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“To have sex, or not, that is the question” and Game Theory

    Game theory is about the way humans make decisions and strategize. It’s a fundamental part of human interaction and processing simple to complex problems. And I wondered about the presence of game theory in literature because I feel that science is a great way to learn and analyze and pull out different parts to understand a part of a whole; however, literature and the humanities are more broad and mysterious in the way knowledge is transferred, including the emotional experience of being human. I came across Steven J. Brams’ book, Game Theory and the Humanities Bridging Two Worlds, published in 2011 by MIT Press. Below are the links to Brams’ hour long talk about examples of game theory and the humanities from his book on YouTube, and a preview of his book available at MIT Press. I specifically chose the ones that reveal the relational emotional impact that decision making has on our lives. Here is an exploration of the emotional impact of game theory on our lives.

   Couple examples from Brams’ are: The Gift of the Magi, and Lysistrata. In O. Henry’s short story, “The Gift of the Magi”, a poor married couple buy each other gifts for Christmas. The wife sold her hair to buy a watch accessory for the husband while the husband bought a comb with the money he got for selling his watch. The story has a strange ending because the mismatch of gifts and lost valuables of both loved ones leave a sinking feeling in the reader for the lovers’ uncoordinated and bittersweet love for one another. There is a sense of innocence and naivety in their love and how the randomization of win/loss symmetrical game played unfortunately for the couple.


    As shown in figure 7.2, the payoffs in Aristophanes’ humorous play, Lysistrata are based on whether women refrain or not refrain from having sex with men and whether men fight or not fight and go home. It’s heart warming to see that the payoffs are highest when women and men are having sex and men are not fighting. No sex and fighting leads to frustration and low payoff. Relationships are universal and to see that in payoffs is endearing. Also, it’s interesting to see that the women’s dominant strategy is to not refrain from having sex because the payoff is always higher. So, a sex strike was not the strategy to choose.


*Something to think about.. Brams noted that “Hamlet was not indecisive because of a character flaw, but rather he was strategic.”


Steven J. Brams presentation about his book:

Preview of book, including table of contents:

About book:


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