Today’s Gamesbrief post about Nintendo reminded me of the history of the Rock-paper-scissors game mechanic in Japan.
In the Edo period, the economy stagnated, but nobody worried about it – they just got drunk and played witty games with geisha. It was trendy back then to re-skin rock-paper-scissors (known as janken) with topical or political themes. The basic political skin was elder-huntsman-fox – the village elder is in charge, so he beats huntsman, but fox beats village elder because foxes are magical, wily creatures that can unexpectedly overpower man.
For a society with a class system built into its legal structure, this simple idea became a subversive drinking game. In the context of the pleasure district, where the rigid social heirarchies of the ordinary world were dropped, the maligned merchant could come out on top of the elite samurai through wit, guile and gold. Similarly, the victory of the fox against the village elder turns the class system around and puts the lowliest player on the top.
Nintendo is the fox – it lacks the obvious brute force of the huntsman (XBOX?) or the inherited authority of the elder (Sony?), but through insight and talent beyond the understanding of ordinary gamers, it somehow manages to come out on top.
I thought this was pretty neat, so I made some playing cards for console wars janken. Enjoy!