By: Jessica Pu (Bugle Team)
You’ve just received a mysterious package from an obscure organization, along with a letter announcing that you’ve been shortlisted as a candidate for the Liar Game Tournament. You have no idea about what it is, but out of curiosity you open the package and find 1 million dollars. Confused, you find another letter informing you of an opponent who will try to take the 1 million from you and leave you in huge debt. Your opponent happens to be your favourite teacher from back in secondary school. What is your plan?
Hopefully your plan would be better than handing all the money over to your teacher for him/her to “keep safe in a bank”, but that’s exactly what the main character, Kanzaki Nao, chose to do. Call her your normal university student, but her vigilance is comparable to that of a young child; she trusts people too easily. When she finally discovers that her teacher has been deceiving her, Nao’s desperation leads to her asking for help from Akiyama, a con artist infamous for his deconstruction of a great corporation using clever frauds. Together, they begin the journey of taking back that 1 million, and going through the series of Liar Game Tournaments to come.
This isn’t your typical tournament comic; it’s full of psychological tension and meticulous trickery. Even better: it contains a constellation of social psychology elements. In the first tournament, Nao has already fallen prey to two principles of social influence: authority and liking. Research suggests that people tend to follow authorities’ suggestions (see Hofling et al, 1966, where nurses obeyed an unknown physician even though his instructions violated medical rules). This would explain why Nao instantly agreed when her teacher, an authority figure, suggested to help her “put both of their sums of money in a bank” to “eliminate any risk of stealing”. Similarly, liking also influences one’s decision making and certainly solidifies Nao’s trust in her teacher. Even so, Akiyama (who also holds a Psychology Master’s degree from the University of Tokyo) cleverly uses techniques of psychological influence (which I shouldn’t spoil) to help Nao win back her money. The list goes on in the next few tournaments, including the door-in-the-face technique (asking for a big favour, getting rejected, then asking for a smaller favour which is usually granted), reward and punishment (to recruit and consolidate allies), and reciprocity (a social obligation for individuals to repay in turn for what they’ve received, which is actually a result of Nao’s altruism).
Other than the exciting battle of wits, another interesting point in this comic is Nao’s altruism: the motivation to help purely for the benefit of others. Unlike her competitors, she strives for a utopian outcome, hoping to clear everyone’s debt in order for them to exit the game, even at the cost of increasing her own debt. Whether altruism exists is currently under great debate in the real world. Research on non-human primates and children have yielded positive results (see Hare & Kwetuenda, 2010 for Bonobos sharing food with others, and Warneken & Tomasello, 2007 for children providing help regardless of reward), but adult research has provided opposite results. So why do non-human primates and children demonstrate altruism while adults seem not to? Possibly because the former two lack empathy. Though it may be confusing at first thought, empathy towards people in need requires one to suffer negative experience and emotions (Decety, 2010). Since nobody likes to feel bad, adults tend to avoid helping devastated people because they’ve developed empathy. This discussion also brings us back to the title: is doubt empathy, and trust apathy?
In the beginning of this comic, upon seeing the blind trust that Nao confers in everyone, Akiyama told her that ‘trust is giving up on trying to understand others, while doubt is the essence of looking into another’s heart’. This struck me very hard because I believed that understandings are built on trust rather than doubt. However, upon further digesting Akiyama’s belief, I came to realize that it does make sense if you substitute ‘doubt’ with ‘curiosity’. Nao certainly took to his belief and fared much better at understanding her competitors’ psychological activities, and it became a continuing theme throughout the series. Perhaps the study of psychology has originated directly from doubt and curiosity about the emotional states of others, but I’ll leave that suggestion for you to ponder upon.
There are many more nuggets of thought in this comic, about power dominance, social hierarchies, group dynamics, etc. The list goes on. Personally, I got very excited when I noticed all these psychology-related elements, as they gave me a sense of familiarity and also added to the thrill of the tournaments. The only shortcoming is that the ending is a bit far-fetched, but nonetheless still creative. I would definitely recommend this series, even if you’ve never read (Japanese) comics before, because it will certainly open your view.
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