Use your power. Ask them for whatever you want. You’ll be surprised at how eager they are to please you.
This, explained the instructor, was how we, six representative shopkeepers, were to deal with the other 120 participants in this 30-minute game meant to simulate the social and economic realities for millions of families who live in extreme poverty.
The setup was simple. An open conference room outfitted with plastic tarps, one per family unit, supplied with newspaper and a bucket of water and flour paste. To pay for rent, food, and perhaps health care, these families would make paper bags. These were then sold to shopkeepers like myself in units of 10.
While the setup was simple, the psychology of the game proved to be anything but. As shopkeepers, we were informed that in this game we held the power over the families. We were to pay little for their product. So little that most families couldn’t afford to pay their exorbitant rent at the end of the 10-minute “week.” We could yell and demand extra favors. Our job was not only to cheat, but also to systematically and emotionally oppress their will to do anything but hopelessly make more bags.
The simulation began with loud rock music. We walked between the frantic families, hunkered over ripped newspaper and paste, clapping and yelling at them: “Work faster!” The first family to approach me bowed respectfully and presented their 10 bags. I paid them well, compared to the next shopkeeper, and consoled myself that I wasn’t THAT bad.
But soon, to my surprise, I changed.