How rock-paper- scissors changed the game

6 mins read
“What is that?” “That’s fire, beats everything”

Rock-paper-scissors: that classic game.

Used in times of boredom, difficult decisions and friendly competition, the simple game has managed to win the hearts of individuals and nations across the globe.

Even the simplest game has a history however.

Where can our beloved rock-paper-scissors have come from, other than the widely accepted ‘it has always been there’.

To get technical, rock-paper-scissors is a zero sum hand game usually played between two people. It follows the pattern of A beats B, B beats C, and C beats A. So, rock beats scissors, scissors beats paper and paper beats rock. Simple.

The game itself actually has its origins in early China and Japan. The first known mention of the game was in the book Wuzazu, who wrote that the game dates back to the Chinese Han dynasty (206BC-220AD). In the book the game was called shoushiling, which literal translation is ‘hand command’.

There are also frequent references throughout Japanese history to sansukumi-ken, meaning ‘fist games with a three-way deadlock’. It is believed that these games were imported from China and subsequently became very popular.

Fast-forward to the 21st century and the game remains just as popular in the Western world. Take the Americans for example.

In 2006 American federal judge Gregory Presnell from Florida ordered opposing sides of a lengthy yet trivial court case to settle the point using a game of rock-paper-scissors.

Presnell even stated on national news “We will make sure that rock, paper scissors is not made a mockery by the legal system. When people take rock, paper, scissors into their own hands, mayhem can occur”.

And the game has even made its way into other aspects of our modern lives.

In many first-person shooter and role-playing video games it is common for a group of weapons or unit types to interact in a rock-paper-scissors style.

Each selection is strong against one choice and weak against another. For example, cavalry are strong against archers, archers against pikemen and pikemen against cavalry.

Things are getting serious now too.

The largest rock-paper-scissors tournament, as recorded by the Guinness World Records, was achieved by 2,950 people in Indiana, USA in 2014.

Researchers at the University of Tokyo have created a robot hand that has a 100% winning rate playing rock-paper-scissors.

Using a high-speed camera, the robot recognizes within one millisecond which shape the human hand is making, and then produces the corresponding winning shape.

In 2002 the World Rock Paper Scissors (WRPS) Society standardized a set of rules for international play, which oversees the annual International World Championships.

The Championships are attending by players from around the world, attracting widespread media attention.

With the slogan of ‘Serving the needs of decision makers since 1918’, WRPS events are noted for their large cash prizes, elaborate staging, and colourful competitors.

Sounds like a good laugh to be honest!

The UK is not missing out on the action either.

The 9th UK Rock Paper Scissors Championships are taking place at the Green Man Pub in London in on the 21st of November 2015.

A good excuse for a road trip and a day off classes if there ever was one. But why do we choose this decision making method over others such as flipping a coin, drawing straws or throwing a dice? These games have the disadvantage of being truly random selection methods.

Rock-paper-scissors can be played with a degree of skill by recognizing and exploiting non-random behaviour in one’s opponent, making it feel less like luck.

It is impossible to gain an advantage over a truly random opponent however. It is only by exploiting the weaknesses of a player you are familiar with that it is possible to have a significant advantage. And in such game play, it is possible to enhance one’s chances of winning by confusing or tricking the other player. One tournament tactic is to shout the name of one move before performing another, misdirecting the opponent. Simple yet effective. And, rock-paper-scissors may be a favourite because it is always fun to make up your own versions.

As long as the number of moves is an odd number and that each move defeats exactly half of the other moves whilst being defeated by the other half, any combination of moves will function as a game. Most people are familiar with TV show The Big Bang Theory’s rock-paper-scissors-lizard-spock, but sevem, nine, fifteen and even one hundred and one weapon versions exist.

So, from such humble origins, who knows- the next society we could be seeing on campus could be just that of rock-paper-scissors.

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The Features section of Brig, Stirling University's student newspaper.

Editors: Elizabeth Ross & Warren Hardie

The Features section of Brig, Stirling University's student newspaper.

Editors: Elizabeth Ross & Warren Hardie

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