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Defecting by Accident - A Flaw Common to Analytical People

Related to: Rationalists Should Win, Why Our Kind Can't Cooperate, Can Humanism Match Religion's Output?, Humans Are Not Automatically Strategic, Paul Graham's "Why Nerds Are Unpopular"

The "Prisoner's Dilemma" refers to a game theory problem developed in the 1950's. Two prisoners are taken and interrogated separately. If either of them confesses and betrays the other person - "defecting" - they'll receive a reduced sentence, and their partner will get a greater sentence. However, if both defect, then they'll both receive higher sentences than if neither of them confessed.

This brings the prisoner to a strange problem. The best solution individually is to defect. But if both take the individually best solution, then they'll be worst off overall. This has wide ranging implications for international relations, negotiation, politics, and many other fields.

Members of LessWrong are incredibly smart people who tend to like game theory, and debate and explore and try to understand problems like this. But, does knowing game theory actually make you more effective in real life?

I think the answer is yes, with a caveat - you need the basic social skills to implement your game theory solution. The worst-case scenario in an interrogation would be to "defect by accident" - meaning that you'd just blurt out something stupidly because you didn't think it through before speaking. This might result in you and your partner both receiving higher sentences... a very bad situation. Game theory doesn't take over until basic skill conditions are met, so that you could actually execute any plan you come up with.

Video Games and 3 Things I Learned Playing Them

On Ideas

I used to play a ton of video games. Not like “a lot”of video games, I’m talking a shit ton of video games. Most of the times I played RPGs, (role-playing games, or games where you level up your character and otherwise make choices about their “development”) some, but not many, RTS’s (real time strategy, games where everything happens in real time and actions have to be constantly inputted and strategies revised on the fly. Command and Conquer anyone?) and a handful of just action/adventure games.

Note: This post is divided into two sections, first my story regarding video games and then what I learned from them, feel free to skip.

First I want to break some misconceptions about video games and gamers in general. For one they aren’t all fat, nerdy and awkward. In fact some of the coolest, chillest people I know play video games. A lot of them just do it to relax and escape, others just love to pour hours upon hours watching their characters advance. Some are “achievement whores” or gamers that spend all their time chasing numbers. Some are min-maxers, or people who through excel spreadsheets, repetitive testing and brainstorming determine what the “most effective” way to play the game is (something usually the developers only know unless they divulge a lot of information). Regardless in all these sub types I’ve met tons of people who are genuinely cool, laid-back individuals.

In almost all games I’ve played of every genre I’ve met people interested in different facets of the game. Some people like to focus more on the economy of the game and the ways the markets work. Some spend hours trying to make their character perfect, detailing every relevant piece of information and plugging it into various spreadsheets. Some focus almost solely on player-versus-player aspects and spend their time practicing in teams in order to outcompete. There is something for everybody.

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