October 7, 2003

Game Theory

Posted in General at 9:27 pm by Ian

We played an interesting game in Global Environmental Politics today. Designed to teach us about the practicalities of political decisions with less than full information.

We were split into teams representing six countries on a hurricane-stricken island, each starting with 10 resource points. Each round, we had the following decisions to make:

  • How many resource points to spend on the road system.
  • How many resource points to spend on flood prevention.

Each round, a hurricane would hit one of the 4 eastern countries (A, D, E, F). It would have strength from 1-4, and would do damage to that country’s resources for that amount unless the total expenditure on flood control (by all nations) was greater than or equal to the force of the storm. If they don’t have enough resources, then they go and loot either B or C for them.

Each round, the road system (if there was one), would generate one resource point each for B, C, D, and F, and would generate two points each for A and E. The road system costs one point to maintain (from anyone) and a total of eight points (from any combination of countries) to build once. If not maintained for a round, you gotta build it again.

The total amount spent on flood control was revealed, as was the fact that there was or was not a road system. That’s it.

We didn’t get to communicate with the other countries on the first round, but the road system did get built as it should have (with each country contributing as much as it had to gain that same turn). The interesting thing was sitting there and trying to figure out if everyone else would figure that out too, or if we’d be wasteful.

It’s easy to see that flood control is a bad deal. The expected value is negative. Yet, it took me three rounds to convince the other teams of this, and even then only because I promised that we’d help (yeah, right) if one country got low enough to be in serious danger.

The most interesting thing was that no matter what agreement we hashed out on a round, by the next one we’d all be trying to change it. Everyone managed to figure out a way that the other countries should be paying for things. It was beautiful. I was on team A. At the beginning, we and E split the cost of the roads (every other turn). After a bit, though, we argued that C and D should help with the roads because we had the chance of being hit by a hurricane, and had to allocate resources to that, where they were making a sweet one resource of profit each turn. They pointed out that, sure, we had the chance of being hit, but it hadn’t happened yet, and we were gaining more than they were.

As the game got closer to the end, people started being more sneaky. Something went unpaid. Negociations got shaky, and in one round three countries claimed to have paid for the road (because they weren’t sure). At the end, no one would pay for anything, Negociations completely broke down, and, in a final death-blow to organization, we elected a movie star to govern our warring plurality.

Just kidding. We weren’t that stupid.



  1. Lisa said,

    Unlike certain other political entities I could name… 😡

  2. Ian said,

    Heard this one today:

    “Governer Schwarzenegger is in touch with the people of California.

    –well, the women, anyway.”

  3. Kyle said,

    Maybe I’m missing the point of your game theory game (was it that people don’t cooperate?) but with the rules you described, it should be fairly easy to set up a system in which all countries survive with slowly increasing resource points indefinitely, even if every turn the hurricane is level 4. Between all countries, the road system provides 6 points a turn. Since a lvl 4 hurricane costs 4 points and the roads cost 1 point, by pooling resources, every turn some country gains a point. NO one would ever die. Why didn’t you just do that?

  4. Ian said,

    Well, yeah, you could do that (and it actually generates a net of 3 each turn). But it’s a game. The point is to win (gain more resources), not to be all hunky-dory with the neighbors. I bet you don’t start playing Monopoly by pointing out that if no one buys any property, you’ll all gain money.

    Because of course there are individual benefits to buying property, just as there are individual benefits to, say, not paying for flood control in a round in which your country stands no risk of getting hit by anything. Or, indeed, in not paying for anything if you can manage to get everyone else to pay for it. That way you get all the benefits with no cost. Factor in that the hurricane insurance is a bad deal because it costs more than getting hit by the ‘cane and you’ve got some interesting interactions.

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