Rock Paper Scissors or RPS is a game so simple it can be played anywhere – on the street, in a classroom or even during a business meeting. It’s a game that requires no equipment and minimal effort. But what’s more interesting about this game is the symbolism and folklore that are interwoven in its roots. RPS is a game that is played worldwide, and as such, it has different interpretations and cultural citations.
In Western countries such as America, Europe, and Australia, where RPS can be traced back to the 1800s, it has become a game of chance, used to determine simple decisions, such as who goes first or who gets to pay for the meal at a restaurant. However, in Japan, where the game originated from, RPS is called “janken”, which means “the game of the fist.” Japanese folklore has it that this game traces back to the 17th century Edo period, where samurais used it as both a form of entertainment and a method of decision making.
The game was also seen as a reflection of the values of Bushido, the code of ethics that governed samurai behavior. In Japanese folklore, rock represents a mountain, and therefore, toughness or strength. Scissors represent the sword, which symbolizes agility and quickness, while paper represents a meditative state of tranquility, which is seen as a victory over these two opposing forces.
In China, the game is called “jiandao shi” and has a similar history and connotations as Japan’s “janken” game. In Chinese folklore, “rock” or “stone” refers to the mountain, which represents the earth, power, and stability. “Paper” represents the tree, which represents flexibility and growth, while “scissors” represents the sharp knife, which symbolizes danger and destruction. The game is also seen as a way to test one’s wit, intuition, and psychological strength.
In Korea, RPS is called “gawi-bawi-bo,” and like in Japan, it is used to decide which team goes first, among other decisions. Korean folklore has it that the elements of the game represent different animals. “Gawi” represents a mountain goat, “bawi” represents a tiger, and “bo” represents a baby gorilla. The goat can climb a high mountain, which represents rock; the tiger is killed by a hunter’s knife-like sword (scissors), while the gorilla wraps itself in the leaves (paper) to hide.
In some parts of Africa, a similar game called “chiek-pong” has been played for centuries. The game is used as a form of decision-making and is considered an essential social event among the youth. In Uganda, it is called “mpere-mpere”, and like RPS, it is used to decide who goes first, among other decisions.
In conclusion, Rock Paper Scissors is a simple game that has been played all over the world for different reasons. Its origins in Japan and Korea are steeped in folklore that speaks to cultural ideals such as physical prowess, mental agility, and psychological strength. The various interpretations of RPS highlight the unique ways that different societies have approached the game, and how it has become embedded into their cultural fabrics.