The "Trading Game"

This summer, I worked in a small town on the Eastern shore of Virginia, leading mission trips for high school youth. One night, my staff team member Isaac and I decided to implement an activity called the "trading game." We gathered all the youth in the club room and had them randomly draw 5 beads out of a bag as they came in. We gave them a couple simple rules and let them begin to trade- a handshake seals the deal, one bead for one bead only, 2 beads of the same color means an extra point, etc. After a few minutes we had them stop, and showed them the chart revealing the point values of the different color beads- and had 3 groups- high, middle, low- depending on the range of points they had. They added their totals up- and we were met with both groans and cheers, depending on the category they fell in. We let them trade again. Now, keep in mind that no one had an obligation to trade. So now that they knew the point values, it was much tougher for the people who had either traded for low beads or had the misfortune to draw low value beads out of the bag in the first place. For the most part,  no one really wanted to trade with them. Even though they did trade, only a few were able to change their points significantly enough to move to a higher level group. Somehow, a couple kids ended up moving down a group. After that round was over, we had three distinct groups- those with high point beads, those with middle value beads, and those with the low point beads. Then it got fun. The lower point group was forced to sit in a blocked off section of the room- with literally no room to even sit. The middle group (the biggest group) just kinda hung out in the middle of the room, but the high group (which was also the smallest) was allowed to sit on the stage! Not only that, but the low point group had to serve them cookies...but weren't allowed to eat any themselves. We played another round of trading. Not only were the poor suckers in the back of the room forced to serve cookies and sit in a crappy area, but they really had no hope of trading or getting out of the back. One or two kindhearted students took pity and went to the back to trade beads with them. Round over. Everyone was getting pretty excited to see what crazy thing was going to happen next. Isaac took the high group out of the room and proceeds to tell them the rules of the next round are up to them. Literally, anything they wanted to implement, they could.
Some ideas they came up with:

  • everyone has to bow to us when they trade
  • we are allowed to trade with anyone without telling them what we will give them in return
  • any trade that we want to happen, even if its unfair, has to be complied with
  • no one is allowed to approach the stage to trade with us
  • the low group has to serve us snacks
  • we are the only ones who can talk 
  • etc...
and boy, were they pumped to make this happen.

I on the other hand, went to the lower group's area of exile and asked them what rules they would like me to propose to the high group. Their ideas were along the lines of 
  • everyone has to draw new beads
  • the point values of certain beads switching
  • let us come out of the back
I can't remember all of them , but essentially all their rules were to make everything fair, to make the playing field even. 
I took the ideas to the high group- and was met with laughs, sneers, "yeah rights" and  ideas on how to mock the rather lame rules the lower group had proposed. They rejected every idea that was proposed.

We brought all the kids back in the room, had them sit down, and told them we weren't going to play the last round with the new rules.

We began to talk about the game. Asking people how they felt, if they enjoyed it etc. The answers were as you would expect. The lower group hated it, the middle group was rather indifferent, and the high group loved it. We had one or two students who didn't like the power hungry attitude of the high group, and who had intentionally traded themselves into the lower group. They seemed highly disturbed by the whole thing, and didn't care for the game at all.

We then began to talk to them about why we played this game. You see, this wasn't a game about trading. This was the poverty game. This is the game played in our world every day. Once you realize this, once it began to dawn on the kids that the "groups" represented the poor, the middle class, and the rich...everyone got really quiet. The atmosphere became quite heavy. We discussed the game some more. We asked if anyone had cheated, to be honest. A couple had. We talked about the parallels of this game to the real world- the unfairness, the way power had corrupted the high group, etc. 

The fact that No one controls the beads we draw.

We are handed beads. We don't have a choice. It's totally random. It's not because one person is better than the other. What we are born into is not a choice, it's not an earned's just life. So what makes us feel entitled to better things? To better treatment? 
I am a middle class white girl from the United States. I did NOTHING to earn that. 
so where did such a spirit of entitlement come from in this high group? ....unfortunately, that's how the "system" works. That is what power and money do to people. We lose perspective. Very few are like those couple of students who showed compassion, who gave it all up to befriend those who were cast a bad lot in the game. I so desire to be one of those. That is the cry and the prayer of my heart. That I would not turn a blind eye. That I would remember that anything and everything I have is only because of the Lord, not because of my own doing.