Reflections on Forbidden Island from one of our Games and Game Theory Students

I’m still working on putting together my thoughts on Friday’s class and our chaotic game of Labyrinth Lord, but in the meanwhile, here are some thoughts from one of our students, L.B. (posted with his permission; I am transcribing this from his paper, so any typos are probably mine):

It was very interesting from a sociological point of view when a group of us played Forbidden Island. Once the rules were explained, the confusion began. One man assumed a leadership role. He was directing the play of everyone else. In the beginning, the individual players permitted this guidance. However, the two men who explained the rules and refereed the play repeatedly intervened with their leadership, when questions arose or an air of confusion permeated the table.

Finally, when the majority of players grasped the rules individuals assumed responsibility for their turn and the game proceeded rather smoothly. It was intriguing to see how well the men played when someone needed protection. The conversation took on an air of empathy for someone who could be taken off the board and everyone spoke on how best to save said player.

Such cooperation was eventful in a prison atmosphere. The men shared a common thread of cooperation in order to win the game. Initially the man who assumed the leadership position easily surrendered his self-appointed role in favor of the group dynamic of mutually shared cooperation among all.

It was with a shout of jubilation when everyone showed each individual player how to move toward the helicopter pad in order to fly off the island. The game was won and smiles and pats on the back were shared.

I marveled at this game for the group dynamic that was quickly created and could see how much fun the group experienced. It would have been interesting to see how quickly such frivolity would evaporate into consternation if a player had assumed a role to sabotage play to lose the game. I can only surmise that the culprit would have been castigated with rude comments and other players would have been reluctant in the future to play with such a libertine.

I would give Forbidden Island four out of five stars as a rating. I would have enjoyed playing this game as a child, as it would have helped to foster a cooperative approach to handling problems as they arose later in life instead of the me against the world approach that so many youth of my generation (Baby Boomers of the early 1950s) were taught in the games – win at any cost.

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