The Story-Telling, Game Theorist, Problem-Solver
Helping people to create better lives through efficiency, effectiveness, precision, self-awareness and game-based strategies
Q. If a person wanted to learn and apply game theory in their daily life what are the films and television shows to watch?
A. The most skilled game thinkers can convert conflict based environments into cooperative ones most films and television shows that are based on game thinking and game theory use competition and conflict in a win/lose model as a central point of the narrative. One factor all these have in common is that they apply logical-rational-and mathematical theories in order to create a winning payoff. Many of the best explorations of the subject are inspired by stories about “heists” or gambling. Among the best are those that describe the exploits of The MIT Blackjack Team. This was a group of students and ex-students from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard Business School, Harvard University, and other leading colleges who used card counting techniques and more sophisticated game thinking strategies to beat casinos at blackjack worldwide. The team and its successors operated successfully from 1979 through the beginning of the 21st century and have influenced many of the most skilled game thinkers.
Reading these books and watching these films and shows is important for the aspiring game theorist soon realizes that by mastering applied game thinking you can control many important factors that you couldn’t previously. Here are some of the best books illustrating applied game thinking and game theory concepts:
• Theory of Games and Economic Behavior by Jon Von Neumann with Oskar Morgenstern. This is the book that started it all. Without this book, people would still be strategizing and playing games. They just wouldn’t be doing it as well as they do,
• Game theory: An Introduction by Steven Tadelis. If Lewis Harrison’s applied game thinking is just not-academic and linear for you then this is the college textbook on game theory you’ve been seeking. It introduces readers to the principal ideas and applications of game theory, in a style that combines rigor with accessibility.
• A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar. This is a biography of Nobel Prize-winning economist, and mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr. Nash’. His work and ideas are central to much of what is used in game theory. It inspired the 2001 film
• The Evolution of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod – A solid book for exploring how cooperative societies develop and how they prosper particularly in politics.
• Busting Vegas by Ben Mezrich: Inspired by the
activities and strategies of the MIT Blackjack Team.
• Bringing Down the House, by Ben Mezrich: Inspired by the activities and strategies of the MIT Blackjack Team.
• The House Advantage: Playing the Odds to Win Big in Business by Jeffrey Ma: About the author’s time on the 1994 MIT blackjack team.
• The Blackjack Life, by Nathaniel Tilton, a student of former MIT team captains Mike Aponte and Semyon Dukach, detailing his experiences playing and being trained by the MIT Blackjack Team players.
• Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse. Carse is a religious scholar. This highly influential book is one of the clearest and concise presentations on observing life as if it is a game.
• Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. This is a multi-media brand that began with a non-fiction book by an economist and journalist. The books in the series, as well as the radio show and blog are a melding of game theory, applied game thinking, pop culture, and economics.
• Game-Changer: Game theory and the Art of Transforming Strategic Situations by David McAdams: Describes how a Game Thinker can change the game they are in.
• Liar’s Poker by Michael Monroe Lewis
• The New New Thing by Michael Monroe Lewis
• Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Monroe Lewis
• The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Monroe Lewis
• Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World by Michael Monroe Lewis
• The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Monroe Lewis
• Flash Boys by Michael Monroe Lewis
A note about Michael Monroe Lewis’ books: Lewis is an American non-fiction author and financial journalist. His books present a laser clear understanding of applied game thinking and game theory though he seldom mentions either term in his books.
• The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Timothy Gladwell
• Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Timothy Gladwell
• Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Timothy Gladwell
• What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures by Malcolm Timothy Gladwell
• David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Timothy Gladwell
A note about the books of Malcolm Timothy Gladwell: Gladwell’s book like Moore’s have a clear understanding of applied game thinking and game theory, though he seldom mentions either term in his books. Gladwell’s books, articles and speeches often deal with the unexpected implications of research in the social sciences and make frequent and extended use of academic work, particularly in the areas of sociology, psychology, social psychology and applied game thinking
Here are some of my favorite films illustrating applied game thinking and game theory concepts
• A Beautiful Mind – A biographical film of the life of Nobel Prize-winning economist, and mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr. Nash’s work and ideas are central to much of what is used in game theory. It is inspired by the book by Sylvia Nasar. The film was acclaimed and won the best picture at the Academy Awards. Unfortunately, it does take liberties with the actual facts of Nash’s life. It is the film that peaked my interest in game theory and applied game thinking.
• Lincoln Lawyer – This is an American legal thriller film adapted from the novel of the same name by Michael Connelly,
• In the Name of the Father – Set in the period of the “Troubles” in the North of Ireland it is one of the best films illustrating “Prisoner’s Dilemma*”.
• Rebel Without a Cause – One of the best films illustrating “Chicken*”.
• Dr. Strangelove – One of the best films illustrating The “Hawk-Dove Game*”.
• Reservoir Dogs – One of the best films illustrating a “Truel*”. A truel is a duel or competition among three opponents, in which players can fire on attempt to eliminate one another while surviving themselves.
• The Warriors – One of the best films illustrating “The Stag Hunt Game*”.
• Waking Ned (Also known as Waking Ned Devine) – One of the best films illustrating The “Ultimatum Game*”.
• Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan – One of the best films illustrating a “Lose-Lose Game*”.
• Donnie Darko – A bit more complex than other films this one integrates elements of a specific type of lose-lose situation called a Catch 22*. It also includes elements of Quantum Game theory.
