The Seedy, Bizarre History of Rock, Paper, Scissors

Flexing your hands at someone until their open palm destroys your fist for some reason seems like a dumb way to make decisions, but that's just because humans have been dumb for a very long time. Versions of Rock, Paper, Scissors go back 4,000 dang years, and we can date the modern version of the game to China's Han dynasty, around 200 B.C. The evidence suggests that, much like your recent debate over who had to sit in the backseat with your friend who just ate four burritos, it was used to decide between different courses of action. But that's not all it was used for.

Continue Reading Below

Advertisement

By the 1600s, it had become popular in Japan as a drinking and ... sex game? It's not clear how, but apparently in brothels, it "constituted a foreplay in the real sense," and "from some remarks in literature, it seems that it especially fulfilled this role in homosexual relations." Maybe deciding who has to bottom tonight? As it evolved out of the bedroom, the people of the time took the game extremely seriously, kind of like how we now have professional beer pong tournaments. No, really, we do:

Continue Reading Below

Advertisement

They even went so far as to purchase fancy "hand covers" that could cost the equivalent of a person's entire annual food budget. In fact, an apocryphal tale of the game's introduction to Japan involves a set of prizes that included both exotic animals and women. Yes, the legend of rock, paper, scissors is basically Tiger King.

Continue Reading Below

Advertisement

The exact movements of the game got pretty hardcore in various regions, too. Sometimes, it involved the entire body rather than just the hand, like an intensely consequential version of the hokey pokey. At one point, the Japanese version of the game was "hunter, village elder, supernatural fox." In Indonesia, it was "Earwig, Man, Elephant," although it's unclear why the man can simply crush the earwig while the elephant is helpless as it crawls up its trunk and kills it in its brain. What is clear that the Indonesians were not messing around.

Top image: Unsplash/Marcus Wallis

To turn on reply notifications, click here

31 Comments

Load Comments