Week 1

Exploding Kittens Brings Out the Dark Side in People

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the game “Exploding Kittens”, it is essentially Russian Roulette, but played with cards and well, weirdly drawn kittens. I won’t go into the rules of the game in depth, but basically, there’s a deck of cards, and if you draw an “exploding kitten” card, you’re out for good. The catch is that everyone starts off with one diffuse card that they can put down once an exploding kitten is drawn. Also, if you draw the kitten card and you’re still in the game, you can pick where to place the card in the deck. There’s also a bunch of other types of cards where you can choose to steal someone’s cards, or see into the top three cards in the deck, etc. If you haven’t realized by now, sabotaging your opponents is basically the only way to win it.

Now, how does this even remotely tie into social psychology? Well, I never considered myself a competitive person. Quite frankly, I despise competition, both on a moral level and in the sense that I cannot be bothered to dedicate a significant amount of energy into winning some low-stakes, silly prize. Winning just for the sake of winning has absolutely never made sense to me. My friend group also consists of fairly non-competitive people, or at least I thought it did. Until Exploding Kittens came around.

The first few innocent, tentative card draws escalated into a horrifying “every man for himself” death match. I knocked out two people in a row after planting an exploding kitten on top of the deck, knowing that once that was drawn, the next player would be lulled into a false sense of security and BAM- there was one coming right after. Upon winning the game, I let out a truly alarming cackle that I didn’t think was possible to produce outside of a villain’s scene in a movie.

After the euphoric, drug-like high of winning wore off, I was left feeling perplexed. How did this game turn me into a nearly unrecognizable, bloodthirsty monster who wanted to obliterate all my friends’ hopes and dreams? Well, social psych gave me a pretty good answer. The power of the situation. When I read about the Liberman, Samuels, and Ross 2004 study, I began to understand that I wasn’t necessarily forever changed into a competitive demon who wanted to crush everyone in sight.

The whole purpose of a game like Exploding Kittens is to bring out the competitive side in people. The cards contain quirky little messages meant to goad people on. The rules are designed to encourage sabotage, even in the way that they are written. Even the most “cooperative” person can and will be swept up into it, and if they aren’t aware of the influence that the power of a situation can have, they may be even more intensely impacted by it.

If I hadn’t played the game myself, I am certain that I would’ve judged my friends incessantly, and maybe even thought that I didn’t know them well enough if I sincerely believed them to be cooperative, non-competitive humans. But I did play the game, felt the competitive, barbarous switches click in my brain in real-time. Had I not read about the power of the situation, I may have had a full-blown identity crisis. However, I now understand how something as simple as a game can truly “change” a person, or at the very least how they act. “Crazy” things happening like the events in Jonestown seem much less crazy, and I am very intrigued by the extent to which people can be swept up in the power of a situation.