I want it all and I want it now! (Freddie Mercury)

Aug 6, 2018 by

A simulation game, which was the main event for this Friday, brought a lot of emotions and political tensions with it. Personally, the two of us will for sure need some time to fully digest the moral of this simulation.

The goal of the game was simple. Capital accumulation, or in other words maximising profits.

Each group drew from a different paper bag, from which each member had to draw out chips without looking inside. According to predefined rules, all students were allowed to trade with each other. After the first round of trading the bonus points phase began. While we could observe interesting psychological behaviours across the different groups (more on this at the end), it remains unclear to us what the exact purpose of this phase was. However, the bonus point distribution round took an interesting turn when one of the members of the upper class was expelled by majority vote. According to him, his exile was entirely due to his opposition to a proposed lottery scheme (just among the rich). More interestingly, his exile did not lead to a consensus among the upper class.

Only at this point, after the first round of bonus points allocation, did most of the students interpret the group divisions (based on the current individual score) as class divisions. Different psychological patterns became visible, mimicking the behaviour observable in socio-economical hierarchies. Despite the appearance of an equal distribution, the game was actually rigged in favour of one group, the rich. Because different chips represented different monetary values, it was later explained that one of the paper bags contained a significantly higher concentration of high-value chips. The most revealing phase of the game started after a second quick round of trading.

Whereas the richest class was allowed to redefine the rules, but only through a unanimous decision, the other groups were only allowed to submit written policy suggestions. As one can assume, the policies reinforced mostly the dominant societal structure which was already at place. As such, for example, the richest class introduced a differential accounting system without redistributing the overall wealth. Basically, every member whose score was below 30, was allowed to count six chips instead of five, which was the previous rule. Followed by the introduction of this and other rules, unfortunately, our group didn’t have the time to apply the new rules and to play a third trading phase. In the final review session with all 60 participants, everyone was encouraged to share their inner emotions and feelings, as well as the trading strategies they have applied throughout the game. Most strikingly, as one member from the upper class summed up, the upper class did everything to protect themselves from the lower groups, while acting to keep them happy and starting a redistribution scheme only between the lower and middle groups.

This game gives not just a lot to think about societies, hierarchies and rules, but also important lessons regarding how they function. What impressed us most is how easily a simple set of rules could turn most students of alternative economic systems into self-interested profit maximising capitalists. The question you should ask yourself is: “If you have been awarded from the beginning with high valued chips, or in the other case, low valued chips: How would you have behaved?”

Written by: Julian Jarzabkowski and Lorenzo Cottica

Based on the lectures held by: Helga Kromp-Kolb and Lisa Bohunovsky (“Simulation Event”)