The Game of Poker – The Prisoners’ Dilemma


The Game of Poker – The Prisoners’ Dilemma

A game is basically a structured form of interactive play, sometimes used for fun or entertainment, and at other times used as an educational instrument. Games are quite different from work, which often is carried out for monetary remuneration, and from literature, which is generally more of an expression of philosophical or aesthetic elements. However, there is often a common theme running through all games, whether they are fun or education based. That theme is conflict. In fact any real life conflict is enough to make a game very much more interesting than a work on the same topic.

A game theory is used to analyse the subject of game design. The core belief is that there are two conflicting ends that drive a game. The first, known as the goals, is what drives the game participants towards a desirable result. The second, known as the means, is what determines the success of the goals. It is this basic understanding that frames the way in which game design is done.

There are three general perspectives that can be used within game theory. The first is called the Nash equilibrium. Here everything is understood very abstractly, with no consideration given to how people will interact in real life situations. This is often referred to as the ” calculative view” of economics. The Nash equilibrium is considered to have been proven theoretically, though many disputes still exist over its being actualised in a realistic context.

Another perspective is known as the prisoner’s dilemma. This is also called the dictator game theory, because it is believed that there are two types of players in a game; the one who acts alone and the one who co-operates with another player. Within the prisoner’s dilemma, there are two distinct types of players: the one who knows his/her partner’s cards, but does not know that the other player has the same cards; and the one who does know that his/her partner has the same cards, but does not know what cards he/she has.

In a debate which took place during the formulation of the game theory, the most widely accepted version of the prisoner’s dilemma was stated as follows: You are playing the game, a man with a gun, walks into a bar, hands out cash to every man who walks in, and then, after the customers have paid for their drinks, leaves the bar with money still in his pocket. One of the players, called Prisoner A, reads the newspaper and figures out that the true sum of money which goes outside the money which still stays in the pockets is equal to the number of times the person who walked into the bar last, multiplied by ten. Prisoner B then calculates the probability that he/she is the only person who has realised this, and that therefore, everyone in the bar must share the money taken from Prisoner A.

This setup is very simple and easy to understand, yet it presents an important question: how many times the Prisoners’ Dilemma will be solved by each player? The answer is: whenever one player fails to realise that the other player has the same cards, i.e. the people who always leave the bar with more money than those who always stay, i.e. the ones who know the cards that Prisoner A has, the game ends, Prisoner B gets his money and the Prisoners are released. However, this is only a simulation of the dilemma: what if there is no Prisoners’ Dilemma, i.e. when all players are honest and play fair and square?

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