Monday, 1 October 2012

Playing games at OR 54

The 54th conference of the Operational Research Society took place in Edinburgh from the 4th till the 6th of September.

Louise Orpin (Education officer of the OR society: was running a stream on education and thought that her and I could give the same talk we gave at SCOR (see previous blog post here) and I've given many times with Professor Paul Harper during high school outreach events (see previous blog post here). This talk is actually designed for school children. It aims to get kids to understand basic ideas of game theory by playing some games.

When asked to give this talk at SCOR I was worried that the audience (PhD students) would be a bit too "mature" for the talk and think it a bit of a waste of their time. The SCOR talk was a great success though and everyone had fun. When it came to giving the talk at OR54 I was also a bit worried as the audience was even more "mature". All these worries were unfounded as it seems that people just like to have fun and play games. It went well. Here are some of the results.

We did not have a huge audience (10) but still had enough to play the games.

The first game we played is the 2/3rds of the average game. Here's the first set of guesses (before discussing rational behaviour):

The guesses were relatively spread out, 2 groups of participants noted that 66 was 2/3 of 100 and also that 43 was 2/3 of 66 but no 1 guessed lower than 5. The winning guess was 23. After explaining the fact that 0 is a dominating strategy we had the participants play again. Here are the guesses second time around:
As you can see 0 was not uniformly picked but the maximum guess was this time 29 and 7 people guessed 3 or lower. The winning guess was this time: 3.

I've run this with 3 types of audiences now and the winning guess on each occasion were (links are to corresponding blog posts):

We had fun with this and discussed how such a game was a great way to get basic ideas of rationality and dominance across. 

We then proceeded to play a prisoner's dilemma tournament. We split in to 4 teams and the winning team would be the team with the least total score (I've blogged details about this before see here). It was good fun (always) and there was even a coalition that formed to stop the team, that had my undergraduate intern Jason Young, in it from winning. Here are some photos (thanks to Ian Mitchell for the first 2!) from that part of the day:

The cool venue:

Louise starting us out:

Louise and I with the "C" and "D"s used to cooperate or defect...

The scores (if you look carefully you should be able to notice the coalition - Jason chose the name for team D just to make me twitch...):

The above is just 1 example of an outreach event that works really well in schools (and also with more "mature" participants). If you do want more examples please do take a look at I'm writing this the day before teaching game theory to a new cohort of Cardiff MSc students, I'll be playing the same games with them so will probably post about it again at some point. 

(If you'd like more information on the Conference itself take a look at the #OR54 hashtag on G+).