Pigs in the Poke: The Dynamics of Traditional Village Life, Games of Chance and Strategy

Brian Hayden

Extended Abstract

The social, economic, and political realities of traditional (tribal) village life are completely foreign to people raised in Industrial societies. Yet understanding such lifestyles is critical to understanding third world cultures today, as well as to comprehending the basic themes of anthropology (cultures of the present) and archaeology (cultures of the past). On the basis of my research in tribal villages in Southeast Asia over the last 15 years, I have put together a board game that captures the essential dynamics of traditional village life, with a Southeast Asia flavor. While Monopoly teaches the principles of capitalist investment, competition, and losses, Pigs in the Poke uses the same format to teach about subsistence economics and village social life with its many liabilities and risks. This game has been played by numerous classes of students with great enjoyment and a good deal of laughter at the unexpected situations and considerations that they are confronted with. The various elements of the game combine synergistically to provide deep new insights into traditional cultures and a much deeper understanding of what it is like to live in such cultures. Players become empathetic members of communities that must contend with circumstances not usually encountered in Industrial societies.

The game is structured into three levels of complexity. The entry level requires only following directions. A throw of the dice and picking an event card determines whether one reaps a surplus or incurs debts. Relations with other players is restricted to borrowing pigs when in need. At the second level, players decide whether they will join a 'clan' with other players or be an independent household. Membership in clans carries both costs and benefits, with raids, low cost loans, feasts, and other events. At the third level, players can acquire additional marriage partners from other players via payments of pigs. This also establishes special relationships between the players providing low cost loans and mutual support for feasts and other events. Negotiating the relationships in levels 2 and 3 involves consideration of risks, costs, and potential benefits with outcomes serving as lessons of what can (and does) happen in real village settings. It also demonstrates how and why clans and marriage alliances between families are so important in traditional villages.