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Prisoner’s Dilemma in Golden Balls

As we were learning about game theory and nash equilibrium and the like, I was reminded of my days back in AP Econ, where we were shown a video about the game show Golden Balls. In this show, there are two contestants, and they can either pick the “split” ball, or the “steal” ball. If both players choose the split ball, then the prize pool is split evenly among the two. However if one person chooses the split ball, and the other chooses the steal ball, then the player that chose the steal ball gets all the money. If both players pick the steal ball, then no one gets any money.

The interesting thing about this type of prisoners dilemma situation is that the nash equilibrium is for both players to pick steal, as individually, that would lead to the better outcome. For example, getting 100% is better than 50% if the other contestant picks split. If the other contestant picks steal, then 0% isn’t worse than 0%. So then the goal of the contestants would be to try to avoid this, as both getting nothing is not what they want. So then the strategy the contestants use would be to try to tell the other person to pick split, while promising to pick split themselves. However, as the article mentions, this is not a good strategy.

As seen in that image found in the article, if one of the contestant chooses to split, then the more valuable decision would be to steal, so there is a risk that a contestant will backstab, and if both backstab, then they will end up with nothing. One contestant found a strategy that worked a little bit better for him. He said to the other contestant that he will steal for sure, and he will split the money with him after the game. This ends with this:

By doing this, he made it so the better choice for the contestant would be to split, because at least he has a chance to get the “promised split”. At the end, both contestants ended up choosing split, and they got to split the money.


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September 2018