Amoeba Game

I’ve been telling students in my first-year seminar that the design of a good game often simultaneously combines chance, strategy, competition, and cooperation. About a month ago I invented a simple game to demonstrate how this could be accomplished.

I took the class outside, defined starting and finishing lines — about twenty-five meters apart — and divided the class into teams. The game had only one rule: every person on a team had to keep his or her left hand on the right foot of another teammate. First team to reach the finish line “won” the game. 

Back in the classroom, students correctly identified how the game reflected the four design elements mentioned above:

  • Chance — I randomly selected the teams; students had no control over who their teammates were. Team composition was also affected by who had or had not attended class that day, something not entirely predictable.
  • Strategy — Each team was free to decide how to attempt to get to the finish line as long as it complied with the game’s one rule.
  • Competition — My students accepted my statement of “only one winner” without any argument and behaved accordingly. This could have led to a discussion of whether rule interpretation and gameplay is culturally bound, but there wasn’t enough time to dig into this side topic.
  • Cooperation — Teammates had to agree how to move in concert with each other to avoid breaking the rule.

Most likely there are endless versions of this game, which could also work as an icebreaker exercise, buried somewhere in my subconscious. This one just happened to be what came to mind in the moment.