An interesting thing happened last Thursday. While playing a game in class, the point of which was to be the last player eliminated, I did something completely crazy. The game involved holding hands with a player of the opposite gender, there was a shortage of Y chromosome, and thus the boys had both of their hands held by a female player. The game then dictated that we must tie our shoes together. I tied my shoes as did the girl sharing my male classmate’s hands and then we helped him tie his shoes because his hands occupied. It was the most natural thing in the world.


In retrospect however, I see that it was an incredibly counterintuitive move. He needed to tie his shoes or he would be eliminated, the point of the game was to eliminate the other players, had I done nothing, he would have been unable to tie his shoes and I’d be one step closer to winning.

What was I thinking?

The game was part of an exploration of collaborative vs. competitive systems. We were exploring the idea of a ‘swarm’ as presented by Jussi Parikka in his book Insect Media. The swarm achieves social goals through collaboration and non-verbal communication.

The game explained above was showing us the human, verbal, individual way of thinking, while a different game we played before asked us to achieve a goal together without using language (swarm). The interesting thing that happened shows an overlap of the two. While I wanted to win, I still felt the need to help my opponent tie his shoes and stay in the game.

The same interplay of competitive/collective or swarm/individual also exists in the Pokemon TCG community. Ultimately everyone wants to win, be the single winner, but (almost) everyone helps people around them try to achieve the same goal at the expense of their own probability of winning. Players share decklists, lend cards, play test for hours, write articles on strategy, and generally elevate the gameplay of anyone who is willing to accept help.


This behavior reminds me of the swarm, the social goal being to creat a better, harder, more interesting game and create a comfortable, friendly, safe environment. These goals are also achieved non-verbally and in an affective manner. There are no rules, spoken or written, that players need to help each other, it just emerges from the milieu of the community. Like a bee or an ant, players pick up on the attitudes of the group and band together to uphold certain values or help a certain player.

The flip side of this is when the attainment of the individual goal (the win) gets closer and the affective, collective nature starts to give way to a more competitive one. I’m sure had the boy I was holding hands with and I been the last two people in the game, I would not have tied his shoes.

-Tori Hill

Parikka, Jussi. “Insect Media: An Archaeology of Animals and Technology”. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2010. eBook.


~ by torifranceshill on November 19, 2013.

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