Games People Play – Introduction [FP]

Sorry that this is later in posting than planned.  Between this becoming a longer than anticipated labor in writing and with a bit of vacation interjected, too much time has passed.  So, onward…

Whether we realize it or not, people play games.  I’m not talking here of Whist, Scrabble©, Settlers of Catan© or Flag Football and certainly not some version of Solitaire.  I’m referring to the “games” people play all the time.  You’ve recognized them upon occasion when you’ve said under your breath, “I wish __________ (fill in the blank) wouldn’t play games when we’re dealing with that issue.”  While the “game playing” is more apparent and irritating then, our understanding of what is meant by a “game” is clouded enough that we miss recognizing all the other situations where one is occurring.   We need some definition.

The reasonably unworkable definition (for us average folks): “A game is an interdependent decision situation, whose outcome depends on the choices of all the players.  It is described by rules of play”  (Game Theory and the Humanities, Brams, 2011).  Okay, so in plain English this describes a group of two or more people in a situation where a decision needs to be made, and is also accompanied by their various strategies.  Classic “games” are those of Chicken and Prisoner’s Dilemma.  This definition is great for the academic field of Game Theory and its applications to their everyday coffee table discussions about decision analysis, corporate and international negotiations, and economic issues like currency speculation (which are “games” very few people like to play).

A good but simple exposure to Game Theory application appeared in the movie A Beautiful Mind, the story of mathematician John Nash who won the Nobel Prize for his contributions to the field.  The director and writers pulled their hair out trying to find a way to visualize adequately some simple Game Theory concepts.  They picked a bar scene.

Unfortunately, most people (particularly the academicians) don’t realize that aspects of Game Theory apply to everyday situations such as, “Would you like to have a window table tonight, sir, or a table in the back?” and “If you don’t stop tapping your feet you’re going to your room with no dessert!”

Often there are situations in which there is no recognizable decision to be made, or strategies are changed without knowing it. So, to cover those more interesting (and common) occasions, I offer the following workable, generic definition for Fundamental Principle 4:

Game: the rules a person applies to determine his or her behavior when interacting with another person (even if no decision is apparent).

Yes, this is a really broad definition: no narrowing of the field of application to either entertainment or amusement (competitive games which nearly everyone likes to play).

I’m going to go out on a limb here, but it seems in my experience to be a pretty strong limb to support such a thesis.  Unless we are hermits on a mountaintop, we interact with other people and the rules we use to determine our behavior in interacting with them can be simplified, I suggest, into three general categories.  Far too often these are the “games” we choose to play (whether consciously or unconsciously) or find we are in the midst of having them played on us.  The game categories I propose are Zero Sum  (0∑), Negative Sum (-∑), and Positive Sum (+∑), and next blog I will begin to go into them in more detail.

So, what “game” do you think is your preferred one?


About Jim Edmonds

I am a husband, father, mentor, who once was a chemist turned physicist turned marketer turned executive turned missionary turned professor. And survived it all.
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3 Responses to Games People Play – Introduction [FP]

  1. Christy says:

    Wonderful post! I am looking forward to hearing the rest of your thoughts on Games.


    • jwedmonds says:

      Thank you, Christy. They should come a bit faster now, no travel planned for a while. Thanks for keeping in touch, and let me know if you’ve got any “requests.” They might be in the works anyway, but then we could start another thread…


  2. Sue-Ellen says:

    I am challenged by your questions at the end … makes me try to unwrap habits and see them in the light of conscious thought.


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