I was on a BBC radio documentary by Jolyon Jenkins, “Rock Paper Scissors.” The goal of the documentary was to show that this seemingly trivial game is secretly fascinating, because of what we humans make of it. My own academic contribution to that fun claim has been published here and in much more detail here.
Jolyon was a gracious host, but the documentary was released without any word or warning to me, and with rough spots. I’ve got to clarify a few things.
The most important is an error. The show ended with my describing a game in which people “irrationally” herd together and make lots of money. The results of this game were reported faithfully in the show, but the game itself got defined wrong, and in a way that makes the results impossible. Here’s the full game: All of you pick an integer 1 through X. Each person gets a buck for picking a number exactly one more than what someone else picked. ADDITIONALLY, the number 1 is defined to be exactly one more than number X, making the choices into a big circle of numbers. The documentary left that last bit out, and it’s really important. Without anything to beat X, I’m guessing that everyone will converge pretty quickly on X without much of this flocking behavior. It’s only when the game is like Rock Paper Scissors, with no single choice that can’t be beat by another, that you start to see the strange behavior I describe in the show.
Three more things. All of the work was done with my coauthor and advisor Rob Goldstone at IU, who wasn’t mentioned. Second, it’s not accurate, and pretty important, the way that Jolyon implicitly linked my past work to my current employer. The work presented on the show was performed before I started with Disney Research, and has nothing to do with my work for Disney Research. Last, a lot of what I said on the show was informed by the work of Colin Camerer, specifically things like this.