Compulsively Obsessed: The Game Theory on Love and Relationships

By Ryan Wallace

Staff Writer

A novelty of being an Anteater, this quarter I have been lucky enough to take an amazing course from a professor with his own name on one of our buildings, Professor Francisco Ayala. Sound familiar? It should, because it’s his name on our beautiful state-of-the-art Science Library.
The course is an upper-div philosophy of biology class taught by both Professor Ayala (giving a perspective on biology) and Professor Brian Skyrms (giving his perspective through the eyes of philosophy). It is easy to say that it has taught me much more than any other course here on campus. But last week in particular, the three-hour lecture had me thinking for every moment.
Taking kind of a loose interpretation of the lecture, I began to think about a concept called “Game Theory.” I’ll explain it in common terms, honestly because I can hardly understand the logistics otherwise. The basic idea is that philosophers have been able to model human interactions based on choices/consequences, and with great accuracy I have to admit.

But listening to the situations, I found that the models are unrealistically simple. Humans are complex, and when it comes to relationships, it seems that all reason goes straight out the window. So how can you model something that isn’t ideal? They’re smart, that’s how! But they neglect a lot of the complicating factors.

The models aside, the terms that this “game theory” introduced and the name itself inspired lots of thought during lecture. The idea of human interactions and relationships as a game is an accurate simplification of huge issues that complicate our lives like no other.

I’ll be honest, in high school I was too focused on relationships. Some might say too cynical, but over the past year or so, I have allowed myself to open up to the idea of relationships. Honestly, being a bio major, I like it when things make sense and what I’ve learned is that relationships — and ultimately the L-word LOVE — don’t. They are messy, heart-breaking and crazy, but it is an amazing feeling while it lasts. And sometimes they are just what you need to gain perspective on life. Sometimes they bring you close to those people in life that you never want to let go of.

But why are things so complicated in love, war and all relationships of the sort? The game theory introduces a concept of “handicaps.” These “handicaps” are actions that an individual can fake; a lie. Like in the animal kingdom, a handicap can be as simple as an aggressive call from a wimpy pup. They know they are going to lose, but lie and hope for the best. It’s the same thing that humans do. I would say in other terms that humans are handicapped by deception, but in any way it is meant, it is clear that lies complicate life in immeasurable amounts of ways.
Sometimes the lies are simple, like a “You look beautiful!” on a day when you couldn’t feel worse. Sometimes they change everything forever, like the “I love you!” that comes from the head not the heart; either way there is always a change.

Like a game, every one of our choices has a consequence that affects the structure of the game. With a choice to say hurtful words, one may inevitably change a relationship forever, or worse end one that was perfect to that point. And with our constant advancing technology, relationships are now complicated by the clicks of a computer, texts or even Facebook posts. A text can end a relationship, albeit a really crappy and spineless way to go, but it happens nonetheless — and it sucks!

Realistically, without being cynical, every relationship has a shelf life. Some of them are until death, and some only last a year, but they all end at some point — a defining moment that depends on the culmination of your choices and your lies. All relationships like the game theory eventually find a fixed point: an end.

So why bother with something that seems so trivial? Something that can be boiled down to a mathematical simulation? Something inhuman and inherently academic? The answer is because it isn’t something this simple. Philosophers model the situations, but they can never put into perspective the human component that makes everything so amazing. Sometimes the relationships hurt; we’ve all had our hearts broken I’m sure, but that isn’t a reason to abandon all hope.
Love comes in many forms, and although sometimes you can’t see it in the moment, it’s the broken hearts that give us the strength to move on. And honestly without the complexity of relationships and all of our handicaps, I can assure you that I would not have many friends. Let’s just say I used to be a bit of a jerk. But because my friends accepted the possibility of hurt from becoming friends with me, I have been able to surround myself with some of the most amazing people in the world! Sometimes it’s hard, with miles between you or sometimes just lies, but the relationships are worth it. Learn, Live and Grow — this is what the game is all about.