A Prisoner’s Dilemma For Game Ticket Giveaways

Earlier this summer, at the Iowa State Fair, there was a giveaway of two tickets to the annual Iowa-ISU football game being put on by the Iowa GOP. In it, people texted their favorite team of the two (and - ostensibly - signed up for mobile updates; else, what’s the point?) and were entered into a drawing for the tickets.

Super Bowl Tickets
(Who are you rooting for? You sure about that?)

Despite being politically independent - we think 90% of politicians are completely untrustworthy, and we wouldn’t leave our kids around the other 10% either - we entered the contest. Lost, of course. But we got to wondering what would happen if it actually mattered which team you chose; specifically, if the tickets were given to the lower team.

Forgive us if this has been done elsewhere - if it has, we couldn’t find it - but there’s so much at play in terms of what the correct course of action might be.

First of all, a refresher from WIKIPEDIA:

The classical prisoner’s dilemma can be summarized thus:

Prisoner B Stays Silent Prisoner B Betrays
Prisoner A Stays Silent Each serves 6 months Prisoner A: 10 years
Prisoner B: goes free
Prisoner A Betrays Prisoner A: goes free
Prisoner B: 10 years
Each serves 5 years

In this game, regardless of what the opponent chooses, each player always receives a higher payoff (lesser sentence) by betraying; that is to say that betraying is the strictly dominant strategy. For instance, Prisoner A can accurately say, “No matter what Prisoner B does, I personally am better off betraying than staying silent. Therefore, for my own sake, I should betray.” However, if the other player acts similarly, then they both betray and both get a lower payoff than they would get by staying silent. Rational self-interested decisions result in each prisoner being worse off than if each chose to lessen the sentence of the accomplice at the cost of staying a little longer in jail himself (hence the seeming dilemma). In game theory, this demonstrates very elegantly that in a non-zero-sum game a Nash equilibrium need not be a Pareto optimum.

You probably learned about it in college. Anyway, though the dilemma differs from the classic example, there’s still a problem in acting logically - especially when it comes to representing your team.

Look, college allegiances can cause some seriously irrational behavior. People die over these things, especially in the SEC. They matter, especially to people who would, oh I dunno, enter into a contest that gives away college football tickets in a rivalry game. So while using texts is a good way to cut down on fraud and ballot-stuffing, the format should be altered slightly; the person needs to send a picture of themselves in apparel belonging to a certain team to the entrance number in question. If you win, the picture goes up, as is standard procedure in contests like these.

So what do you do, Iowa or Iowa State fan? Suppose your team’s up in the vote count (updated once daily, so you can keep some tabs on it but not monitor it to the point that you know when the vote count is exactly equal) by about 300 entrants, and there’s two days to go. The situation is as such.

A) If you vote for Iowa, you increase your potential ability to win tickets from zero… but you also incrementally worsen your group’s chances for ticket eligibility.

B) If you vote for Iowa State, you increase your potential ability to win tickets even more… but you also betray your own fan base, which could be an unforgivable sin in the eyes of peers.

C) If you don’t vote at all, your own team’s fans are more likely to be eligible for the prize, but you yourself are ineligible.

All of this while the daily vote count is encouraging the team with fewer fans to sign up while they’re more likely to be eligible. But the low frequency of updates may, in the event of an overeager fanbase, swing the eligibility the other way.

So what’s the word? Vote with your team and worsen the chances at eligiblity, but win the chance at winning the tickets and repping your team if the balance swings in your favor? Vote the other way - and bring the balance one vote closer to your own fanbase’s eligibility - at your own peril of the appearance of selling out for a couple of tickets? Not participate at all and have no shot at winning?

Which way do you vote?

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