More on Changing the Environment

Last week I was discussing the international system in my introduction to international relations course. I had run through various examples of systems (airplane, farm, family, religion) in the previous class, and was attempting to explain how a change in the international environment can change the behavior of the nation-states within it. I could tell from students’ facial expressions that they weren’t making the connection. So I took the students outside to a parking lot and played a second round of Victor Asal’s survive or die card game.

In contrast to the first round, played inside the confines of the classroom, students quickly dispersed to avoid being challenged. We then reconvened indoors and I asked the students to explain why round two differed from round one. In addition to seeing the effect of the changed environment, they also picked up on the fact that repeated interactions can enable political actors to learn how to predict one another’s behavior.

4 Replies to “More on Changing the Environment”

  1. I’m very interested in how people engage with Victor’s game. I also played it twice in a session and we still had people challenging away second time around, even though they knew it wasn’t the objective. This was a conversation I’ve had before with colleagues, who refused to believe that anyone would be active in a second game. And yet I had a student telling me: “but it’s nice to have more than one card.” Human nature is prehaps more hard-wired than we like to think.

  2. I have situations where people have half or more of the cards – everyone is dead but one person and they totally understand that they have won and can stop – and they still insist on challenging the last person in the room. Hobbes was on to something about the lust for glory.

  3. I have students bemoaning the lack of rational action in Diplomacy as well. Students count on opponents to behave in ways that are clearly to their advantage, and when they don’t, they are completely flummoxed and even angry. It reminds me of the ‘Casino Night’ episode of the Office where Kevin, a poker champion, loses to the novice Phyllis who plays without regard to strategy because its ‘for fun’. To what extent is this a question of human nature v. learning?

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