The Game of Risk and the Dangers of the Slippery Slope Mentality

I’m a board gamer. Love me some board games. And while I don’t play it much these days, one of the games that started me off was most definitely Risk. I had a version on my old Mac, and I played against the computer time after time. It was a blast.

What does any of this have to do with slippery slopes? Allow me to explain.

Too often, I think we set ourselves up in a situation where we’ve put all our defenses against something into a single push. One continuous battle line that’s heavily fortified, but behind that line? There’s nothing but plains and orchards ripe for the taking. If you’ve played Risk, you know what I’m talking about: the old Australia Bottleneck defense, sometimes adapted for a South America landscape. Asia can block off Kamchatka or Alaska, but then you have that awful Ukraine risk on your western front. Often these sort of all-or-nothing defenses work just fine. They keep you safe until you can go on to world domination.

But sometimes, things go wrong. Your opponent turns in a set of cards, gets a few lucky dice rolls, and before you know it, you’re left staring at the wastes of your once mighty empire. Get past that one bottleneck–that one strongpoint, and your opponent is home free. There’s nothing to stop them from creaming you. The definition of a slippery slope? It’s a logical fallacy where you argue that one little step in a wrong direction will lead to an unavoidable chain of events that end in destruction and ruin. (Of course, in the Risk example, having that one bottleneck defense makes a slippery slope far from a fallacy. Lose that front, and you really are hosed.)

What in the world does this have to do with real life? Let’s put it in the context of my diet. The dieting approach I usually use is very much one of the one line of defense variety. I have a strict cap on how many calories I can eat in one day. As long as I stick to that cap, everything’s just fine.

But what happens when I go over that cap?

Typically? All sense of will power is thrown to the four winds, and I find myself hours later in a dark alley with chocolate and whipped cream smeared all over my face, and a vague recollection of too many brownie sundaes.

I’ve put all my energy into that one defense. Once it’s breached, I have nothing left.

What’s another example? They’re all over the place. In Mormon-terms, it’s the idea that you can’t make a single mistake, because if you do, you’re going to keep on making those mistakes until you’re doomed to hell. (I imagine Mormons aren’t the only ones who make this argument, but it was just made this past General Conference–which is what led me to thinking.) In parenting, it’s giving your children strict rules that must be adhered to, and giving them the idea that if they break even one of those rules, they’re going to be in deep deep trouble. In football, it would probably be referred to as a “don’t bend, never break” approach.

And in my experience, it just never works.

We’re all going to make mistakes. Fact. We’re going to fall down, whether it’s in the middle of a diet or the tail end of a long Risk campaign. And what matters at that point isn’t that you fell down. What matters is what you do once you’ve fallen.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to pick apart that one General Conference talk. There’s certainly the argument to be made that big decisions come from little decisions. No one wakes up one morning deciding to make a huge life-altering change to their life. (Typically) Those life-altering changes come a decision at a time. And while there was that one talk, there was an even more powerful one that spoke exactly to the point I’m making today. That the best sort of defense is the one that recognizes that there will be breaches in your bottleneck from time to time, but you’ve built up more defenses behind that one line, so you can rally the troops and win back the original battlements eventually.

There is no slippery slope. Not that I’ve ever seen. There’s a continuous battle over the middle ground. In dieting. In life. In religion. You name it. And once you recognize that and start doing your best to keep up a sustained effort, you can stop being so hard on yourself when a skirmish doesn’t go your way from time to time.

And now that I’ve beaten that warhorse to death, I think I’ll leave you all be on this fine Wednesday. Thanks for reading!

3 thoughts on “The Game of Risk and the Dangers of the Slippery Slope Mentality”

  1. Argh, it won’t let me edit my comment. I meant to add: this all-or-nothing attitude is not only annoying, it’s so utterly false.

  2. I completely agree, Stacy. The Not Even Once book gave me the creeps. Everyone’s going to fall short. They shouldn’t be made to feel like garbage when they do. They should keep trying. Blarg.

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