top of page

Prisoner's Dilemma

In this article I will be talking about the prisoner's dilemma game: what it is, how to play, and why it's important. To learn more about the prisoner's dilemma check out this video: The Prisoner's Dilemma

What it is! The rules are simple, let's say two people named Miss Red and Mr. Blue committed a crime but the police only have enough evidence to put them away for 1 year without any confession. So the police put Red and Blue in different rooms and try to get a confession by playing prisoner's dilemma! Both Mr. Blue and Miss Red can cooperate or defect. Defecting would mean betraying your partner and telling the police that he or she did it. Cooperating would mean staying silent. If Miss Red defects and Mr. Blue stays silent, then she does not have to go to prison, but Mr. Blue would have to go to prison for three years. It would be the same thing but switched around from Mr. Blue’s perspective. If both of them stay silent then they would each get one year in prison (top right quadrant). If they both defect then they will both get two years in prison as you can see above in the bottom right quadrant.

How to play! Prisoner's dilemma is a two person game. Let's say you and your friend are playing. You can do two things, cooperate or defect at the same time. There are a few ways you can calculate your outcome. First you can see that if you both cooperate then it ends up with the least amount of years but you still have to spend one year in prison. However, you can’t control what your friend does and if they defect then you have to spend three years in prison (top right and bottom left quadrants). One way to strategize is to calculate your outcome based on see what makes you better off given the other players decision. If the other player cooperates then you are better off defecting because 0 years in prison is better than 1. If the other player defects then you will also want to defect because 2 years is better than 3. This means that both times you are better off if you defect. Making decisions in this way is called acting like a "rational agent" ... which is a big reason why we are playing this game at WEquil.School. A rational agent will always pick the option that they think will make them better off. We want our students to learn how to think through decision rationally.

Why is it important? It is important because this is something you can use in real life situations. Also it is a fun way to try to practice thinking deeply about things using the information you have! Thank you for reading my article about prisoner's dilemma! I hope you enjoyed it and if you are interested in more projects, check out this link:

Join us tonight at 5pm EST to play! Zoom link will go out to all members of WEquil Group. We will play Prisoner's Dilemma but with a twist...and that is we will be playing multiple rounds. How do you think the outcome will change if at all? Find out tonight!

If you are not a member of WEquil Group but would like to participate please message my Dad, Joe WEquil, on Facebook or join through our home page at





bottom of page