Saturday, January 04, 2014

0/-0;+/-Part 1

I've been wanting to write about this for some time.  Don't know if I can pull it off in a single post.  The note I left myself was, "write about strategy in zero-sum vs non-zero-sum and closed vs open."

Probably have to define those terms.  For my purposes, a zero-sum game is one in which the resources are limited and finite. Closed means that only the particular scenario is involved, there are no ramifications for for the future or impacting relationships with the world.

Monopoly (tm) is a zero-sum game.  There is only so much property, only so much play money and at the end of the game there will be one winner and everyone else is a loser.  Fighting is largely a zero-sum game-- one winner, one loser.  But not truly, because sometimes there are two losers.  Of the seven basic strategies, fighting is the only one that offers the possibility of a catastrophic win.

Momopoly can be either a closed or open game.  So can fighting.  More later.

In a zero-sum game, there is no win-win.  Every advantage for you is a disadvantage to others.  Every time you lose a little ground, your opponent gets stronger and your chances decrease.  When faced with this situation, there are two basic strategies-- you can play to win, or you can play not to lose.  Playing to win is trying to maximize your advantages and hurt the opponent as much as possible.  To increase your abilities and decrease his or hers.  Playing not to lose is the strategy of conserving your resources, not falling for traps, getting the opponent to waste energy and resources.

There's always a balance, of course.  And the more complex the game the more opportunities there are. So a defensive player can see a sweet opening and switch to offense and a generally offensive player can fortify and rest when they find a lull.  Sometimes the strategy is based on personality.  This is very much so in Monopoly, because the opponents start with equal resources.  Ideally, in competition fighting, weight classes and such are an attempt to balance out most things except for personality.

In reality, though, the strategy chosen is almost never chosen based on personality, but on initial resources and stakes.  Those who have more tend to play not to lose. Sometimes, near the end of the Monopoly game, the smartest thing to do is to get sent to jail and just let other people land on your property and pay you. The more skilled fighter frequently waits for the rookie to make a mistake. There is always a chance, no matter your edge in skill or power, that the rookie will get lucky or you will get unlucky.  So the person with the edge tends to keep it.

Conversely, when you are behind the eight-ball, you have less to lose by taking chances.  Desperate people tend to be aggressive (or submissive, in an open system).

Stakes matter a lot.  Except for compulsives, people tend to gamble more when the stakes are low.  It is easier to roll dice for  betting 1 dollar to win 10 than to wager a paycheck at the same odds.  People buy a 2 dollar Powerball ticket with ridiculous odds who would think twice about risking their savings even if the odds were much better.  Even if, objectively, the odds were slightly in their favor.  There is a study on violence comparing chimps and hunter-gatherer humans.  Evidently, both like odds of 5-1 in their favor.  Less than that, they peacefully coexist.  At 5-1 they massacre.  When your own life is on the line, 5-1 odds in your favor seem like the minimum...

That's all zero-sum.  Very little in life is a zero-sum game.  Money isn't.  Wealth isn't. (That's one of the things that bugs me is how few people realize that and how many political arguments are based on the false assumption that economics is zero-sum.  Ahem.) Teaching isn't.  I can give you all of my knowledge and don't lose a bit of it (I'll lose that to age in time.) Not to get all wishy, but love isn't either.  No one needs to love you back.  Personal energy?  The more you give, the more you have.

In a non-zero-sum game, cooperation and synergy take center as strategies... but be careful.  If your opponent thinks it is a zero-sum game, these strategies make you vulnerable. Your attempts to build a trading partner might be used to build an army.


Erik Kondo said...

This post seems to tie in nicely with Rory’s Social vs. Asocial Violence model.
Roughly speaking, Asocial Violence is a closed zero-sum system. Social Violence is an open non-zero-sum system.
Thus, one method to deal with an asocial predator is to raise the stakes such that the predator is deterred. Change the odds from 5 to 1 to 5 to 2 and you no longer are an appetizing victim.

But raising the stakes in a social violence non-zero-sum situation may lead to a catastrophic win. In addition, raising the stakes may convince your opponent that the situation really is Zero-Sum. In which case, your opponent may feel the need to switch from “playing not to lose” to “playing to win”.

Understanding the difference between zero-sum and non-zero sum situations provides you with insight on how best to manage them.

Maija said...

I'm curious about what effect having the ability to think abstractly, rationalize and fabricate delusions has on the human ability to 'know' the real odds.
Can modern humans all intrinsically feel 5:1? Or without reference /experience is it rather arbitrary and thus creates a bunch of 'illogical' violence and risk taking?

Josh Kruschke said...

How are we defining win?


The denial of an objective or resource?

Eric Parsons said...

"That's one of the things that bugs me is how few people realize that and how many political arguments are based on the false assumption that economics is zero-sum. Ahem."

So, so true.


Unknown said...

Josh K.:
Yep, definitions matter big time.
Take, for example a case when you recognize an imminent threat and just leave. From one perspective, you win, but the threat didn't loose anything. +/0 as in survival.
From the other perspective 0/-, the denial of resource.
But if you look from the monkey perspective: -/0, you left feeling a coward, or even -/+ he managed to intimidate you. It depends on what the persons involved perceive as reality, no?