• Sophie’s Choice – This is a no-win situation, known as a Cornelian Dilemma* (CD). A CD is a situation, in which the player is forced to choose between two courses of action. Each one of them is mutually exclusive and will cause a negative consequence on the player or on someone close.
• The Dark Knight – One of the best films illustrating a number of plot devices using classic dilemmas in game theory including the prisoner’s dilemma*, the cornelian dilemma*, and a new game called “The Pirate Game*” are prominent plot devices. The Pirate Game is a more complex version of the Ultimatum Game*.
• The Usual Suspects – A simple game structure piled high with layers of deceit, twists, cheating, cognitive biases if every variety, and violence before pulling out the rug from underneath, when we learn that the “payoff” wasn’t what we expected. A zero-sum, simultaneous, imperfect information game from top to bottom and side to side.
• House of Games – A heist-thriller film built around many different elements of game theory merged into actual games, gambling, con men and the game of life. One of the treats is that its cast includes Ricky Jay one of the greatest sleight of hand artists in the world.
• The Spanish Prisoner – This is an American neo-noir suspense film. The film is premised around a story of corporate espionage conducted through an elaborate confidence game. In spite of the film’s title, the actual plot includes only superficial similarities to the Spanish Prisoner scam though there is much game thinking throughout the film.
• The Game – An American mystery thriller, it tells the story of a wealthy investment banker who is given a mysterious gift: participation in a game that integrates in strange ways with his everyday life. As the lines between the banker’s real life and the game become more uncertain, hints of a large conspiracy become apparent.
• The Last Casino – Loosely based on the activities of the MIT Blackjack Team. This premise and features three students and a professor counting cards in Ontario and Quebec.
• 21 – Inspired by Bringing Down the House and the activities of the MIT Blackjack Team.
Here are some of my favorite films illustrating applied game thinking and game theory concepts
• House of Cards – This is an American political drama web television series that uses elaborate game-based strategies to further the plot with new players added and removed as the narrative unfolds.
• MacGyver – An American action-adventure television series. The show follows secret agent Angus MacGyver, as he works as a troubleshooter. Resourceful and possessed of an encyclopedic knowledge of the physical sciences, he solves complex problems by making tools out of ordinary objects, along with his ever-present Swiss Army knife. He favors non-violent resolutions and prefers not to handle a gun.
• Num3ers – An American crime drama series that follows a college mathematics professor and prodigy who helps the FBI solve crimes. A typical episode begins with a crime, which is subsequently investigated by a team of FBI agents led by the math prodigy who uses mathematical models, statistics, game theory and game thinking to solve the crime. Double Down, an episode of Numb3rs concerned a counting group, led by a High School teacher, which launders money through casino winnings.
• House – Also called House, M.D., is an acclaimed television medical drama. The series’ main character is an eccentric pain medication dependent misanthropic medical genius who leads a team of diagnosticians at a fictional hospital. The connection to Game Thinking immersion here is differential diagnosis; the distinguishing of a particular disease, condition or problem from others that present similar features. Differential diagnostic procedures are used by physicians and other trained medical professionals to diagnose the specific disease in a patient, or, at least, to eliminate any imminently life-threatening conditions.
• West Wing – The West Wing is an American serial
political drama television series. It received acclaim from critics, as well as praise from political science professors, former White House staffers and experts in Game Thinking especially those who study reciprocal altruism*, Black Swan Theory*, Theory of Constraints*, and Tit-for-tat*. In the years since its run, it has appeared on several lists of the greatest television dramas ever made. The Writers Guild of America also ranked it #10 in its “101 Best-Written TV Series” list.
• The Mentalist – This is an American police drama- mystery television series. The series follows Patrick Jane an independent consultant for the California Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Although not an officer of the law, he uses his skills from his former career as a successful, yet admittedly fraudulent, psychic medium to help a team of CBI agents solve murders. Jane uses his skills to help them solve various crimes. His main focus is using his finely honed skills in cold reading, hypnosis, and picking pockets. He also possesses powerful observational skill and a deep insight into the human psyche, human behavior, game theory and game thinking.
• Lie to Me – An American crime drama television series. In the show, Dr. Cal Lightman and his colleagues accept assignments from third parties (commonly local and federal law enforcement) and assist in investigations, reaching the truth through applied psychology, interpreting micro-expressions, the Facial Action Coding System, and body language.
• Breaking Vegas – A History Channel documentary that tells the story of the MIT Blackjack Team, in its incarnation as Strategic Investments.
• 12 Angry Men – A 1957 American courtroom drama that tells the story of a jury made up of 12 men as they deliberate the guilt or acquittal of a defendant on the basis of reasonable doubt. The film explores many techniques of consensus-building and the difficulties encountered in the process, among a group of men whose range of personalities adds intensity and conflict. In 2007, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. The film was selected as the second-best courtroom drama ever by the American Film Institute.
• Lifeboat: A 1944, American survival thriller drama film directed by Alfred Hitchcock from a story by John Steinbeck. It is set entirely on a lifeboat launched from a sinking passenger vessel following a World War II naval attack. it’s focus is on issues such as zero-sum games, reciprocal altruism and trust in a game space.
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If you have an interest in having a basic understanding of Applied Game Theory (and you need to) here is an interview I did with James Selman, a pioneer and innovator in Leadership research.
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