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As it turns out he hadn't been replaced by an alien, he had heard an interesting discussion on the radio, which suggested Jane Austen was the world's first game theorist.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?

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