The Hobbes Game – FUN FUN FUN Game for Social Studies Classes

How did man “get along” before government?  What came first, government or man?  Will we every know?!


In much the same way that “atom smashers” collide atoms so they can see how the subatomic particles interact with each other (to see what the early universe may have acted like), we can “smash society” to see how people may have acted before government and society were established.

Thomas Hobbes theorized that before man created government (or living along with us in the here and now) was a state he found himself in called “the state of nature.”  In this state, there were no agreed upon laws.  In this state, we all have 100% of our rights, but so does everyone else.  Where our Rights overlap, conflict occurred.  But this conflict could not be resolved by our “common judge” because there wasn’t one.  Man reserved every Natural Right for himself, but only as far as he could protect those Natural Rights with wile or force.  Hobbes stated that the state of nature was a “war of all against all” and life in the state of nature was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”.  The following is a way to give your students a taste of the STATE OF NATURE without actually having them kill each other.

This game can be used in any situation where the fabric of society has broken down (French Revolution, Riots, Political Theory of Government, new colony on Mars, etc)

Hobbes’ “State of Nature Game” or “Articles of Confederation” game


This game is meant to reflect Thomas Hobbes’ “state of nature” or the condition between the states under the Articles of Confederation.  In either situation we have a chaotic mass of individual players who would be better off if they cooperated, but do not live in a situation in which they can be compelled to cooperate with one another.


To begin:

  1. All students need to have a clean sheet of paper on their desk and something to write with.

  2. On board write a T chart.  The left side of the T chart will be titled “points” and the right side of the T chart will be titled “people”.

  3. Underneath the left (under points) write 1 and then below that 3.

  4. Underneath the right (under people) write “all” and then below that 4.

  5. It should look like this

Points| People

                                                     1  |   all

     3  |   8

 *{8  |   3}

Game rules:

  1. Students are to write down either 1 point or 3 points.  These points will be added to their next or last quiz.  There will be 6 rounds and the points will accumulate so that they cannot lose any points they’ve already won.  The teacher will need to keep track of each individuals point totals.

  2. If “all” students write down 1 point then everyone gets 1 point added to their next or last quiz.  Students may write down 3 points, but only 4 or fewer students can claim the 3 points.

  3. If more than 4 students claim 3 points then everyone loses all of their points for that round (even the people who only wrote down 1).  Points already won in previous rounds cannot be taken away, but points in the present round being played can be lost.

  4. There will be six rounds.  The first two rounds the students cannot talk to each other at all.  The next two rounds they can only speak to people within one seat of them.  The final two rounds they can speak to anyone anywhere in the room.

  5. Each round the two numbers on the left and the bottom number on the right will change.  Depending on how successful the class is I will often entice or bait the more aggressive players by making the points on the left higher and higher.  There should be a large difference between the lower numbers and the larger numbers so that the kids who cooperate will feel a sort of injustice when the more aggressive kids start racking up the big totals.  Often times, the quieter kids get mad and try to overthrow the louder kids.  *I often add another layer of numbers to complicate the game if the class is cooperating too much.

  6. There is a secret 7th round where the class will elect to kick out 4 kids.  A larger odd number like 87 will be written on the board.   If the class can allocate the total number of points amongst themselves then they get those points.  If they are even one point above or below the total then the four who were kicked out will receive the 87 points to be divided amongst them.

Additional Notes:

  1. When the leaders of the class start speaking up I, as the “god” of the state of nature, will ask the other kids “Who made him/her the leader?”  or “Did you appoint yourself the king of the classroom?” or “I though we lived in a democracy?”

  2. I try to get the class to disagree as much as possible.  Remember, I am the state of nature.  I’m here to make things difficult on this nascent government.

  3. I give updates of point totals.  Usually there are have’s and have not’s.  Being reminded of not having any points makes cooperating difficult.

    State of Nature 1

In the end, there are several embedded lessons in an activity like this: Who gets what? Why should they get it?  Isn’t it better for the students to hand power over to a central authority and have that authority equally divide the points?  Shouldn’t that central authority also get some points…maybe more?  Is there really a legitimate form of government?  How do we define “RIGHTS” within a chaotic state like this?

