Friday, January 11, 2013

Game Change: from competition to cooperation

I’m beginning to think that on the day they find my dead body, they will have to pry my cold, dead hands from my computer’s keyboard.

It will be a kind of Charlton Heston-NRA death, except it will be benign. My fingers will not be wrapped around a rifle.

But I likely will have been playing “Words with Friends” (WWF) a relatively harmless on-line Scrabble-like game. No one dies in this little vocabulary showdown.

Indeed I recommend it to those looking for non-violent computer games for youth or for the mentally unstable.

But it is competitive, often fiercely so.

So it was that the other day that one of my formidable competitors, a fellow Quaker, suggested that rather than compete, we cooperate and use our combined scores as the  measure of our success. That way no one would have to lose and we might just win together. (Note: she had lost our previous game rather badly.)

I welcomed the suggestion but I did posit that we might run up a higher total score if rather than cooperate we simply competed. Nevertheless, we decided to cooperate. We set each other up and revealed which tiles we had on our rack. If one of us had a “Q” but no “U,” for instance, the other, holding a “U” might strategically place it for the other to use.

We’ve played this cooperative version of WWF a couple of times. In the first game we held out an initial “target” goal of a total score of more than 1000. We quickly discovered that it was unrealistic, so we ratcheted back to 800.

The first time we played we scored 786 points. Clearly we needed to talk strategy. We did, and in our second game, which is about to end, we are going to score something like 865.

Not bad, but then I reviewed past competitive scores. None was more than 865, but some have come quite close. One, for instance, was 839 and another was 836.

Recently, I’ve been reading a few books about how the brain works and it seems to me that comparing scores produced from cooperation with those resulting from competition speaks to the nature of human behavior. Is a competitive world or society more productive than a cooperative one, or vice versa?

I’m not ready to draw any conclusions, but it seems some answers reside in the approach one takes to playing "Words with Friends."

What will it be: Cooperation or Competition?

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