Thursday, October 10, 2013

Was Jane Austen the first game theorist?

When my other half came home last week and said he wanted to watch the movie "Clueless", I wondered when the body snatchers had taken him and slowly backed out of the room.

As it turns out he hadn't been replaced by an alien, he had heard an interesting discussion on the radio, which suggested Jane Austen was the world's first game theorist. If you're not a Jane Austen fan, you'll be asking "What do Jane Austen and Clueless have in common anyway?". 

Apparently the 1995 movie starring Alicia Silverstone is actually a parody of Jane Austen's book 'Emma'. When I saw the movie nearly 20 years ago I didn't know this, as I haven't read any of Jane Austen's books - I've started a few but never finished any; period dramas are NOT my cup of tea.

However I was interested enough in the idea to give the high school rom-com Clueless another watch. As it turns out I was convinced! Jane Austen may well have been the worlds first game theorist... To over-simplify, game theory uses strategy to determine the probabilistic outcome of working in collusion and in conflict with other parties. Uh? To you and me it's about 'stacking the deck' in your favour, or planning a situation that puts you in a position more likely to win.

This is where Jane Austen comes in, she appears to be the first person to put in writing this type of thinking. Now think of some of the lines in Clueless (or if you haven't seen it since 1995, go on, it's not that bad). Here's one example, 

"Listen Tai, when we get there make sure Elton sees you, but don't say hi first. Look like you're having fun and you're really popular. Talk to someone in his eyeline, preferably a guy. Make him come to you, and find an excuse to leave while he's still into the conversation. The key is, always have him wanting more."

The movie is littered with dialogue like this, where the protagonist sets up specific scenarios that increase the chance of her 'winning' or getting her way. It would be considered childish if it weren't so bloody brilliant.

So what's your favourite line from the movie? Have I convinced you to go back for another look?

Friday, October 4, 2013

If a boy is rude on a train, does anyone hear his pain?

The other day I was on the train when I witnessed a minor incident. There was a boy sitting next to me in school uniform - he looked about 14 years old. When a middle-aged lady got on the train and looked for a seat, she approached him and asked him to stand up for her, at which point he ignored her and sank further down into his chair.

A gentleman got up (who was getting off the train anyway) and offered the lady his seat. Then the lady joined in with two other people to loudly criticise the boy's behaviour. I had my headphones in so can't comment on what they were saying but they were making it obvious they were angry at him.

They do have a point. In Perth, students pay concession fares on public transport and are obliged to give up their seats for full paying customers. Beyond that, I think if anyone asked most of us to give up our seats we would do so; I know if someone asked me for my seat I would assume they needed it more than me - that's why they asked for it. 

So now there are two reasons why he 'should' have given up his seat, three if you include the social pressure exerted on him from the other people on the train, and yet, he didn't. Why?

Obviously I don't know the boy's situation but my mind went this way. I think if he'd been raised in an environment where he was taught to respect himself and to respect others then he would have gotten up immediately. So he's lacking love and respect for himself. When the women began to criticise him he didn't appear affected, he appeared used to it. I felt like their words were fermenting his own low opinion of himself rather than raising his awareness. I thought the boy needed a hug.

What do you think? Teenage terror or lost little boy? I'll probably never know but it's worth giving him the benefit of the doubt. Next time someone does something 'rude' contemplate the reasons behind that person's behaviour, this allows us to see past the action and find the compassion required to reach out and help.