The Ultimate Decision Maker

Have you ever been in a situation where you were with your friends, about to do something, and you guys were trying to decide which one of you should go first? Or trying to split into several groups? Whether to solve a dispute or make decision, there are these magic words that people say: rock, paper, scissors.

I often imagine how the world would be a better place, if we use Janken (rock, paper, scissors in Japanese) to decide on things. If 2 warring nations fighting over a land, instead of using guns and missiles, Janken could harmlessly determine who gets the land. If only things could be that simple in reality, huh? Oddly enough, though, in some circumstances it is that simple. Although in fact, it is the simplicity of the game that makes it so well known worldwide.

Canadian people play more complicated version, where they use rock, paper, scissors, and dynamite. Dynamite is beaten by scissors and paper, but blows up rock. In Austria, instead of rock, they use cylindrical shape resembling a well. Paper floats in well, so paper beats well. Scissors sink, so well beats scissors. And of course, scissors beat paper. Yugoslavian people play Janken with at least 3 people. They do not say “Rock, Paper, Scissors” but “Zimi Zami Zum”. After saying “zimi zami zum” they show either rock or paper, and use the opposite of majority rule to determine the winner. Meaning, the single rock or single paper will win. In Indonesia, we use thumb, index finger, and pinkie to represent elephant, human, and ant. The elephant steps on human, so thumb beats index finger. Human steps on ant, so index finger beats pinkie. Ant goes to elephant’s ear and drives him crazy, so pinkie beats thumb.

As this game were primarily played by children, the exact time and place when the game was invented are unknown. Although the starting point of the game is still obscure, when we are looking at Janken, we are looking at human consciousness. We learn how to know our opponents, how to react responsively when the time comes, and how we choose to present ourselves as we attempt to collaborate or compete with each other. It teaches us there is never a guarantee for the future.

In 1938, Dutch historian and cultural theorist Johan Huizinga wrote that humans are Homo ludens, or playing man. He suggested that the need for play is only urgent to the extent that the enjoyment of it makes it a need. Play can be suspended at any time. It is never a task. So it blew my mind away that something as simple as making various shape of your hand could be globally acknowledged as a play and adopted in many cultures.

Moreover, Janken is a symbol of person-to-person, a daily contact between cultures. It provides an essential means of communications which frequently transcends any barriers of cultural or racial differences. Hence, next time you are fighting with your friend over the last piece of pizza, remember the power of RPS. Keep your rock solid, your paper level, and peace out.


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