Rock, Paper, Airstrike

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Paper vs. Airstrike. Someone's going down.

“You sunk my battleship! What? Wrong game?”

~ Noel Coward on Rock, Paper, Airstrike

Rock, Paper, Airstrike is a popular children's game where 2 or more children gather in a circle and make obscene hand gestures at one another in an attempt to win the game. The rules are surprisingly complex for such a simple children's game, yet it remains a game that children enjoy the world over. Adults don't play because they generally find the game too disturbing to enjoy.



Gameplay is rather simple for a game so complex. Unlike "War", the card game, no props are needed. All players need are their own hands. The players have a choice of the handsign for rock (a fist), the handsign for paper (an open palm), and the handsign for airstrike (like the handsign for paper, but with pinky and thumb extended outwards). Below are listed the ways that winners are determined in a two-player game (the game grows more complex as the size of the group playing increases, but the basic ideas remain the same).

Airstrike vs. Rock

In this case, the player with the airstrike defeats the player with the rock, for obvious reasons.

Rock vs. Paper

In this instance, the player with the rock defeats the player with the paper, because a rock hurts more.

Paper vs. Airstrike

Here, the airstrike wins, because airstrikes always win, and papers are pathetic.

The cover from the popular Japanese videogame of the same name.

Paper vs. Paper

In this variation, both players win, because paper is worthless and nobody who's going up against paper can lose.

Rock vs. Rock

There is actually no rule for this scenario, so in such situations, the players usually end up in an argument which often degenerates into a fistfight. Adults have been known to recognize this as sibling rivalry.

Airstrike vs. Airstrike

When this happens, all players lose. As a result, they must join hands and dance in a circle, singing the "Mutual annihilation" song. The lyrics of which are as follows:

Mutual Annihilation!
From too many airstrikes!
Ashes, Ashes
We all fall down!

At this point, the children usually fall to the ground, rolling around and giggling. Adults watching such a display have been known to give their children lobotomies the next day "for the greater good."


Though it's no surprise that someone made this game up to be quote-unquote cute, the fabricated history provided is surprisingly relevant.

In fact (if you can call it that), the basically world-wide assumption that this game was developed sometime after the first world war (the better of the two, as decided by popular vote) is mistaken. No, this nihilistically jubilant pre-teen exercise in futility actually began in the American North-East sometime around 1692. You guessed it! The very same year that Giuseppe Tartini was born...

But that has nothing to do with this.

No, it was actually the year of the Salem Which Trials. During that troubling time in witch (which witch? darn!) the last of the devil-worshipers were purged from the holiest land of all time (shhh, don't tell Mecca and Jerusalem), there was a great stir in the community of Salem.

Truly, many people were fearful that there would be a great counter-attack made by witches on broomstick (if you're thinking sandwitches, then you've got the wrong continent). Despite the quiet and peculiarly-timed assurances that the town elders made that there was "no such thing as witches," it took a long while for the non-witch population, especially the women, to forget the way they dodged those skinny little clouds on the way home at night.

Thus, as is often the case with stereotypical women from any era, they passed their fitful angst onto their children, this time, in game form. Admittedly, many women and children were burned as witches due to too many public double-airstrike outcomes, but that's a story for a different time!

Morals of the game

Rock, Paper, Airstrike
'Rock' 'Paper' 'Airstrike'
'Rock' -4, -4 (fistfight) +2, -2 -2, +2
'Paper' -2, +2 +2, +2 -2, +2
'Airstrike' +2, -2 +2, -2 -1, -1

This game has a unique Nash equilibrium: both players choosing Airstrike. Any other choice of strategies can be worsened by the other player choosing Airstrike. In the table to the left, for example, when starting at the green square, player 2's interest to move to the blue square by choosing Airstrike to minimise losses. One could think that both players playing Paper could be a Nash equilibrium: it isn't, because one of the players will choose Airstrike to piss the other player off, even if he doesn't gain anything from that.

Related Gameplay

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