LOST Theories - DarkUFO

Backgammon, Senet, and the Rules by Adam Shelton

As the theory generating faction of our little community has seemingly kicked into overdrive with the series finale looming on the horizon, I have decided to throw my proverbial hat in the ring with regard to "The Rules."

The rules are believe, are what underlie all of the drama and conflict that has occurred so far in Reality 1.0 on Lost, both on-island and off. The assumption, of course, is that Jacob and the MIB are engaged in some epic and heretofore interminable game, and that each are bound by some set of guidelines or principles that dictates how the battle may be waged. As to how or why they found themselves on opposing sides, or how they came to abide by the rules, I leave it to the TPTB to fill in the details. But I think that the nature of the rules and the game itself can be understood by examining an ancient Egyptian board game called Senet.

Senet is believed to be the precursor to the modern game of backgammon, of which we got an explanation all the way back in the Pilot in a conversation between Walt and Locke. Two sides; one light, one dark. Each vying to best the other. This is also the essential nature of Senet, though there are more symbolic parallels that can be drawn between Lost and the latter.

Senet is believed to be mankind's first board game. There is evidence that it was played as far back as Egypt's first dynasty, dating as far back as 3500 BC. Originally intended for two players, it was later depicted in Egyptian tomb paintings with a single player cast against an unseen or invisible antagonist, a God-like dark entity barring entry to the Afterlife. The game itself was religiously significant, and was believed to represent the journey of the Ba, or soul, as it passed from the earthly realm into the afterlife. The purpose of the game was for a player to move his pieces, a group of 5 to 10 tokens called pawns, in a predetermined winding pattern from one end of the board to the other before the opposing player does. The opposing player starts from the opposite end of the board, and follows the same path. Once a player has successfully moved all of his pawns across and off of the playing surface, he is free to "pass into the afterlife."

The gameplay is fairly basic. Sticks, one side painted black and the other white, are used in place of dice and tossed to determine the number of spaces moved. The board itself consists of three rows of ten squares with a path marked by arrows and hieroglyphs on squares of importance. Generally, if a pawn is moved onto a space occupied by an opponent's pawn, it is called an attack. The attacked piece is taken off of the board (killed), but resurrected on the next turn. Certain spaces are designated as shelters, and pawns that are protected by other pawns may not be attacked; there are specific rules that determine which pawns may be attacked and by whom they may be attacked.

It gets more interesting when one considers the squares marked with hieroglyphs, which have special names and properties. The starting square is marked with an ankh, a symbol that we have seen recurrently on Lost, and is called the House of Rebirth. It is where new pawns enter the board, where "killed" pawns are resurrected, and where pawns that have gotten stuck in the House of Water are returned. (More on this momentarily)

Square 26 is called the House of Happiness. It is a mandatory stopping point for all pawns. It is denoted by a bird hieroglyph, the same glyph that we saw on the hatch countdown timer, on the temple walls, etc. Perhaps most relevant is the House of Water square. It is a kind of penalty square, where a player's pawns go if they fail to exit the board (enter the Afterlife) with a perfect roll on the first attempt. The House of Water square is denoted by a wave-like symbol, not unlike the symbol for the Tempest station. Any pawn that lands on the House of Water gets sent back to the House of Rebirth, and will continue to loop in this fashion for as long as the continue to end up in the House of Water.

I do not think it is much of a stretch to think of the Island as the House of Water. It is a stopping point for the candidates on their way to reality 2.0, which seems like the ultimate destination for the Ba of all of the Losties by season's end. But before the candidates can exit the board, they must pass through the House of Rebirth, which I think is symbolic of their on-island redemption stories, like Jack's relinquishment of control or Sawyer's consuming love for Juliet. Otherwise, they are doomed to be stuck looping in the House of Water forever as a consequence of their failure, like Michael, Horace Goodspeed, and all of the other whispering others.

Once all of a player's pawns have been borne off the board, the player is declared victorious and free to enter the afterlife. Perhaps the ultimate goal of the Man in Black, rather than to progress pawns of his own, is to destroy all of Jacob's pawns, clearing the board for himself to ascend in Jacob's place.

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