It’s a playful children’s hand game that has transcended generations and it goes by many names: Roshambo or Rochambeau, ick-ack-ock (UK), and yes, Rock-Paper-Scissors (US). Though certainly a playful game, it is often used as a more “sophisticated” or “strategic” device used to come to a decision of some sort between two people. The answer as to who has to clean up the dog poo, who must pick up dinner, or who has to dig through the trash to find the wedding ring have all likely been determined by the hands of a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors. Like many children’s games, Rock-Paper-Scissors has evolved into a much more serious sport for adults becoming the center of tournaments, challenges, and other competitive events under the premise of mastering the game. Chances are you have heard of it, so before we get to history, let’s talk rules.
How to Play Rock-Paper-Scissors
As one of the most basic hand games, Rock-Paper-Scissors requires no actual props, cards, or objects at all. In fact, all the players need bring to the table is their hands and a bit of luck. Each participant begins by simply shaking or pounding (if the enthusiasm is high) their fist a predetermined number of times (commonly 3) in what the professionals refer to as priming (others may simply think of it as the countdown of sorts). At the end of the priming, the participant is then able to use that same hand to lay their hand flat (Paper), make a fist (Rock), or extend and spread the index and middle finger to resemble a peace sign turned sideways (Scissors). Regardless of the option chosen to play, it is called a throw. The winner is determined by comparing the players’ throws.
Rock, Paper, Scissors, Shoot!
So you’ve pounded the table and thrown your shape. How do you determine who has won? It doesn’t take a referee (though the more serious players may disagree), as each shape has a simple, but predetermined ranking order that establishes the victor. Using the chart below, you can match each player’s throw to the other to determine the winner. Note that a tie (when both players throw the same shape) results in a re-match until one player has an undisputed win.
In essence, paper covers rock (win!), rock crushes scissors (win!), and scissors cut paper (win!).
History of Rock-Paper-Scissors
Who can we credit for such a classic and time-honored hand game? It has been estimated by some that the game is hundreds of years old and while there are no absolutes about its origins, it does have very interesting – if unverifiable – theories.
- Japan – There are stories of a similar game introduced in Japan that pre-date the birth of Christ called janken. This game is mentioned in a booktitled Wazazu by Xie Zhaozhi in 1600. In this text, the game is referred to as “shoushiling” and would develop into the game jen-ken that is popular in Japan to this day. There are also variations of the Japanese game such as the flat outlaid hand representing cloth as opposed to paper.
- French Commander – Other origins credit Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, Comte de Rochambeau in the 1700’s with creating the alternative name for Rock-Paper-Scissors as Roshambo or Rochambeau. Though the game carries his namesake, it is thought that he had very little do with the creation or naming of the game.
- Scandinavians – Some believe that the game was created by Scandinavian peoples who in turn spread it across Europe. However, evidence to support this theory is sorely lacking and leaves much too much to the imagination.
- East Africa – Other more lighthearted theories include one that credits an East African culture over 6.3 million years ago with starting the game Rock Rock Rock. Then, through evolution, the game progressed to include modern tools as they became available.
- Celtic – Perhaps the most credible information regarding the history of Rock-Paper-Scissors was research that suggested that Celtic peoples who inhabited present day Portugal and Spain created the game in 600 B.C. The research also suggests that a Roman invasion 700 years later spread the games reach further across Europe. That being said, it is also suggested this research could be skewed by a very similar hand game turned decision-maker called Morra.
Regardless of which tale you regard as the truth, one thing is for sure: No one is all that sure of where Rock-Paper-Scissors originated. The game became popular in the United States in the early 1900’s, but before that was primarily popular in Europe and Japan. Today, it would be tough to find many people across the world who were not at least somewhat familiar with the world’s oldest game for deciding who has to taste the expired milk.