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Making Bunnies Game

Evolution, behavior and bunnies

I like to play and have fun. And I like to give my students the chance to learn through playing games that are engaging and capture important principles that they need to learn anyway. There are many simple games students can play to learn about principles in evolution and behavior like the prisoners dilemma game. But is it possible to capture the complexities of human existence and still have something you can play in the classroom in an hour or two? This game is my answer: players get to make bunnies, engage in parental and alloparental investment, create and disseminate culture, build alliances, and even go to war if they decide to. And this game is definitely fun. It's fun for the players, fun for the instructor, and everybody who participates can't help but learn about the challenges and tradeoffs in maximizing reproductive success, whether your a bunny or a human being.

The game works like this: Everybody chooses what sex they want to be, then player find mates and make bunnies (by naming them and drawing them on notecards). Bunnies need to be held by mom for 2 minutes, and held by somebody for a total of 5 minutes, otherwise they are subject to predation by a wolf that looks for vulnerable bunnies. As the clock ticks, the bunnies age. They get old enough to help hold other bunnies and eventually they get old enough to make bunnies (if they are female) or participate in war (if they are male). And as all of this is going on, players are simultaneously trying to maximize their reproductive success and spread their culture. Sounds chaotic? It is, and it's hard to predict what is going to happen in any given game.  We played the game in my Evolution, Ecology and Behavior class the week before Spring Break and here's what happened, what we discussed and how we analyzed the game.

After the game is over, players calculate the number of offspring and grandbunnies, as well as their overall reproductive success. Male payoffs are in red above, and females in blue.  You never really know what is going to happen when you play this game, but the times I've played it with classes and groups females often end up with higher reproductive success than males (it's possible for the RS of males and females to be different because bunnies as well as humans participate in reproduction). Males often have higher success in the first generation, but females more than make up for it in the next generation.

After the game is over, I ask those who played as males and females to form groups and answer some questions about the challenges and opportunities they encountered in the game. Then I ask them to give advice to future players of their (within game) sex. Here's what they say:

Males articulate the importance of mating in general (3) and also of not overlooking a specific class of potential mates: paper bunnies (4). Also, males point out the challenges of paternity certainty (5), the importance of not showing up empty handed to a potential mating opportunity (1).  They also advise forming alliances for war (2).

Females, on the other hand, advise to say no to war (5).  Like males, they recommend forming sex-specific coalitions (3), though these were often in practice for opposing war or shared care of offspring.  Females recommended to future female bunnies to mate as much as possible (1) and be careful who you trust with your offspring (2).  And they recommend to focus on grandchildren (4), a strategy that seemed to serve them well if we look at their RS relative to males.

Are you interested in trying out this game with your class or group? The link above will take you to a google docs page with more details about the game and how to play. Please feel free to comment or send me suggestions about what works, what doesn't and what could be more clear in the instructions.  Thanks to all my students and colleagues who have played, participated and contributed to making the making bunnies game so fun and engaging!

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