Are New Zealanders innately Nice?
How a group of Kiwi teenagers defied the Greed game
15 July 2019
I love playing the Greed game with teenagers.
The idea is simple. I invite ten volunteers on to the stage, having offered them a chance to win a share of £50 that I have taken from my pocket. I tell them that whoever writes down the biggest whole number greater than zero will win the prize.
But there's a catch: the prize is calculated by dividing £50 by the highest number. So if the biggest number picked by one of the students is 2, their prize will be £25. A biggest number of 10 earns the winner only £5. And in the case of a tie, the winners share the prize*.
I allow the contestants to discuss tactics with each other, but I instruct them not to reveal to anyone else the number that they write down.
Most groups quickly spot that if they all write down the number 1, they will end up sharing the £50 prize, and get £5 each. But while a 'leader' will often persuade a few, there are invariably a couple who stand aside and don't enter the conversation. Sure enough, there's usually at least one player who writes down a large number - 20?, 1,000? 69? (tee hee) - in the practice round in which no money is at stake. Once trust has been broken in this way, it's typical for several players to play high numbers in the actual game, and it only takes one attention-seeking individual to write down a big number - one billion (prize <1p) is typical - to ruin it for everyone . In the dozens of times that I've played the game, I've never given away more than £5.
Except for the time I was in Auckland, New Zealand.
My ten volunteers clustered together and as usual I heard discussion of writing down '1'. When I asked them to reveal their numbers, I was a bit surprised to see that they had all been true to their word and written 1. But I was confident that when it came to the real thing, somebody would break ranks and look to grab a bigger prize. "This time we are playing for $50," I announced. And then they revealed their numbers in turn: One...one...one....one...one.... A complete set of ones for the second time. I quickly had to scrabble around with teachers to break my $50 note into ten lots of $5.
Is it a coincidence that it was New Zealanders that walked away with the full prize? Or is there something in Kiwi culture that is innately generous and collaborative? After seeing the sporting way in which the New Zealand team played the recent Cricket World Cup, and the dignified way in which they took a cruel defeat, I begin to think that there maybe really is something rather special about New Zealanders.
* Unlike in the cricket world cup, where we now know ties are not allowed.