Game Theory, Marxists, And The Backward Induction Paradox (ASSESSMENT – ‘ANALYSIS’)

(Yes… this post really is that intense.)

We’ve recently been introduced to this idea of game theory– a means of power that the media uses in which it is assumed that psychologically we are all playing each other in a virtual game of survival. Game theory has given way to a future theory of media production called ‘Gamification’ – itself an idea that if something is a game, you are more likely to participate, as you can affect the outcome of something, and thus feel empowered by it (and tempted to participate in order to do so). However, there is a major flaw to this theorem.

Let’s start with the idea of Gamification. On surface level, I believe that if we were all attracted to participating in an event because we thought we’d be able to gain from it, surely we’d all play the National Lottery. We don’t, because that notion that we have influence on the game (or in another way, ‘feel empowered’) is not logical. We are statistically so unlikely to win, that the liability of purchasing a ticket outweighs the small amount of fun you get from playing the game – even if the chanced jackpot is ridiculously high.

Dispose Of Your Gum – An example of Gamification in society today. But does it really work? (It’s Coldplay by the way… and yes, that was a joke)

The idea of game theory is to do with empowerment, so if you have no influence within the game itself, you will not play it or participate in any way. It has been suggested that within the next decade, a lot of every-day things such as tax forms and voting papers will become in the style of games. This is to entice people to co-operate and fill the forms in, by way of making them think that if they do, then they’ll be having influence on something or someone elsewhere.

Gamification is derived from the notion of game theory – namely, we will compete in a game to influence others and feel empowered, but this is only important to us because we feel we are in competition with everyone else. If the idea is to make more money than everybody else, or be a more interesting person, or have more friends on Facebook, or have a better degree / job / more attractive partner / house / life, then the theory works fine. This was of course until John Nash’s Equilibrium came about, where it was decided that the human intelligence is too strong for game theory to be 100% accurate – more over, people will take into account other people’s considerations if it furthers their own gain. This is an extract from a film about John Nash called ‘A Beautiful Mind‘:

You can certainly apply this theory to the western aesthetic that everything socially is based around the individual. As opposed to Eastern sociological ideals, Western societies are focused on each individual person. It is about being unique and finding yourself, whereas Eastern countries have mottos like ‘the nail that sticks out gets hammered down’, and is generally more community-based. We are much more likely to be in competition with each other individually this side of the world than on that side.

How does this apply to democratic power? There is a competition between the government and the revolutionaries, but also between the cabinets and the individual protest groups themselves. By uniting, the protestors are forming an effective resistance, whereas the different political parties are still vying to out-do each other to get the seat at the head of parliament.

Game theory has an interesting logistical flaw however, called the Backward Induction Paradox. I’m sure that according to this theory, the best course of action is for the government to close parliament, and for the protestors to walk away. Everyone leaves with nothing, and there’s total anarchy in the UK, but as the competition isn’t any better off than you are, technically it is the most logical choice. I found it interesting as (obviously) the de-formation of both sides is not the right answer.

The backward induction paradox is based around the idea of a continuous competition with the opposing force, which in a sense would suit Trotsky’s notion of ‘permanent revolution’. Riots and protests in themselves are able to empower the government, or at least allow the government to use media to represent themselves as empowered. This of course gives way to more riots – the circle continues.

The Marxist trail of thought is that revolution will never be realised. There was only one moment in time when an actual revolution would have changed a country, but that time for western societies has passed. We are now stuck in constant / permanent revolution, with the first side to back out out becoming worse off for it. This is incentive enough to continue the conflict of democratic power, until Marx’s prediction that Socialism will actually come about some other way, as a new way of existing as a nation.

How do we change from being capitalist to socialist? What sort of revolution or ideology will it take to revolutionise an entire nation, a training of thought, or even the continent of the Americas? Adam Curtis explored the idea from a psychological perspective in his documentary series ‘The Century Of The Self’, which not only highlighted how the government used institutions to tap into people’s minds and cater for their conscious and subconscious, but also how the government feared the wild and primal feelings that they were indeed repressing. The government bourgeoisie believed that if people stated using their primal instincts, that they would not longer be susceptible to their rule, and would rebel. This notion would insinuate that the key to a successful revolution would be to stimulate the primitive subconscious in the masses, and order the chaos into a better society.

It seems like a risky prediction to me – but then again, of course it would. I’ve been raised in educational institutes run by a government who want me to keep them voted into power. It’s ironic that only at the highest levels of academia – at the pinnacle of your academic career, when you are subsequently introduced to this idea that you now have the knowledge – and thus the free choice – to use your academic powers to defend the bourgeoisie, or to take them down.

Will socialism be better than capitalism? It’s impossible to say without experiencing it first hand, but according to Marx, it is the natural advancement of society. It get the feeling that parliament may become an ‘Omega Man’ of sorts in a changing revolutionary society, fronted by the advances of technology and connectivity. Control of words and discourse is perhaps the most powerful thing the masses now have – time will tell if it is enough to influence the powers that control the country. But keeping in mind we have these channels open to us (to bring it all back to the original topic) – will gamification really work? Game theory seems to sit well enough with revolutionary theory, although socialism was born from a communist concept. All the same, if we know the government is manipulating us, but doing it for the ideologies that we ourselves stand for, what do we do? Do we change it in hopes of a better country, or do we simply let it pass and accept that the government are acting in our best interests?  The way you answer that question surely dictates your stance on the current events – moreover, the events to come.

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