Rationality Taboo, The Gamepost by Screwtape · 2023-03-21T00:56:51.483Z · LW · GW · None comments
Summary: Taboo is a game about communicating despite barriers, and Rationality Taboo The Game plays that game with popular concepts in the rationality community.
Tags: Medium, Repeatable
Purpose: The skill of Rationality Taboo is in being able to describe a concept without use of that word or any of its short synonyms. It is sometimes used to avoid arguments over definition, where two sides of a dispute are using a word differently. (“If a tree falls in a forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?” “What do you mean by ‘sound’ exactly?”) This game aims to train that skill, but it's also a big pile full of rationality in-jokes and memes.
Materials: You need a big stack of cards. Each card needs a word and a list of associated words. The suggested list is here. Alternately, you can use the digital version located here. (Note: The digital version is a bit bare-bones at the time of this writing.)
Announcement Text: The skill of Rationality Taboo is in being able to describe a concept without use of that word or any of its short synonyms. It is sometimes used to avoid arguments over definition, where two sides of a dispute are using a word differently. (“If a tree falls in a forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?” “What do you mean by ‘sound’ exactly?”) This skill got its name from the game “Taboo” which does exactly that, with a list of common words and their obvious substitutions. The game of Rationality Taboo is played with slight variations and with less common words. How do you explain “Bayesian Update” without saying “Prior” or “Probable” or “Change”?
Description: Explain the following rules to the audience
“Each of these cards has a target word, called a Guess Word, at the top. Each of the cards also has a list of five Taboo Words, below. The object of the game is to get the audience to say the Guess Word out loud.
We’ll rotate who the Clue Giver is. When it’s their turn, the Clue Giver tries to get the audience to say the Guess Word. Meanwhile, the person to the left of the Clue Giver is the Censor, and looks over the Clue Giver’s shoulder to make sure none of the Guess Words or Taboo Words get said by the Clue Giver. That includes sub words, acronyms, and different conjugations- if a banned word was “Payment” then “Pay” is off limits, if a banned word was “Ran” then “Run” is also off limits, if a banned word was “Doctor” then “MD” cannot be used. Apart from that, synonyms are encouraged!
The Clue Giver will have thirty seconds to get as many guessed words as they can. When a word is guessed correctly, they remove it from the deck and put it in front of them. At any point they can skip a word, putting it on the bottom of the deck. When they’re out of time, stop the timer and the Clue Giver passes the deck to their right, becoming the new Censor.
Play continues until everyone has been the Clue Giver at least once.”
Notes: This is easy to customize to your audience. Making a deck of just philosophy concepts or just biology terms can be fun. You will want lots of cards. No, more cards than that. At least a hundred, probably more.
You might notice that these rules are a little different than the default. The official version of Taboo suggests having two teams, alternating which side is trying to guess. I’ve never liked that, since it means about half of the group is sitting around not doing much other than heckling at any given time. In this version, everyone except the Censor is actively working together to get as many cards guessed as they collectively can, and each individual would like to get as many cards as they personally can. If you prefer the official rules, go ahead and use them!
Credits: Inspiration is mostly owed to the actual Taboo game and Eliezer Yudkowsky’s blog Taboo Your Words [LW · GW] post. Jim Babcock’s Cards Against Rationality [LW · GW] provided many card titles. The digital version of this was created by Julius S.
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