Re: The Sopranos and Game Theory

#31
turangawaewae wrote:...This is where the Tony Soprano credible threat is important, but prisoners dilemma assumes no credible threat to make me collude with you.

Prisoners Dilemma is a certain type of "game" where the optimal strategy results in both parties being worse off then if they had colluded.

In the Sopranos, the NJ and NY crews had what we call a repeated game. They faced many "games" with each other, so the process of working out what you THINK the other party will do can be affected by past decisions.

...!!


Fascinating indeed! So, - the prisoner's dilemma assumes no credible threat to make collusion a factor? I mean- the jail time isn't credible threat compared to death, is that what you mean?

Then how can we apply Game Theory to understanding Tony's strategy, since genuine credible threat exists between all these gangsters? And Tony-without necessarily knowing which theory he's operating under- instinctively applies the modified Mobster's (Repeated) Game Theory when he chooses his plan about Vito? Or did Tony just make bad decisions because he's a bad economist?! And when i say bad decisions, i am referring to the aspect of the whole deal where Tony loses one of his best earners- which must be an important factor in economics!

Ya know, i never liked how that whole Vito storyline went on sooo long, but now that i am re-thinking it, maybe i need to re-watch it after i learn some more about Game Theory and keep it in mind while laboring thru all those epis. There really must be some important reason they spent so much time on it. Some people said it was because Chase had to fill in time when they got the extension on the next season and had to re-work how they got to the finale. But it doesn't seem quite like a good enough answer. There just has to be more to that bit than belaboring the gay thing.

Then again, since Chase is known to do that sort of "in your face" audience-bashing (like 'Oh, so you don't like such and such, here's even ten times more of it!")... well maybe Chase got sick of the homophobic type reactions and decided to just jam more of it down everyone's throats, to please excuse any unintended puns.

SO that makes me wonder about applying Game Theory to try to analyze Chase's strategy in presenting storylines. Chase tries to tell us that he doesn't care what the audience wants, he's going to tell it his way. Yet he clearly considers our expected reactions and makes real decisions based upon them and attempts to almost mock the predictable reactions with alternative twists in the storyline. Some of us have perceived this as "disdain" for the audience. I am not so sure now.

Where is Chase's complex mind buried in the Vito storyline ? -which basically is a set up to the later story that becomes a map of some aspect of Tony's strategy in response to Vito. Tony didn't want to have to deal with Vito no doubt, but he was forced into it. Kinda like real life, where for a long time people just wanted to shove the gay issues into the closet until they had to face how to deal with it in society at large, or within the Family in New Jersey...

Re: The Sopranos and Game Theory

#32
i have been thinking about Chase's use of Game Theory in these storylines (which is partly also Tony's use of Game Theory indirectly).

Basically, i can now see why Chase is mystified that sometimes we think he has disdain or hatred for us the audience, when he himself claims he doesn't feel that way:

imo, in terms of the economist Game Theory view, Chase is interacting with us in an almost playful, or gameful way. And per Game Theory, we are definitely NOT a credible threat to him. (and of course there is no chance for collusion unless he secretly had some arrangement to survey all the viewer's posts and altered the scripts accordingly).

If we in turn, take him too seriously and consider his choices in strategy (choices how a storyline goes, or ends, etc...) as a' credible threat' to us viewer's somehow- perhaps to our comfort level, traditional TV viewing habits, etc., then we bump ourselves out of the game. And then its not as fun anymore!

I mean- if one of the prisoner's in the Dilemma was a credible threat but not the other- it would blow apart the fundamental rules of the game; so the analysis by Game Theory falls apart. (not to say you can't approach it thru another method).

This to me, is another reason that perhaps there is so much energy expended between the 'Tony Dies' versus 'Tony Lives' camps: Fundamentally different interpretation of Game Theory between ourselves. And for some of us, a fundamentally different idea or interpretation of Game Theory from whatever version of it Chase is using.

Turangawaewae, not to take your thread the wrong direction again- but what do you think Chase would say about the Prisoner's Dilemma?? :smile:

Re: The Sopranos and Game Theory

#33
badabellisima wrote:i have been thinking about Chase's use of Game Theory in these storylines (which is partly also Tony's use of Game Theory indirectly).

Basically, i can now see why Chase is mystified that sometimes we think he has disdain or hatred for us the audience, when he himself claims he doesn't feel that way:

imo, in terms of the economist Game Theory view, Chase is interacting with us in an almost playful, or gameful way. And per Game Theory, we are definitely NOT a credible threat to him. (and of course there is no chance for collusion unless he secretly had some arrangement to survey all the viewer's posts and altered the scripts accordingly).

If we in turn, take him too seriously and consider his choices in strategy (choices how a storyline goes, or ends, etc...) as a' credible threat' to us viewer's somehow- perhaps to our comfort level, traditional TV viewing habits, etc., then we bump ourselves out of the game. And then its not as fun anymore!

