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Golden Balls

There is British Game show called “Golden Balls” that employs the prisoner’s dilemma.  The game begins with four contestants, and over the course of the first two rounds, two contestants are eliminated, and a jackpot amount of money is compiled.  The final round is where the excitement happens.  The premise is simple.  There is a set amount of money that is up for grabs.  Each player is given two balls, one with the word steal in it, and one with the word split in it.  If both players pick split, they each go home with half of the jackpot amount.  If they both pick steal, they both go home with nothing.  If one picks steal and the other picks split, the one who picked steal goes home with all of the money, and the one who picked split goes home with nothing.  The four possible outcomes are outlined in the table that follows.  After the host explains the different choices each participant has, the competitors have a chance to talk for a while.

The interesting part of this game is seeing how the prisoner’s dilemma plays out when put into practice.  Although the dominant strategy for each player would be to steal (since if the other player splits, they would like to steal, and if the other person steals, both split and steal would give them the same amount), and there isn’t too much reason for a participant to split, in theory, many times there ends up being a split.  This shows how talking about something in theory, and seeing it in practice, is an entirely different ballgame.  There are many factors that come into games such as this, like people’s sympathies and specific moral compasses.  The reason people split is usually because of the conversations that preceded the decision.  Most people’s tactic is to try to convince their opponent to trust that they are going to split the money.  After this, some people actually follow through on their word and split, while others turn around and steal the money.  There are many instances of the game being played out on YouTube and in the particular game that I have chosen to show, the participant on the right employs a very interesting tactic.  I won’t spoil it, so you’ll have to see for yourself.


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September 2014