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|User Info||The Caution Light Is Lit; entered at 2018-01-12 14:58:03|
Registered: 2008-12-09 Spokane WA
I re-read the following a few times a year. I have done this since it was originally posted on March 28, 1989. |
"The Origami Game
Like wriggling puppies in a pen the children worked. To the background hum and ceaseless crease of paper was added the happy and continual burble of children's voices. It was not a large room. And made smaller by the mob of children it should have seemed smaller still. Nor was it an orderly room as the bustling of little hands filled what few unoccupied places there were with crumpled scraps of paper.
But this was the Origami game and within the seeming disorder there yet reigned an unseen plan. Anyone who wanted could play and the game had been going on for generations. Simply put children who wanted to play merely showed up at the room at the time that they wanted to get in the game and if there was a game in progress they could join in. Or wait for the next game to begin.
At the door the children would pay such of their allowances as they wished and bought a selection of paper. Every day the paper that was provided for the game was from a different source. So that one day there might be pink and yellow typing paper. And hard card stock. Or perhaps only plain white notebook paper with the three holes. Or it might include delicate tissue papers in exotic colors. Each child selected the paper he or she liked best and went in to play. Some swaggered in with handfuls of paper and the cocky attitude of a conquerer. Others who could only afford a few sheets held them tightly to their chests like precious treasures as they gingerly threaded through the room looking for just the right spot to settle. Many had played before and often and so casually returned to their accustomed places with such paper as they had had luck with in the past.
The rules were elegantly simple. With whatever paper you could afford to bring to the game, or whatever paper you could trade for once in the game, carefully fold and create the loveliest, or the most practical, or most creative and exotic figure or shape that you could in ten minutes. You could enter as many figures in any game as you could make in that time. All finished entries were then judged on the curve by all players participating in that game. Winners were awarded gold stars next to their names.
The stars could be exchanged at any time for candy. Any unused stars that a person might accumulate by games end could be used in any later game or on any later day. In that way each child could eventually get at least some candy. Now the candy, like the paper, was provided from a variety of sources. So on any given day it might be all taffy, or it might be sourballs and chocolate drops. But normally there was a fair selection of types and tastes. And like the awarding of gold stars, the gold star to candy exchange value was determined by the vote of the contestants. A chocolate caramel might be three gold stars, and a lollipop might be only one. On another day, however, an all day sucker might go for ten gold stars. But it was fair. The contestants themselves judged all entries and the worth of the candies. Everyone had an equal chance. And very few ever went home without at least some candy.
But this day was different. You see the game was not limited to little children. Anyone who wanted, be they teenagers, or adults, or the smallest first grader could give it their best effort. And with the vote of all of a given games contestants being the judge, no one had any special advantage.
Until The Day.
The game started out as usual that morning. But sometime during the morning's play some of the bigger kids started something new. A couple of them, quite without noticing what anyone else was doing, discovered that under the rules of the game it was possible to increase the chance of winning by entering a large volume of mediocre figures and in so doing dominate the other entries, and reduce the curve of what would be considered best for any given game. This was quickly observed by some of the losers to be a winning strategy. It was therefore just as quickly copied. Well it didn't take many games for the pattern to become entrenched. And by shortly after lunch many of the littler children were becoming visibly anxious about their chances of winning any candy before the day was out. Even the most average child could quickly look up at the name board and see that a few names had more gold stars than anyone had ever seen at one time before. And there was only so much candy. Some started crying, some quietly gave up like a balloon collapsing. Others got angry and protested to the teachers who monitored the game. But the rules didn't prohibit this new tactic. And the gold stars piled up behind the names of the bigger kids.
By late afternoon it was clear that there was no way that any of the little children had a chance. Those who had traded in some of their gold stars at lunch did manage to get some candy. But the others who had fewer stars were now convinced that they were going to be quite squeezed out of any winnings at all. That's when the fights broke out. It wasn't too bad. A few had to go see the school nurse. Some of the smaller ones went home crying in their mother and father's arms. There was a great deal of loud, angry finger pointing. But for the most part the game ended without any serious disasters occurring.
A lot of the teachers and parents decided after the game that there would have to be a revision of the rules. Some wanted to limit the game to the small children. A few argued that there should be only one entry per contestant per game. Many solutions were put forth, but ultimately the only fair answer that would preserve the game ended up being that there would henceforth be an automatic limit on entries in any given game if during that game too many people started submitting multiple entries all at the same time. This was not the first time in the history of the game that the game had been disrupted and ended in discord and unhappiness.
Many years ago it had gotten so bad that some of the bigger kids ended up in the hospital from the fights. Many of the smaller children had gone home traumatized, and few if any made it home with any candy. It was so bad that for a long time the game was never played again. This time the game went on. Not to say that there weren't any hurt players or that there wasn't any suffering. But somehow, even though it should have been as bad this time, it wasn't.
A great many people came up with theories to explain why the game didn't blow up like the last time. Some of the teachers who monitored the game then credited the rule changes they made after that last bad game. Some of the parents maintained that children were more grown up than when, as children, they had played the game. Psychiatrists and journalists reported theories, and more theories. But nobody really new the answer. And now that the rules were once again amended, and order restored, the game resumed.
Still many were curious. So as each child left the game at the end of the day the teachers asked how he or she felt about the game. Now there was a little girl who seldom played the game. It's not that she couldn't or wouldn't. She played from time to time, and more often than not won. But mostly she sat quietly and read her books and ate her lunch and watched the other players. Once in awhile she would be asked by one of the other children for help and she would give it. However, she played when and as she pleased and the rest of the time seemed content to watch and read her books. This day as she left the room one of the teachers stopped her and said "You don't seem to have been upset today. Weren't you afraid like the others that you wouldn't get any candy?" The little girl, who ordinarily wore the sweetest and most angelic smile, for one moment became the very picture of fear that had earlier swept over all the other contestants. Quickly she anxiously fumbled open her lunch box. Reassured that her pre lunch time winnings were still secure she closed the box and her cherubic smile returned. Said she "Not really. After all, it was only a game. Wasn't it." And for the briefest moment you could see the hint of doubt cross her mind and then it was gone. And so was she. Happily running down the sidewalk towards home.
As I said, for a long time after the game that day a great many people worried, and theorized and fretted and postulated over the game. And admittedly the game did suffer a little bit for a while. For a time the number of players each day was less than it had been. But little by little most of them had drifted back. Some would never come back. Some never left. And the game itself has changed a little since that day. But the game goes on as it did before.
Today "Black Tuesday" is only a footnote in economic texts. After all, it was only a game."