious Metaphor Land now.
It’s easy to see parallels to the -isms (racism, classism, sexism…), how even equal treatment isn’t enough, once one player has started off with privileged beginnings.
So Cheating, ignoring inequitable rules, makes sense.
In the real world, if I see all the white kids partying at the Candy Castle while kids of color are just hoping to make it to the Licorice Lagoon long enough to lose a turn there, then I blame the system, not the people who work to change the system, and not the people who try to find success however they can in this broken world.
Speaking of race, newer versions of the game feature a diverse-ish cast of kid characters, but all the magical grown-ups who hold the Candy Power are still white (plus one bright pink-skinned Princess Lolly). Seriously, Hasbro, it hasn’t occurred to you that kids of color might like to imagine themselves as a magical princesses too?
Let’s work together!
We like to play cooperative board games. For most board games designed for young children, the whole point is teaching kids to follow rules. At least with cooperative ones, we rise or fall together, rather than stepping on each other to get ahead.
And when we play Candy Land (as she wants to do over and over and over lately), and I catch her cheating, I say, “Do you want to try changing the rules?” And we do.
We try things out. We see what happens. What if all the pink candy cards are in a separate pile anyone can draw from? What if, when one person picks a card, all players can choose to use it?
We talk about whether Candy Land is fair, whether life is fair. We talk about empathy and how to make a game fun for everybody.
And no matter who gets to the Candy Castle first, the first thing to do is yell, “PARTY AT THE CANDY CASTLE!!!!” to invite all the other players to come eat that yummy castle up. Together.
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Cheating at Candy Land was originally published in The Ascent on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.