Interview with Dan Ariely About the Irrational Card Game

Some games are designed to be puzzle-like or to mimic war or to be just plain silly, but all games teach us things. Games can show us simple mechanics like resource allocation, risk management, odds calculating, and more. Dan Ariely has designed his Irrational Card Game to teach us about the complex world of social science.  Dan Ariely is a psychology and behavioral economics professor at Duke University, author, and TED speaker.

Here’s how the game works:

social 2
Image Credit: Irrational Ventures/Kickstarter

Each card has a question about a situation that you will have multiple choice answers to. If you answer correctly you may have the option to answer a second question to gain a power card. Power cards let you do things like keep your point even if you missed the answer, skip a question and get a new one, or steal a card from your opponent. The cards are brilliantly illustrated by Miki Mottes.


The game itself reminds me a little of games like Timeline or Terra. Once you know the answer by heart the game loses something. So why is this game important? Well our interview with Dan shed some light on how Irrational Card Game can do more than just be another quiz game.

Jess: Hi Dan! Thanks so much for taking some time to chat. Could you tell me what inspired you to create Irrational Card Game?
Dan: I always admired how physics can be applied to new situations. You think about the ball rolling down the hill and you have to calculate where it will stop or all kinds of other things. Physics gives you the tool. I always thought that social science is the same thing. It gives you tools to analyze the forces that drive our behavior and then to try to predict what will happen in a new situation. Certainly not with the same precision as physics, but it helps you as well.  The game was an approach to saying social science is not about memorizing facts. Its about getting enough inside so that we can predict what some behaviors would look like. This really is what the game is all about. Its about taking a new situation, that people haven’t seen and trying to understand or predict what will happen in that situation. So that’s kind of what inspired the game.

Jess: How do you see players interacting with the game? (as fun play and/or as an educational tool or something else?)

Dan: The initial objective the game is to predict what will happen. There is a correct and an incorrect answer., but the way we really want people to interact with the game is not just to say what’s a correct answer but also to think about what it means.  Social sciences is not just about the particular situation. You know if you say this is what happened to people in this situation in the bar and this is what happened in this situation where people have to allocate money to each other, its not just about that situation. It tells you something more general about human behavior.

So image we had the cards and they were not games but something where people would just look at cards for themselves. Its like reading it like facts. We want to do it as a game, because we want people to say “Hey, you now, look at these facts. This is the kind of mistake I’ve made and this is the kind of mistake I’ve seen you make. This is how we might be able to overcome it.” So I’m hoping that the game is not just going to be about the facts, but going to be about the implication of these ideas and what would you do with it in your daily life if you were trying to make your life or the life of others better.

Jess: When designing the game, what sort of research did you do? 

Dan: The game came out of lots of teaching; not so much about the game specifically. I’ve been teaching for many, many years. I do lots of talks, I try to get students to think, and I’m trying to figure out what gets people to be the most excited about integrating the material; both in terms of remembering, understanding what it means, and how to apply it. Over the years I’ve asked people questions that are very like the cards we  are creating. So the card is not coming out of research about the card game, but it comes out of research of trying to teach people and doing workshops trying to get people to understand this material and its implications.

Jess: What was your favorite part of game creation?

Dan: Well, I like all of it, but I really love the way that the graphics makes the game come alive. For me at least, this was an extra surprise. I know the material. I’ve talked about. I teach. And so on. That part was not so much a mystery, but the way that the graphics made it really come to life was just delightful.

Jess: What kind of games appeal to you? What would you say is your favorite board game?

Dan: The kind of games that appeal to me are not just about what is happening on the board, but what is happening in a discussion between people. I’m old so I used to love Risk as a game. I used to love it because it is a very long game. It takes a long time and during that time you get a chance to have discussions with people. I’m guessing its really the golf of games for people who like board games. Maybe that’s what risk is about. It’s a long game but it gives you a chance to have lots of discussions while you’re playing.

Jess: Are you planning any more games for the future?

Dan: You know, I haven’t really thought about it. I think Omar and I thought we would do this game and see how it would work. When we finish this we will decide if to do another one, but so far I’m really quite excited with were doing and looking forward to it. Maybe we’ll do more.

Thanks Dan! It’s really cool to get an inside look on how a game like this is created.

Dan’s game was successfully Kickstarted recently and is now open for pre-orders until December 31st. You can head on over to his website to get yourself a copy for $24.00.

How do you think games like this affect us? What are your favorite educational games? What makes them fun? let us know in the comments below!


One thought on “Interview with Dan Ariely About the Irrational Card Game

  • February 1, 2017 at 10:17 am

    Hi Jessica,
    I am writing to you because I really enjoyed reading the inciting article you wrote about my kickstarter campaign for “The Irrational Game” when it was live on kickstarter. It has now been over a year since the campaign ended and we’ve had a great post-campaign journey learning the ins and outs of the manufacturing process and customer feedback following the release of the game. I think that the process, after the kickstarter campaign ends, is equally important and maybe even more interesting to write about, and so I was wondering if you’d like to do a follow up piece to the article you already wrote, except this time as more of an “after math” piece.
    Thank you for your consideration and let me know how if this is something you’d be interested in, feel free to browse our website
    Irrationally yours,
    Dan Ariely


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