Fun and games?

Before I say anything, I’m going to ask you to watch a video of a British game show called Split or steal.


Am I alone in thinking that game shows are not all fun and games, that they contain more than a small portion of insidiousness? We like to watch people compete to win, and we may enjoy living vicariously through the contestants, imagining we were just about to win an incredible amount of money. But shows like this one seem to go beyond the harmless. But despite the fact that this game show is more like torture than fun, it’s interesting to observe our own motivations as observers. I was watching with my eyes popping out; I think my hands were on my face, perhaps in disbelief. Although I had a feeling there was going to be betrayal, I couldn’t believe that a person would actually lie so coldly, and then leave the other person so shattered. It’s an interesting study in human nature. If there was a war or state of emergency, I’d hate to have my life depend on the good will of the woman in this video. And shows like Big brother mess around with people in such a bad way, it makes you wonder how this form of psychological torture is permitted.

Does anyone else feel that way, or am I just overreacting?

Thanks to Howard Rheingold for the link to the video.

6 thoughts on “Fun and games?”

  1. I thought for sure that the guy was going to btray the girl and was shocked at the result. What a horrible game. Don’t like it at all, I agree a bit too on the psychological torment side for me.

  2. Mm I could tell she was going to steal by the look on her face– at one point almost a flicker of remorse or hesitation.

    It’s interesting from a game theory point of view– it’s almost like the Prisoner’s Dilemma in that you have a choice to cooperate or defect and in which the optimum state is not the same as the equilibrium state (the rational choice for both actors ie to defect or steal is not the optimum one).

    However, it’s interesting that it’s a bit different. In the Prisoner’s Dilemma and other games, it is always beneficial to you to defect (ie even if the other person defects, you will be better off if you defect than if you had co-operated), whereas in this one when the other person defects (steals), you are left with nothing whatever you do. All you have is a power of punishment (making sure the other person also gets nothing), which wouldn’t have too much of an effect since this is a one-off (as opposed to re-iterated common goods games).

    Seems a bit like ancient gladiators though. We’ve traded in battle and lions for psychological trauma, and it seems just as sick. Just try getting this approved by an ethics board for research!

  3. So will she enjoy her money? I think not. Imagine how her family and friends and people who recognise her on the street will treat her, let alone how she should treat herslef after that.

    I have been enjoying watching Masterchef, but it is getting very catty and strategic and so even the best person may not win. That’s not right.

  4. I can’t imagine how she can live with herself, but then again, it’s all part of the game. I think the game is playing with fire. Didn’t realise Masterchef was like that; haven’t watched it nuch. Seems like the catty shows attract viewers. Do you like to peek into people’s evil sides in a ‘safe’ environment?

  5. I have watched this programme a few times and on each occasion I will the contestants to do the ‘right thing’ and restore my hope in the human race – and each time I am reminded that my father’s quip ‘life isn’t fair’ tends to win out!

    I think the gentleman in this case is 50k poorer but has his integrity while the girl prostituted her image and values for the same sum. If I were to participate in the show, it would seem a no-brainer. If doubt or fear dominates on both sides it can only yield a lose-lose scenario – faith is the only logical strategy, particularly when such sums are at risk. And so, by extension, I would be the one with my head in my hands while the lower energy contestant would walk away richer but ‘poorer’.

    When we live in a society where such a game show makes no sense because the collaborative ethos is our default mode of engagement, we might even have a chance to save our planet too – but I fear we might be a long time waiting.

    I choose to trust and to hope because the other alternatives are too ‘expensive’ energetically and because we need to start somewhere. Who knows, perhaps I’ll one day sit opposite someone else who shares this philosophy – you perhaps?

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