I mean- if one of the prisoner's in the Dilemma was a credible threat but not the other- it would blow apart the fundamental rules of the game; so the analysis by Game Theory falls apart. (not to say you can't approach it thru another method).

This to me, is another reason that perhaps there is so much energy expended between the 'Tony Dies' versus 'Tony Lives' camps: Fundamentally different interpretation of Game Theory between ourselves. And for some of us, a fundamentally different idea or interpretation of Game Theory from whatever version of it Chase is using.

Turangawaewae, not to take your thread the wrong direction again- but what do you think Chase would say about the Prisoner's Dilemma?? :smile:


Hi Bada
You haven't quite got the essence of game theory yet.
Game theory is working out your optimal strategy based on how you THINK the other person will react. It can be applied to any situation, such as poker. The prisoners dilemma is a special type of situation which game theory can be applied to. So if there was a credible threat in the prisoners dilemma game, it doesn't mean you can't still use game theory, it just means the outcome may well be different. In fact, a credible threat makes the prisoners dilemma game quite interesting. Normally, two guilty pleas results if people play their optimal strategies. If one of the prisoners was Tony S, the other part may well plead not guilty, as pleading guilty and becoming star witness is no longer an option because the payoffs have now been changed. You may serve no jail time, but you end up dead!! So now from Tony's point of view, if he thinks he has scared the other prisoner into going not guilty, what is his best response? He can go not guilty and serve a year, or he can go guilty and serve no jail time, but to do that he would have to the star witness for the prosecution, in other words be a rat. Is it worth a year not to do this?
Imagine Carlo's situation, and how he must have applied game theory to that.

When the mafia got involved in the hard drug trade, that significantly changed the payoffs for being caught committing a crime. Now lengthy jail terms were at stake, "players" were more willing to turn star witness in an attempt to minimise jail sentences.

Just to reitterate, game theory is making decisions based on how you THINK the other party will respond. It can be applied to any situation. Game theory cannot be "wrong". If the rules of the game change, it just means the payoffs (or outcomes) may change.

At times Tony appeared to use game theory well, but at others (read vito, ralphie and tony b) he was far too emotional, and didn't consider game theory at all. It's fine to want to appear staunch in a repeated game, but you would do that to build up an image, to shape how others will view your expected response in the future. Think of a guy in a fight being petrified, but acting in a very aggresive fashion in an attempt to psych his opponent out of wanting a fight. (Of course he would have to weight up the odds his opponent would call his bluff!!). With Tony B for example, it was the wrong time to be staunch. Phil was never going to back down, Tony should have considered that. Similar with Vito.

Re: The Sopranos and Game Theory

#34
turangawaewae wrote:Hi Bada
You haven't quite got the essence of game theory yet.
...


You've got that right- but i'm workin' on it!! :icon_biggrin:

Great Post. SO hear me out while i continue to figure this out in terms of Tony's strategy decisions, that imo, are based upon Chase's strategy decisions:

So, if Chase was still in the realm where ratings mattered, like in the network TV days of Rockford Files, etc., he would have to pay attention to audience reaction/repsonse as a true 'credible threat', since bad ratings would get him kicked off the air. He might have to give the predictable standard endings to some scenarios to satisfy the bosses (based on how he/or his bosses thought the audience might respond: boo hoo if they didn't get to know the tidy ending of the episode).

And then later with Sopranos, the audience was no longer a credible threat in that same way, so he has freedom to make decisions on a different level. But its still all good. The game continues, just with different outcomes. Whatever they may be...(not to revive the old debate).

Ya know, we the audience are a bit like Prisoners in the Dilemma- we are bound by the gravity of this show!

Re: The Sopranos and Game Theory

#35
badabellisima wrote:You've got that right- but i'm workin' on it!! :icon_biggrin:

Great Post. SO hear me out while i continue to figure this out in terms of Tony's strategy decisions, that imo, are based upon Chase's strategy decisions:

So, if Chase was still in the realm where ratings mattered, like in the network TV days of Rockford Files, etc., he would have to pay attention to audience reaction/repsonse as a true 'credible threat', since bad ratings would get him kicked off the air. He might have to give the predictable standard endings to some scenarios to satisfy the bosses (based on how he/or his bosses thought the audience might respond: boo hoo if they didn't get to know the tidy ending of the episode).

And then later with Sopranos, the audience was no longer a credible threat in that same way, so he has freedom to make decisions on a different level. But its still all good. The game continues, just with different outcomes. Whatever they may be...(not to revive the old debate).

Ya know, we the audience are a bit like Prisoners in the Dilemma- we are bound by the gravity of this show!


You know what Bada? I came to the exact same conclusion last night!!

