SADDAM by lingkaran: The Politics of Werewolf

Fourth Monday of July was my turn to share on lingkaran’s SADDAM, and I’d like to share to my coworkers about how politics actually work, even in the smallest scale like in a game, or in a daily office setting.

It was a very short session due to our tight schedule that day, but the idea was that I’d told them the brief behind stories, and let them find out the rest by playing the game. I was talking about the game of Werewolf.

The History

It used to be called Mafia, which is a party game created by Dmitry Davidoff in 1986 modelling a conflict between an informed minority, the mafia, and an uninformed majority, the innocents. At the start of the game, each player is secretly assigned a role affiliated with one of these teams. The game has two alternating phases: night, during which the mafia may covertly “murder” an innocent, and day, in which surviving players debate the identities of the mafia and vote to eliminate a suspect. Play continues until all of the mafia have been eliminated or until the mafia outnumbers the innocents.

David developed the game to combine psychology research with his duties teaching high school students. Later, Andrew Plotkin gave the rules a werewolf theme in 1997, arguing that the mafia were not that big a cultural reference, and that the werewolf concept fit the idea of a hidden enemy who looked normal during the daytime. The Werewolf variant of Mafia became widespread at major tech events, including the Game Developers Conference, ETech, Foo Camps, and South By Southwest.

In 1998 the Kaliningrad Higher school of the Internal Affairs Ministry published the methodical textbook Nonverbal communications; developing role-playing games ‘Mafia’ and ‘Murderer’ for a course on visual psychodiagnostics, to teach various methods of reading body language and nonverbal signals.

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Werewolf game requires 7 people in minimum: one Moderator (or God), two Werewolves, a Seer (or Spy), a Doctor (or Witch), and the rest are common Villagers. The God knows each role and control the duration, the Spy can guess the werewolves with a yes or no nod from Moderator, and the Witch can heal the dead. At its core, werewolf is a game of deception and manipulation. It’s a game that is almost entirely about careful wording and hidden subtexts.

So why did it spread so fast?

Arguably because it answers one of life’s most fundamental questions. At its heart, perhaps inevitably for a game created by a psychology student who came of age under a regime that hushed up a massive nuclear disaster for more than 30 years, is the question of whether knowledge is power.

The only advantage the killers have is knowledge: they know each other’s identities. With that, they split the world into the empowered minority and the vulnerable majority. Balancing that dynamic is another strength: Werewolf resonance with some of the worst, but most universal, traits of human society. Every culture has had its witch-hunts and pogroms, and anxiety about being caught on the wrong side of persecution is a fear that crosses borders, languages and eras. Werewolf, in its abstract, trivial way, lets us play with those fears. That could have been the end of the story.

My biggest take out as a big fan of this game is that, I could reflect much about life; and how even in our daily encounter with families, clients, coworkers, customers; we apply politics, no matter how dirty society making the word seems, to survive the day. To be seen as a good person. To position ourselves on the best situation possible.

And if we are bold enough, it will bring us to go beyond that — to win life. And make the best advantage out of it.

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I remember winning the game, as a werewolf, as a witch, as a spy, even as a common villager. I remember not giving damn about who I was, but how can I be the best version of the identity I was given. A geeky snob I was. My grandiose highlight was when some 30 of us playing on New Year’s Eve, and only three of us left: me, another villager, and a werewolf, which was our president of Student Union in Uni (and by saying that I am meant to say if you ever had any prejudice about how a politician could be, it’s him), … and I beat him.

I beat the hell of our biggest politician in our circle and I was so proud of it.

In fact, I’m still proud of it.

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Rofianisa Nurdin

lingkaran's Happiness Expert / Community Manager, on which she (among other things) leads one of our program, CreativeMornings Jakarta, to highlight the bright individuals’ effort to make Jakarta a ...

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