[2007018] A Prisoner’s Dilemma

A Prisoner’s Dilemma (FringeTIX)

Bohemian Productions @ Higher Ground

4:30pm, Sun 11 Mar 2007

The programme for A Prisoner’s Dilemma speaks more about the background to this piece than I ever could; it’s essentially an exploration of Game Theory, presenting a series of Games (Dictator, Chicken, and even Rock Paper Scissors) within the context of a dramatised Prisoner’s Dilemma, and challenging the audience to contemplate their responses and impact.

Sam and Tom (David Finnigan and Jack Lloyd) are travelling in a foreign land when they are arrested by the police and incarcerated. They are individually interrogated, and both have the same options: to keep quiet, or to betray the other. If both stay quiet, both will be held in prison for six months; if both betray each other, both will receive two years in prison; if one betrays the other, but the other keeps quiet, the informer goes free, whilst the other gets ten years in prison.

So the best result for you would be to betray your friend ASAP – but that carries the risk of a greater penalty than you both co-operating in silence for the optimal group solution. Greed over rationality, lovely. Sam & Tom explore a series of Games and their consequences, whilst keeping an eye on each others’ responses with a healthy dose of suspicion – and occasionally lapsing into asides to the audience.

Whilst interesting enough at the time, the audience participation games – where the individual or group mind determines the outcomes of Games – provide much more to chew on… were some of the outcomes biased because of the lack of connection with the characters? The final game – The Warlord White/Black Stone thingy – suffers particularly from this; the emotional component of the problem comes from the familiarity with the characters. Given that we had no emotional ties to the characters, why are we to care if we randomly select the black stone, sentencing them both to death? The chance associated with each choice is rendered immaterial – despite the performers’ best attempt to create an emotive element through frantic movement and wild-eyed expressions over their gagged mouths.

Other audience games are little more than puzzles; the first was essentially an adventure game with an astoundingly limited vocabulary, the other could be a exercise in state-machines.

A Prisoner’s Dilemma presents these Games as having firm and rational rules, but with the scenario of torture presented, it’s hard to believe that the element of humanity – and the potential for unwarranted cruelty, compassion, et al – have been removed from the equation. At the same time, the prisoners are attempting to remove the human aspect from their part of the game – to return to the rational best-collective-case scenario. It’s an interesting theoretical and psychological performance, accompanied by appropriately textured music and a collection of oddball audience interaction devices; well worth a look.

(Also check the website to see the results of some of the audience participation games.)

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