About Thrasymachus

2013 Northwest ISD teacher of the year, Humanities Texas 2012 Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award, and 2011 Outstanding Educator of North Texas Award (North Central Texas College). I'm currently a Regional Digital Learning Consultant with the Education Service Center Region 11 in Ft. Worth, Texas and a college government educator who incorporates philosophy, technology & humor. A student through and through, I walk with my students in their learning. Most importantly, I'm blessed with the 3 most perfect kids eva! I love on them ery day!!!
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19 Responses to The Hobbes Game – FUN FUN FUN Game for Social Studies Classes

  1. e malachi howley says:

    Fun game – very simple but with the potential for some great discussion. I plan to use this and maybe make a version of the game for Locke, Montesquieu and other state of nature philosophers.

  2. e malachi howley says:

    The Locke version worked well. I used the same basic premise with teams and different rules on communication. Everyone worked towards a mystery goal (i.e. “civil society”) that was revealed in stages. If civil society was reached, EVERYone get bonus credit.

    One problem with the Hobbes game – in the secret 7th round, the ONLY ones to get kicked out of the room were the generally talkative, active kids. It’s early in the semester and its a large class with a lot of free-riders, so maybe they were just voted out b/c they were known to the class. But it might have also been based in resentment. Either way, a few of them were pretty quiet the next class and I’m hoping that I haven’t discouraged them. It’s worth another try in a class that’s more familiar and later in the semester.

    • Thrasymachus says:

      Those boisterous ones being kicked out isn’t really a problem if you bring up Hobbes conception of power. Power isn’t necessarily I the hands of the sovereign, it can be I the hands of the mad mob. Thus the need for Natural Right and Natural Law. It can also lead to a deep discussion on Plato’s conception of Justice and his kicking out of artists in the Republic.

      Fake injustice in a game can lead to a real discussion of Justice.

      Glad to hear that you’ve tried the game! Good times 🙂

  3. Mopati Morake says:

    This game worked very well in my class this morning! Thank you for sharing. I secretly recorded a few of the more heated “state of nature-esque” discussions to show them the next class. Then have them reflect on their experience of the game.

  4. katherineajackson says:

    Hi there. Thanks for this! How do you keep track of the points? Do you publicly announce it after each round so everyone knows who is racking up more points?

    • Thrasymachus says:

      Believe it or not… the kids are so competitive that they either keep track themselves or they flaunt their point totals… this ends up hurting them later in the game 🙂

  5. Joseph Frech says:

    Is there a video of this class discussion / quiz somewhere online? I would like to see it in action.

    • Joseph Frech says:

      I guess I don’t exactly understand how this plays out. I understand the rules and what I write on the board, but I don’t understand what the students are doing. Are they answering questions or how are they accumulating points?

      • Carly Anne says:

        Yes, I am confused as well!

      • Thrasymachus says:

        Students treat the points written in the board as a resource… they choose to write down (secretly) on a small piece of paper whether they want one point or two… that’s it. If too many write down the larger number then they all get nothing…. it’s something like “the prisoners dilemma”. Please let me know if that doesn’t make sense.

  6. Tessa says:

    Hi, I just came across this and it sounds great! Do you have any indication how many students you need for a minimum? I’m looking for an activity for a group of 6 students (about 15 yrs old) (if they all show up), so I’m wondering if it will still work.. But I will remember this game for the future if I won’t use it!

  7. Melissa Markham says:

    I did this and it was BRILLIANT!!! I couldn’t believe how cutthroat the students became! They would all agree on a plan such as exactly who would get the extra points (in the later rounds when they could talk) and I would play the devil’s advocate, asking the others why they were okay with certain people getting extra points and not them. They stabbed each other in the back every time! It led beautifully into our discussion of Hobbes. In the past, class discussions had always been fluffy: “Hobbes is wrong! People are naturally good.” ad nauseum This was such a good example of how that’s not necessarily true.
    Another semester, one student refused to accept extra credit because she didn’t want to gain at someone else’s expense. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with that!
    I’m brainstorming how I could use this same type of idea for an online class. Any ideas??

  8. Pingback: The Hobbes Game – FUN FUN FUN Game for Social Studies Classes | Thrasymakos

  9. Mike D says:

    I have been using this game the past two years in a constitutional law camp I teach. It is fun and sparks discussion. I have been using candy as the “points”. They all start with 6 pieces on their desk and then inevitably lose it all. Then some will get some as I move the points around. It is an interesting object lesson in the state of nature.

  10. Norah says:

    I teach AP Gov and just happened upon this when I was looking for something fun to do with Hobbes. Played it twice today had totally different outcomes but the students loved it! Then when we debriefed they got so many concepts out of it.
    Thank you !

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