RAW vs. RAI?
By Anthony Casperson

If you spend much time in forums for tabletop games, you’ll eventually come across arguments that refer to RAW (Rules As Written) or RAI (Rules As Intended). The arguments come down to figuring out what to do in certain areas of gameplay.

No rulebook (or massive tome in some cases) can write out exactly what the gamemakers mean in every instance. It’s a part of language that no matter how carefully worded something is, misunderstanding can happen.

Those who speak of the RAW, look at the exact words of the text and say that the rules of the game cover only certain options. Anything else outside of those options is not possible or is wrong. These people’s interest is in the letter of the law. While they might have to interpret exactly what the language means, it’s only in the words that the proper interpretation of the rules can be found.

For the people who lean toward the RAI side, the interpretation of the rules is a bit more fluid. They try to think logically about what the words are trying to say and interpret these rules with a meaning that might not completely follow the letter of the law. It’s the spirit of the law that interests them.

And so, the arguments abound in the forums about which interpretation is the right one. Name-calling, hate-filled words, and general negativity towards each other flow from keyboard to screen. And very little is solved. Unless you can get one of the creators of the game to speak about that particular rule, such as in a podcast or in a convention panel. But even then, they might be misunderstood or misquoted. (And since we’re fallible human beings, they could totally botch up the rule’s explanation.)

When I see either “RAW” or “RAI” in forum posts, I usually start off with an eye roll because I know that it’s probably gonna devolve from actually trying to be helpful and become nothing more than a contest of who can write their capital letters bigger. (Hint: On most forums, capital letters are all the same size, so these shouting matches are worthless endeavors.)

After bracing myself for the shouting match about to happen, I try to glean what little help can actually be found in such forum threads concerning other people’s perspective of rule interpretations. While I’d much rather get the creators’ intention, that’s not always possible. And in such cases, I find at least other perspectives helpful in finding my blindspots about the rules.

But, as painful as these arguments are on internet forums that I can choose to just shut down, these arguments are capable of coming to the game table. And it’s here where I have to ask the question: What’s the point?

I don’t mean, “What’s the point of arguing?” I know that this question is answered with, “To prove that I’m right.” (Whether or not the person is actually right is another question.)

What I do mean is, “What’s the point of the game?” Is it to exactly follow the intended rules? Or is it to have fun with your friends? Granted, the rules are there to aid the fun of the gameplay. (It would just be chaos and even more arguing otherwise.)

But if in arguing about the “right” way to understand the rules, fun is lost, what’s the point in even playing? Is the intention of the gamemakers to have everybody understand the rules correctly? Or is their intention to help people have fun? I believe it’s the latter.

For anybody who has read enough of these blogs (or who knows me well enough otherwise), you know where I’m about to go with this point.

I can’t help but see a parallel in these forums with what we as followers of Jesus do with the bible. Some people look at the bible and try to find the “Rules As Written.” They look directly at the language written and say that anyone who doesn’t interpret the “rules” in the same way is wrong. Other people look at the bible and try to find the “Rules As Intended.” They’re less worried about the specifically chosen words, and end up saying that those who don’t consider extra-textual elements are wrong.

Arguments abound among the followers of Jesus. Sometimes they even descend to name-calling, hate-filled words, and general negativity towards each other. We want to be right. We want to have the proper interpretation. After all, if it’s about how to live life in the way that the Creator of the universe desires us to live, what could be more important?

But my question remains. What’s the point?

Is life about having the right rules and convincing others about our superiority because we have the right theology? Or is it about growing in relationship with the God who made us, loves us, died for us, and wants us to share that experience with others?

Don’t get me wrong. Proper interpretation of the bible will help us to grow in our relationship with God. But that’s more of an outcome, an outflow, of the relationship that we have, not the purpose we start with.

Above and beyond that, we need to stop looking at the bible and thinking that it’s just a massive rulebook for life. The whole perspective of “Rules,” whether as written or as intended, is wrong.

The bible is a love letter from God to us. Through it, he shows us how much he loves us, regardless of our stupidity, selfishness, and sinfulness. It’s God saying, “I love you this much.” He cares for our well-being and our place in the world that he created for humanity.

What’s the point?

The point is that God should be our most important focus. And if we focus on the Creator of everything, we might just end up showing his love rather than being just a bunch of rules lawyers arguing about what interpretation is the right one. We might just end up living life the way God intended us to live it.