More Detailed Description and Procedures
The description that follows is my “bare-boned” version. Over the years, I have modified the original game, changing chip values, sometimes altering trading rules to allow more or less mobility, sometimes going with the “flow” of the particular class, sometimes manipulating the class in a certain direction. Regardless, participants’ reaction cannot always be predicted, especially after the “squares” are given the power to make rules. So….there is no “template” for this game. Each session is excitingly different!
Trading chips [or pieces of paper] of different colors representing 5 different point values (10, 5, 4, 2, 1). Gold, green, blue, pink, and white are often used for these values.
Bonus Trading Chips: worth 5 points each. At the end of each trading round, each group receives 3 of these chips to distribute to 1-3 members of their group. The group unanimously decides who receives the chip. If they can’t decide, they forfeit the chips.
Envelopes containing the 5 chips each participant receives at the beginning of each trading session. I make enough envelopes for at least 3 rounds. Contents of envelopes depend on one’s social “group. I discreetly mark envelopes but also keep each group’s envelopes in a separate pile.
Square envelopes: 1 gold, 1 green, 3 other chips
Circle envelopes: 0 gold, 1 green, 4 other chips
Triangle envelopes: 0 gold, 0 green, 5 chips of other colors
Several “mobility” envelopes. These contain at least 1 gold and 1 green chip. At least 1 triangle receives one each round. In early rounds, this allows them to move “up” to a square. Occasionally, I give a “square” a low value envelope. The impact varies depending on how far it is into the game. After several rounds, it has no mobility impact!
Symbols (squares, circles, triangles) for members of each group to wear (around their neck, pinned to their shirts, etc.)
A badge for the police officer (optional)
In addition to these materials, you can either create posters for game rules or simply write them on the board.
Scoring Chart listing values for each chip color and showing the number of additional points participants receive for having several chips of the same color: 5 of a kind =5 points, 4 of a kind=4 points, 3 of a kind =3 points.
List of Trading Rules:
You must touch while you are trading.
You can only talk while trading. (note: this exclude talking to the director or police)
Once you initiate a trade, you must trade before going on to another trader
Players with arms folded do NOT have to trade.
All chips must be hidden at all times (except when exchanging chips)
One for one trades only
All rules will be enforced and penalties (deducing points) levied.
List of Bonus Session Rules:
Each group receives 3 chips and each chip is worth 10 points
Chips can be given to 1, 2, or 3 group members
Chips must be distributed by unanimous vote
Undistributed chips (after 4 minutes) are forfeited.
Scoring Card for Each Group or Create 3 Separate Sections on the Board for Each Group.
Procedures and Basic Stages in the Game.
Divide students into three groups. Have them sit in pre-arranged chairs, and distribute symbols for them to put on [squares, triangles, circles]. I sometimes say they are distinct ethnic, religious, or geographical communities.
Introduce Purpose of Activity. I tell students it is designed to illustrate how “exchange” works in small-scale societies. They will engage in several trading sessions. Each session they will receive a packet of 5 chips of different values, randomly selected. Their goal is to devise a clever trading strategy that will allow them to amass as many points as possible. They will accumulate points from each session. After several trading rounds, we will total the scores. Those with the highest number of points will “win” the game. You may want to tell them to draw upon their knowledge from the course. I sometimes attach a point value to the activity, saying it is a “test” of previous course material. I say “grades” on the activity will be based on individual point totals at the end of the game. This makes it more “serious”—but can also create too much tension among students.
Explain Trading Sessions and Trading Rules (see above).
Begin Trading Session. Distribute envelopes to each group (reminding them to hide their chips). Give them a few minutes to create a strategy. Then tell them they can now stand up and move around the room, looking for a trading partner. After about ten minutes, tell them the trading session is now closed and they should return to their seats.
Calculate and Record Scores on Board or Chart. Students individually calculate their scores and write their score in the appropriate space for their group (using their initials). Alternatively, appoint a recorder in the group to collect and write scores on the board.
