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Prisoner’s Dilemma added to the idea list

This is the 2nd idea I’m adding to the Ideas I’m Mulling file, because it has been with me for a while and continues to be a thing I like to mull. As I mention in the ideas file:

I love everything about prisoner’s dilemma (wikipedia) because it is a way to think about collaboration and competition directly, and to even experiment with different ideas to test their practicality in different kinds of situations. It’s a little difficult to fully get at first, but then incredibly rich once you do. I’ve held 3 prisoner’s dilemma tournaments the last couple years. The twist on the other games is that in my tournaments people decide on strategies within 3 teams, and so the “dilemma” takes a few different forms: the strategy you have against people on other teams, the strategy your team has against other teams, and the strategy you have within your own team. It has led to some really interesting results that I’m still trying to fully understand. It’s a set of questions and ideas that my brain seems to return to when it has a little spare time between other projects.

I added links to the Facebook groups I ran the tournament through, as well as the results from each of the tournaments, and some rudimentary analysis about what the results mean.

Each tournament has taught me something surprising, but after the third tournament I think it’s becoming clearer to me exactly why this dilemma is so interesting. I’ve started a blog post about it maybe half a dozen times trying to articulate it, and so far have failed to really capture it in words. And so the idea continues to mull.

By far the most time-consuming part of these tournaments is implementing all of the strategies in code that I can then use to run each round. The game works in a round-robin fashion, where each strategy on a team interacts 100 times with every strategy on the other teams (they don’t play against people on their own team). This last time I also ended up sharing some of the tools I’ve created to automate the game. Turns out defining open-ended strategies in code is its own little fun challenge. I have the beginning of a V2 of these tools for the next tournament, which includes describing the strategies as configuration instead of as code, with the hopes that they are easier for more people to write and contribute to. I hope to be able to continue that and share it before the next tournament starts.

This idea is blagenflorble (whole and broken at the same time) because no matter how perfect your prisoner’s dilemma strategy is, there is always a way to exploit it if someone wants to. So, part of the strategery of this game involves A) making it difficult for people to know what it is, and/or B) developing a strategy that convinces people not to exploit you. But no matter what, these are moving targets, and every strategy is whole and broken at the same time.

It’s brackish (like a river that flows both ways) because every interaction is both the result of past actions by others, and the information that others will use to inform their future interactions with you.

I don’t know if all of my ideas on this list will be blagenflorble, brackish, and somewhat connected to the parable of the sower, but I guess I’ll find out as I go.

See the idea list as it was when this article was published, and as it is now.



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Buster Benson

Principal Product Mgr: @Medium. Author: “Why Are We Yelling? The Art of Productive Disagreement”. Notetaker: Builder: