'The Politician' Season 2: History of Rock-Paper-Scissors, instinct reading game nearly decided Payton's fate
Dede and Payton almost going forward with three rounds of this decision-making game may look trivial but it’s not. It relies on a thorough understanding of body language and your opponent’s psyche
Spoilers for ‘The Politician’ Season 2
With ‘The Politician’, it is hard not to expect certain absurdities. Season 1 had plenty of it but season 2 ups the ante with something colossally juvenile almost deciding the very fate of the heroes and antiheroes. A game of Rock-Paper-Scissors.
Yes. When it becomes clear that both Dede Standish (Judith Light) and Payton Hobart (Ben Platt) received the exact number of votes each in the race for the New York State Senate, they decide to break the tie with a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors. And while the game does not ultimately take place -- Dede cedes the victory to Payton, realizing that he would usher in a new era of good leadership -- a big part of the last couple of episodes is dedicated to the intricacies of the game.
Both factions try to understand the perfect way to beat their opponents. They both research just how to have the right guess, based on human behavior. And in all likelihood, Payton would have won the game. Sadly (or maybe happily), it did not come to that. Almost having dire consequences on the future of a state aside, the game of Rock-Paper-Scissors has a weird and interesting history.
While Rock-Paper-Scissors did not arrive in the U.S. until the 20th century, it is one of the oldest games in human existence, even though its history, Katherine Schwab of The Atlantic notes, is “muddled with legends and exaggerations put forth by internet historians and Redditors”.
According to a detailed history of the game in Popular Mechanics, the game’s earliest mentions (at least in as close as it gets to its modern form) is found in China. It was found in ‘Wuzazu’, a book penned by Chinese Ming-dynasty writer Xie Zhaozhi. Of course, the game itself is older than that. The book refers to it as “shoushiling” placing its origin around the same time during the Chinese Han dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD). Another author Li Rihua, a bureaucrat during the Ming dynasty, mentions “shoushiling” in his book, ‘Note of Liuyanzhai’.
Outside of China, even Japan has a history of this game. There, it was called “sansukumi-ken”, which loosely translates to pastimes in which “three are afraid of one another”. While “sansukumi-ken” had many iterations -- even one with a frog (thumb), slug (little finger), and snake (index finger) -- the most popular one, it seems, has always been Rock-Paper-Scissors.
Interestingly, while the game found popularity in the U.S. by the early 20th century, it wasn’t free of cultural bigotry. In an article published in August 1921, the Washington Herald referred to it as a method of “Chinese gambling”. A 1927 article in the French magazine La Vie Au Patronage calls it “jeu Japonais” -- literally, the Japanese game.
In England, one of the first mentions of the game, as per Popular Mechanics, came in the form of a 1924 contributor letter published in The Times, where the writer described a game called “zot” that he noticed people play across Mediterranean ports. The description of the game bears overwhelming similarities with the modern version of the game we know.
Today, Rock-Paper-Scissors is as popular a children’s game as any. And to an onlooker, it may just seem like just that. But the fact of the matter is that it has a lot of history behind it; beyond the scope of Western civilization, at least.
So, Dede and Payton almost going forward with three rounds of this decision-making game may look trivial but it’s not. If a tie for an important election has to be settled, why rely on 50-50 probabilities and dumb luck in the form of a coin toss. Isn’t it much better that they chose a game that helps sharpen the senses? A game that relies on a thorough understanding of body language and your opponent’s psyche. A game that is as old as any game can be.
‘The Politician’ Season 2 is available for viewing on Netflix.