3 years ago

Strategic interactions: Games of the Ju|’hoan

Alex de Voogt


Three strategic games played by the Ju|’hoan—a board, a card, and a gesture game—complicate the rhetorics that suggest an evolutionary or psychological significance of play. They are mostly played by adults, although every individual adult does not necessarily engage in each game. The Ju|’hoan card and board game practices were transmitted through contact across large parts of Botswana and Namibia, while the gesture game n!àì has been known in other San communities. It suggests that the significance of strategic games is more likely found in its potential for social interaction (i.e., allowing to overcome cultural divides) than in evolution and psychology. Within the anthropological literature, strategy games were thought to be absent in egalitarian societies, such as that of the Ju|’hoan. Here, the roles of power, competition, and winning were thought to be disruptive and unwanted. A closer examination of the details behind the Ju|’hoan games shows that not only were strategy games adopted and adapted from neighboring societies but that the game of n!àì was developed by the Ju|’hoan into a competitive one. The evolutionary or psychological significance of play is informed by studies on individual play, children’s play, and games with informal rules. When considering strategic games throughout history, it is their role of facilitator rather than the playing practice itself that makes games relevant across languages, cultural divides, and sociopolitical boundaries.

Publisher URL: https://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/s13420-017-0281-2

DOI: 10.3758/s13420-017-0281-2

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