Tags: crime/law/deviance, methodology/statistics, theory, fiction, game theory, mathematical sociology, prisoner's dilemma, rational choice theory, 00 to 05 mins
Year: 2012; 2008
Length: 2:59; 4:52
Access: clip 1; clip 2
Summary: In sociology, game theory is often deployed by those working from a rational choice theoretical perspective. As such, it is primarily concerned with the rational and strategic interactions between agents and has been applied to analyzing a broad range of situations, from criminal confessions to the stockpiling of nuclear arms. One insight upon which the theory is based is that while a given course of action may appear to be most rational or beneficial from the perspective of a single actor, the action may be less beneficial when considering the possible actions taken by other actors. The first clip examines the prisoner's dilemma as the paradigmatic example of game theory. Police bring two suspects, Xavier and Yoshi, to the police station and place each in a different room. The police then present each suspect with their dilemma: a) If one confesses and turns on the other, the confessor will go free and the other will get 10 years in prison; b) if they both confess, each gets 8 years in prison; and c) if neither confess, they will each spend only a month in prison on a lesser charge. The suspects have a choice between cooperation and defection, and as the clip explains, given that neither suspect is able to coordinate with the other, each will likely turn on the other as the most rational course of action. A second illustration (i.e., clip 2) of this type of dilemma, or "game," comes from the 2008 film The Dark Knight. In this clip Batman's nemesis, the Joker, attaches explosives to two ferries. On each ferry is the detonator capable of blowing up the other ferry, and the occupants of each ferry are told the only way they can assure their survival is to be the first to press the detonator. One may deem this comic book scenario to be too far fetched, and the situation presented to the prisoners may be dismissed as an inaccurate model of law enforcement practices; however, I think game theory continues to enjoy surges in popularity precisely because it is readily applicable to such a broad range of social situations. In his 2004 novel, Forty Signs of Rain, Kim Stanley Robinson creates a character who endures a frustrating commute to work in Washington D.C. and applies game theory to make sense of his misery, "In traffic, at work, in relationships of every kind—social life was nothing but a series of prisoners' dilemmas. Compete or cooperate? Be selfish or generous?....By and large Beltway drivers were defectors."
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
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