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Jason Pook's Games Design Blog


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Jenga- Game Theory

Jenga is a tabletop game which requires skill physically and mentally, it was created by Leslie Scott in 1983 through a game that had she had played with her family in the 1970’s. The rules of jenga are that you have a set of 54 blocks, stacked 3 across each time rotated when piling up. This creates the Jenga structure, from that then each player is to remove a block at a time and place it on top of the structure, with each move the structure gets taller and loses stability. This requires alot of physical skill in patience, control and balance accompanied by mental skill of judgement, composure and resilience. To end the game the structure will fall over and whoever it was that made it fall over is the loser of the game, you them rebuild and that player is eliminated until a winner is determined.

Flow:

Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi’s theory of flow applies to jenga when you are playing its been going on for a while so the tower is high but you have the skill to remove another block. Jenga covers most of the flow chart just like Tetris, it gets harder as the game goes on with each block that rises there are less and less options to take a piece without knocking the structure over.

flow

You begin in any area jenga is never easy the game can be over in the first block if you dont have the hand stability and control to remove a piece, most would start in control as the challenge level is in the middle and everyone should have high skill at the start to be able to remove a piece. Whilst you play though and it gets far on the immersion can emotionally drive you crazy, begging for the tower to fall over on your opponent so it doesn’t come back round to you, that’s the thing soon as you have taken your move you worried its coming back around the tension to keep composure on your turn combined with the wait for your turn if people take time makes for an immersive experience.

Categories of Play:

For Roger Caillois’s ‘categories of play’ Jenga would fall under primarily ‘Agon’. Agon is games of competition, with Jenga you are competing against other players to try survive your turn and place your block carefully on top to build the structure, the goal is not to be the person who makes the wrong move and collapses the statue as then you are eliminated as the loser.

It also falls under ‘Alea’. Alea is games of chance, in Jenga sometimes you slowly wriggle out that seemingly impossible block with a sweat on your brow to place it on the top, the structure wobbles a bit and you call for everyone not to move. There is a chance you go for the wrong block and have to move it as you have touched it dependent on the rules (I normally play a feel is alright but push and you have to move it), also the chance other people make a mistake and not you could keep you in the game when you know you will struggle on your next move.

Bartle Test:

To link this into Bartle’s test which defines you as a player through a series of questions this type of game being puzzle based and score based would appeal more to an ‘achiever’ style of player rather than the others due to the achiever always wants to win, in jenga the only goal is to survive and hope the other players knock over the structure before your turn. Other than that the categories of players cant apply to jenga.

When we played Jenga in the studio it was arguably the greatest game of jenga I had ever witnessed, the tower just kept going and going on the first round Me, Barrie, Rinalds and Phil wasn’t letting up. Rinalds pulled off some things I didnt think was from this universe he must have manipulated physics to make that structure balance but it worked, this was similar through every game we was all somehow masters of jenga and control the final game was myself and Rinalds, seeing what he had done it felt optimistic that I would have any chance he appeared to be raised in a school and purely taught jenga. But after grueling turn after turn he made a mistake and I won, the euphoria was uncontrollable. This clearly can be a game for fun or serious competition, we started the exercise to analyse the game for game theory and then it turned into a serious competition which was almost hysterical at times as we had no clue how the game could continue. The level of flow and immersion in the jenga game when it was at this stage of anxiety and unknown when it would go was a psychoanalytically available to analyse our behaviors. Jenga allows the player to engage in mental and physical challenges as the difficulty increases the emotional reactions to the game increase with it, this could both effect the player positively or negatively it could overwhelm them into making a mistake by panicking on their turn or motivate them further to win the session.

Here is an example of the emotional reactions towards an insane move on Jenga:

As you can see after performing this crazy move the lady celebrates in disbelief the emotional reaction to completing a move in this game is there with every move which makes it a great immersive and re-playable game.