I came to ths Sopranos late, during series 3. I had never actually watched the first two series, when the finale was fast approaching, so I quickly watched them both in about a week. I have just started rewatching series one more slowly over the last week, and I have realised imo it is much less subtle in a lot of ways. Take the ducks. I always thought people had assumed the ducks represented family, but in episode one, Melfi comes right out and SAYS to Tony (and by default the audience) the ducks represent family. In College, there is the scene in the car after Tony has killed the rat where he is trying to convince Meadow he has been looking for his watch instead of committing murder. You get from the scene Tony is trying to balance his family persona with his "family" persona. Then when he is sitting in the university waiting for Meadow, he reads the Hawthorne quote about two faces. Talk about a neon sign, hitting the audience in the face with a fish!! IMO the later series were more subtle, and had less of this spelling out.

As you point out, in series one, the show had to be successful enough to warrant further episodes, so Chase had to pay more respect to what the audience felt. His optimal strategy was to do what the audience (or you could equally say HBO) wanted. In the latter series, he already had his dedicated fan base who were addicted. His personal payoff from writing was to not be formulaic, which some viewers would find off putting. In latter series, his optimal strategy was to be unformulaic, as that is where he got the most satisfaction, and he knew it wouldn't alienate much of his fan base.

Two pieces of evidence which support this are:
1. In college, originally Tony was going to kill the rat simply for being a rat. HBO insisted the rat be portrayed in a negative light, so viewers wouldn't lose empathy for Tony. Hence the rat was portrayed as someone who sold drugs to students, who got kicked out of the witness protection scheme, who carried a gun.
2. The finale was not the most viewed episode ever. The pinnacle was series four from memory. The height of the shows success, from which point Chase knew he had the dedicated fan base, and he could be more creative. As a result, he did lose a small portion of the fan base, but the payoff to him of the creativity was worth it.

Just on another note Bada, you need to buy "The Logic of Life". The rational economics of an irrational world by Tim Harford. Chapter two talks about Von Neumann, but it also talks about Schelling, who made his name using game theory to analyse the cold war, especially at the time they built the Berlin war.
He introduced credible threats into Von Neumanns work.

He gives a nice application of game theory. So Bada, imagine you and a friend are meeting in NY tomorrow. Unfortunately, due to communication problems, you have agreed to meet each other the next day, but you do not know when or where. So where do you go to look for your friend?

It depends on where you THINK they would go. When Schelling asked his students, a lot said the Grand Central Station, because a lot of them were from out of town. There is no right or wrong answer, but you play your optimal strategy based on what you THINK your friend would do.

Most people use game theory already, such as in the situation outlined above. A lot of professional poker players use it, just as a result of experience. However, a surprising number of people don't play their optimal strategy, especially when they are in an unfamiliar situation. In the prisoners dilemma scenario I gave earlier, there is a definitive correct answer to plead guilty, but research has shown that about 40% of people go not guilty.

Re: The Sopranos and Game Theory

#36
AmAAzing. You are going to make an economist out of me yet! I am already ordering that book now. I realize i still don't have a grasp on it, and i want to apply a modified version of Mobster Game Theory (with credible threat factor) to The Sopranos and David Chase; but i am no where near being able to speak coherently on it. :icon_mrgreen:

Re: The Sopranos and Game Theory

#37
It is a good book for the uninitiated. Freakonomics by Stephen Levitt, and Tim Harford's first book The Undercover Economist are good as well. I love the foreword in The Logic of Life. Harford explains why in the neighbourhood he is walking through there are no pedestrian crossings, yet there are in more affluent suburbs.
People think economics is about business and money, but it is actually about people, and how they behave. It is a social science. I love the following bit from the foreword:
"At our destination, my daughter wriggled out of her stroller and scampered off to daub her hands in bright blue poster paint. I sat in the corner, thinking about the rational reasons why only two of the thirty one accompanying parents were fathers; we'll get to those reasons in chapter 3. My daughter interrupted my musings by demanding a snack, so we shared a cookie and then I held her hand as she climbed up the stairs and slid down the slide several times. I helped her bounce on the trampoline and then we stuck glow-in-the-dark pictures of rocket ships and astronauts onto a paper plate before covering them with blue glitter. After a while she turned her face up to mine and stuck out her tiny nose for an Eskimo kiss. It was a perfect half hour.
There is nothing irrational about love; indeed, without our passions and our principles, where would the motivation come from to make rational choices about anything? So a world explained by economics is not a world lacking love, hate or any other emotion. Yet it is a world in which people can generally be expected to make rational decisions, and where those rational decisions suggest some astonishing explanations for many of life's mysteries. It is a world that I would like to show you"

When you think like an economist, you do see the world slightly differently. You realise that if seatbelts are made compulsory, there will be more cyclist and pedestrian deaths, as people feel safer so drive faster. The same with car insurance. People driving an insured car drive slightly more recklessly. It's called moral hazard. But I digress.

I agree, I think economics can be applied to the Sopranos. I even think there might be a paper in it!!
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