Distribute 3 bonus chips to each group. Groups decide who will receive (3-5 minutes). Add the points to the scores of these people. If they can’t make a decision, take back the chips.
Rearrange Groups. With the whole group watching, tell them group membership will now be based on “scores” and the top scorers will be squares, the bottom scorers are the triangles, and the remainder circles. This is an opportunity to reiterate the meritocracy rhetoric. You will have to decide the cut-off scores. Shift individuals between groups as appropriate, physically and in the group membership list on the tally board. Have switchers trade old symbols for new, appropriate ones.
Begin Trading Session 2. Use same procedures as above, including a few “mobility” envelopes. At the end of the trading session, add round 2 scores to round 1 scores for each students. Rearrange groups again—although there will be less movement. Unless time is limited, do a third trading session before proceeding to the next stage.
Give Power to Squares. At the end of trading session 2 or 3, use meritocracy rhetoric to justify giving rule-making powers to the squares. I often state their scores show they’ve mastered the course material on trading and exchange and they deserve to make the rules for the rest of the game. This is where you begin playing it by ear!!!
Squares Make New Rules. Have squares discuss what rules they want to make. Members of other groups can sit in on the process and you can allow them to make comments. However, the squares alone get to make the decisions. The content of these discussions is always significant and relevant for the post-game processing. I sometimes jot down snippets for future reference. This is the most fascinating, volatile, and unpredictable part of the game……and one that you should monitor to make sure it doesn’t get out of hand. If you are playing the game in two sessions, you may want to wait until the second session to have the squares change the rules to minimize the out-of-class tension students sometimes experience.
New trading sessions, using the new rules. Squares now are in charge of the police officer. The police officer need not administer the rules fairly. Nor are points always added up “accurately” by the scorekeeper, who may be the police office, the instructor, or someone from the squares.
Play it By Ear….always monitoring the students and the situation so that it remains a positive learning experience. What happens next, especially the response of triangles and circles, depends on what kinds of rules the squares make as well as the class itself. Most often, squares initially try to preserve power, some more paternalistically than others. Some honestly think they “deserve’ to be squares…others are suspicious. Non-squares usually try to influence the squares. If the new rules are harsh, tensions increase and both squares and lower groups respond in a variety of predictable ways. If rules remain "fair”, it takes more rounds for tension to build---and apathy can occur. Some students never realize the game is “stacked”! Sometimes squares with a commitment to social justice dominate and try to figure out how to redistribute chips (a fascinating process). It is impossible to describe the range and complexity of what occurs and the extent to which students replicate what we as social scientists know about human behavior and responses in situations of stratification. You’ll have to experience it yourself!
Stop the Game. Begin the Discussion. At whatever point you stop the game, it is important to allow students to process how they are feeling before beginning the more abstract discussion. You may want to have students write down their reactions and reflections, immediately or after class. Regardless, it is important to move beyond this. One way is by asking students to describe the strategies they employed in the game, then placing these different strategies into the larger context of stratification and how one’s class position affects one’s strategies. I usually let the discussion take its own course but always try to make links between their experiences and the more abstract ideas and processes involved.
Summarize What Has Been Learned. At the end of the discussion, or the next time the class meets, I provide students with a more formal handout summarizing some key features of stratified societies (See appendix). I try to connect them, once again, with the Starpower simulation. The amount of time I spend discussing this handout varies with the class and the semester.
Shirts, R. Garry. 1969. Starpower. La Jolla, CA: Behavioral Sciences Institute.
STARPOWER: Key Points of the Game
Illustrates general features of stratified societies
Unequal distribution of and access to key resources and labor
If groups begin with different resources, it is almost impossible for them to compete equally even if the rules are fair and equally applied
Unequal resources produce inequalities in potential for authority/power, in the strategies one uses, in one’s attitudes about the “system”, in one’s attitudes towards members of one’s group, and in one’s attitudes towards other groups.
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