Game theory games, in theory
August 14, 2009 3:00 AM   Subscribe

I'm currently reading a book on game theory ("Rock Paper Scissors" by Len Fisher), and am considering putting together a series of a few quick games/demonstrations for when it's my turn to do a weekly motivational/informative session at work. Any ideas? Prisoner's Dilemma, Free Rider, Chicken, etc.

There's about a 15-minute time limit, and I'd like the games to be easily presented and executed, and have an obvious application to their everyday lives in and out of work.

We have about 20 people, and ideally I'd separate them into small groups for one or two games, and individual for others.

One possibility is the one where separated groups have to independently plan when and where to meet in a city. Another is something along the lines of the doughnuts in the office, which I think was used in Freakonomics.

And we usually dole out small prizes at the end, so if there are any other ways to determine who wins them (whether it's cumulative of all the games, or a separate contest at the end just for the prizes), that'd be helpful too.

And if you've participated in a memorable game theory game that may be too complex or elaborate for this purpose, I'd still like to hear it. Thanks.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Nothing poisons the water cooler like a good dollar auction.
posted by themel at 3:29 AM on August 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

I really like the idea of the dollar auction (of which I'd never heard before).

I find that shit constantly in business. People routinely stick with an untenable solution simply because they've invested time and effort in it already.
posted by Netzapper at 3:49 AM on August 14, 2009

Have you considered a version of the Chain store paradox?

This is great because its easy to understand, has a kind of real world scenario attached to it, but it also shows the limits of game theoretic reasoning.
posted by munchbunch at 4:02 AM on August 14, 2009

You can replicate this thing they did at Stanford where they had two separated groups play the same game with all the same incentives, with one group being told the game was called the "Community Game", and the other being told it was the "Wall Street" game. Guess how the respective rates of cooperation turn out. I think this should work with any game with the basic prisoner's dilemma structure of incentives.
posted by Beardman at 7:11 AM on August 14, 2009

I teach game theory in intro to econ.

I start by doing a Prisoner's Dilemma by pairing off the class. In the first game everyone knows the other player and let them coordinate then make them go to other sides of the room so they can defect. I then tell everyone we are playing the game again (after we talk through the results), but this time they will be randomly assigned to their opponet after they choose their strategy, so you don't know who you are playing and you can't coordinate.

What's great is after I collect their choice, I tell them 'should I read everyones strategy outloud?"

We demonstrate
1. It matters if you know the person you are playing
2. It matters if you tell who played who

I think the ultimatum game would work well too. You might instruct to some dictators they have to make different offers. You can show people will reject low offers even if it is in their interest.

Play for M&Ms in everygame or something else small people will like. My students play for bonus points
posted by akabobo at 7:14 AM on August 14, 2009

Seconding the ultimatum game. I think it's good to have some of the other games first, and then the ultimatum game, to show the limitations of game theory.
posted by jasonhong at 8:35 AM on August 14, 2009

I've played Mastermind as a Game theory game.
posted by N2O1138 at 9:29 AM on August 14, 2009

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