Unleashing the Competitive Urge: How Role-Playing Can Enhance Understanding of the Rise of Organized Crime in Societies in Transition

16 Pages Posted: 4 Feb 2013 Last revised: 7 Feb 2013

Date Written: February 3, 2013


In most simulations and role-playing games used in the Political Science classroom, an effort is made to temper the competitive urge of the students so they do not develop a "game mentality" and focus on winning the game rather than on playing their roles. There are circumstances, however, where unbridled competition is the key to the success of a role-playing exercise as a teaching tool. This paper reports on one such exercise: a "krysha" game designed to help explain the rise of organized crime in post-Communist transitional societies ("krysha" is the Russian term, meaning "roof" in English, that is used to designate the organization, usually criminal in nature, that provides protection for a business to operate).

To help students understand the logic of the rise of organized crime in transition societies, the krysha game features businessmen (who must make a profit or at least break even to survive), consumers (who want to acquire as many goods as cheaply as possible), "security" agencies (which offer protection to both businesses and consumers to facilitate transactions) and police (who provide some rule enforcement, but who are also venal thanks to their pitiful pay). Rules do not specify behavior; just the opposite, the rules state that any action is allowed unless it is expressly forbidden. The sole object for each player is to achieve as much wealth as possible.

Two runs of the krysha game, with different students participating, followed somewhat divergent paths, but yielded results that were ultimately comparable. In the first run, just over 30% of the economic product was diverted into criminal or corrupt hands; just under 30% in the second. Each run featured various acts of mayhem, including theft and murder. These outcomes were plausible and consistent with scholarly analyses of the percentage of economic product diverted into criminal and corrupt hands in post-Communist transitional societies. Surveys conducted of the participants after each run showed that the top motivation for behavior was the desire to win the game (acquire wealth) and individuals paid for protection because they thought it would help them win (gain wealth) and also because it was the only way they could see to conduct transactions – findings that conform to real-life explanations of why protection rackets have prospered in post-Communist transition societies.

Suggested Citation

Goodman, Andrew L.A., Unleashing the Competitive Urge: How Role-Playing Can Enhance Understanding of the Rise of Organized Crime in Societies in Transition (February 3, 2013). APSA 2013 Teaching and Learning Conference Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2211194 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2211194

Andrew L.A. Goodman (Contact Author)

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