THE PRISONERS DILEMMA TOURNAMENT
Imagine that you are playing a game of prisoners’ dilemma with a person being “questioned” in a separate room. Moreover, imagine that you are going to play not once but many times. Your score at the end of the game is the total number of years in jail. You would like to make this score as small as possible. What strategy would you play? Would you begin by confessing or remaining silent? How would the other players’ actions affect your subsequent decisions about confessing?
Repeated prisoners’ dilemma is quite a complicated game. To encourage cooperation, players must penalize each other for not cooperating. Yet the strategy described earlier for Jack and Jill’s water cartel defect forever as soon as the other player defects-is not very forgiving. In a game repeated many times, a strategy that allows players to return to the cooperative outcome after a period of noncooperation may be preferable.
To see what strategies work best, political scientist Robert Axelrod held a tournament. People entered by sending computer programs designed to play repeated prisoners’ dilemma games. Each program then played the game against all the other programs. The winner was the program that received the fewest total years in jail.
The winner turned out to be a simple strategy called tit-for-tat. According to forestation, a player should start by cooperating and then do whatever the other player did last time. Thus, a tit-for-tat player cooperates until the other player defects; he then defects until the other player cooperates again. In other words, this strategy starts out friendly, penalizes unfriendly players, and forgives them if warranted
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