It was back in 2007 in season 2, episode 8 of MTV’s Rob and Big that I first heard Rock – Paper -Scissors called Rochambeau. I had enjoyed playing it many times as a child and it was so ingrained in popular culture that I had seen it everywhere from one of my favorite adolescent movies Bio Dome to aiding in a decision making process on my childhood playground. No matter how silly the game may be, it is a nostalgic competition that has transcended time.
Yes I just made Rock – Paper – Scissors sound a lot more serious than it actually is but the history is vast. Rock – Paper – Scissors arrived in the United States around the 20th century, but it is one of the oldest games in existence. The first recorded mention of the game was found in Chinese Ming-dynasty writer’s Xie Zhaozhi’s book: the Wuzazu. In his book (circa the 1600s) wrote that the game itself actually dated back all the way to China’s Han dynasty (which is from 206 -220 AD). The game, as he explains it, is called shoushiling. The game also exists in Japanese lore, and throughout history there have been references to ‘fist games’. These fist games, known as sansukumi-ken (ken meaning fist). The earliest version of sansukumi-ken was known as mushi-ken. Mushi-ken (meaning frog-fist) was playing by one player showing his thumb who is displaced by a slug (represented by the user showing his pinky finger), which is then displaced by a snake (represented by the index finger), which is only displaced by the frog. So can you see the rules are similar to our modern day Rock – Paper – Scissors.
Over the years, the game spread beyond Asian borders and reached Britain in 1924 when the game was described in a letter to The Times newspaper (which has been a daily national newspaper based in London, England since 1785). The game was called ‘zhot’ and was described to be of ‘possible Mediterranean origin’. The British populous took interest and subsequent articles were written to describe the game to the readers. If it hit Britain, it was only a matter of time before it came to America. In a 1932 New York Times article describing the Tokyo rush hour, the rules of the game were laid out and the author beckoned Americans to try it, so they could ‘benefit’ from its uses. In the 1933 edition of Compton’s Pictured Encyclopedia, the game was called John Kem Po and was described as a ‘common method of settling disputes between Japanese children’ and the author pointed out that it was a “good way of deciding an argument that American boys and girls might like to practice too”.
So is it ironic that a game with so much history is played by children making random choices or by adults who are more inclined to use some game to decide some minuscule decision? Absolutely not. The game is popping up all over pop culture; even finding itself in a modified version on the ever popular TV show The Big Bang Theory (who modified the game to be Rock – Paper – Scissors – Lizard – Spock) and some players have even turned it into a legitimate nostalgia-fueled competitive sport.
From China’s street corners to America’s playgrounds, Rock – Paper – Scissors will continue to flourish; and its history will not sink like a rock or rust like a pair of scissors. No no…it will cover the landscape like a piece a paper. 😉
Mushi-Ken representation by and attributed to Linhart, Sepp. “Die Repräsentation Von Tieren Im Japanischen Ken-Spiel: Versuch Einer Interpretation.” Asiatische Studien: Zeitschrift Der Schweizerischen Asiengesellschaft 65.2 (2011): 541-61.Yoshinami and Gojaku. 1809. Kensarae sumai zue (拳會角力圖會). 2 vols. Edo: Murataya, Jirobe, Osaka: Kawachiya Taisuke, Bunka 6., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37139430
Rock-Paper-Scissors image by and attributed to U3144362 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=63503453
Men playing Rock-Paper-Scissors by Jeff Eaton – https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffeaton/10911307996/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54972934
4th UK Rock-Paper-Scissors Championship image by and attributed to James Bamber – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16532763