Game Theory: Marriage, Dating, The Manosphere As Prisoner’s Dilemma

I’m going to explain both marriage outcomes and the entire volume of Internet posting on sexual relationships in a single post. Seriously. I’m that good.
I’ll need Internet Access, a light snack and PUNNETT SQUARES.
Being married is like a game of Prisoner’s Dilemma. This is one of the original Game Theory social puzzles and required reading for all budding social scientist types. If you haven’t read this before, I really recommend you click the link and read up on it. I’ll be right here when you get back.
Ah screw it, I know I know… you’re all short attention span types. Here’s a picutre of the orginal Prisoners Dilemma….


Marriage framed as a game of Prisoner’s Dilemma, and I’d argue that it’s really a fairly continuous game of Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma with say each month or whatever counting as a round of the game. The game breaks down like this… (you can click on it to make it bigger and harder…)


So assuming each month is a round of the game, obviously the top left quadrant is the better option for both Husband and Wife to aim for. But cheating on the commitment can become tempting, specially if you can get away with doing it and simply dupe the other spouse. So tossing in a cheating episode here and there can be a huge “win”. At least until you get caught.
What tends to happen is once caught the trust is forever broken in some way. And the other partner starts being more willing to break their commitment to you. “WTF you cheated on me, I’ll show you” is the basic thought here. Cheating can be either sex with another person, sexual denial to the spouse, refusal to work either in the home or out of it, or whatever. Basically it’s refusing to be a good spouse in the marriage.
So after a couple rounds of “Frak me, NO FRAK YOU” the relationship can break down as both parties firmly entrench in the refusal to be nice to each other ever again. This is how divorce almost always gets nasty.
Now if you want to apply the same sort of approach to say an opening few dates with a new partner, it looks like this…
I think my readers are smart enough to figure out the above table.
Now in terms of everything that is written in the Manosphere about Game, Sex and Relationships et al, it looks like this…

So what according to Game Theory should you do in order to maximize outcomes for yourself?  The summary below are the key points from the Wikipedia Link…

Nice:  The most important condition is that the strategy must be “nice”, that is, it will not defect before its opponent does (this is sometimes referred to as an “optimistic” algorithm). Almost all of the top-scoring strategies were nice; therefore a purely selfish strategy will not “cheat” on its opponent, for purely utilitarian reasons first.

Retaliating:  However, Axelrod contended, the successful strategy must not be a blind optimist. It must sometimes retaliate. An example of a non-retaliating strategy is Always Cooperate. This is a very bad choice, as “nasty” strategies will ruthlessly exploit such players.

Forgiving:   Successful strategies must also be forgiving. Though players will retaliate, they will once again fall back to cooperating if the opponent does not continue to defect. This stops long runs of revenge and counter-revenge, maximizing points.

Non-envious:    The last quality is being non-envious, that is not striving to score more than the opponent (impossible for a ‘nice’ strategy, i.e., a ‘nice’ strategy can never score more than the opponent).

So there we go. Life the Manosphere and Everything in one handy dandy post. A little superficial I know. But what you gonna do about it….

…. well be nice of course. For purely utilitarian reasons.


  1. Demonspawn says:

    Hrm, what to say considering I'm a "tin foil hat" person.

    Should men avoid marriage?
    Well, I don't think any man(person) should do anything which is not in his own personal best interest. What does marriage grant men? I hear you answering already, but that's what your relationship with the woman who became your wife grants you. What did marriage grant you?

    In 99% of the cases, the answer is "Jack shit." On top of that, marriage also burdens these men with several responsibilities. Legally. So, unless you are getting something out of being married to the point that it outweighs the burdens that marriage enforces, avoid it.

    I recognize that the vast majority of men will find marriage to not be worth it if they simply look at the cost/benefit ratio without weighing "Their duty" or "the right thing" on the side to get married. That's not a problem with men (or even women), it's a problem with the legalities of what marriage 2.0 has become.

    …. And I can say that as a married man. And my wife would agree with me.

    Now, are women dangerous?

    It's not women who are dangerous, per se. It's the legal inequalities that women have over men that are dangerous. Yes, I am currently married, but I am also previously divorced. My ex-wife did not fuck me over, THE GOVERNMENT fucked me over on her behalf. She didn't have the power to screw me, but the State did.

    So does this make interacting with women dangerous? Well, yes. Not because women themselves are dangerous, but because women have the State on tap to be dangerous for her. She has all the rights, he has all the responsibilities. That's the way it works.

    Now, we'll have to disagree on the last part. It's not a plot. I don't think this was designed. Honestly, I feel it is the natural progression of society. This is not the first time in history we've had feminism. Hell, this isn't even the first time women have had the vote. And yes, western society is going to collapse due to this, just as societies of old which bought into the lie that men and women are equal collapsed: they demotivated the men, destroyed marriage, and became a cess-pool of crime that "necessitated" more and more government intervention until government became so large that things toppled over one way or another.

    It's a cycle and it will repeat. This isn't the first case of feminism, and I highly doubt it will be the last.

    Now, I'm sure you'll ask: Isn't there a way to turn this around?

    I wish I knew. Unfortunately, the more I ponder it the more I feel positive that it is a Pandora's box which cannot be reversed. Time goes forward, and like the Phoenix society must burn to be reborn.

    But my explanation has more to do with bell curves than Punnett squares ;)

    …. Other than that, I think you have a great blog. I was just motivated to my first post based on your off-hand dismissal of what I feel is very real and inevitable.

  2. Wicked Shawn says:

    Fascinating that we went from a perfectly logical post to a visitors post(note I say post, not comment) about a woman's right to vote being the eventual downfall of our society. Arianna would be disappointed to hear you feel that way, demonspawn, what with The Huffington being the only thing you even subscribe to! Really?!

  3. Okay Athol, running with your thread a bit further…

    One of the best strategies in an iterative prisoner's dilemma game is the "tit for tat" solution. From the Wikipedia article: "An agent using this [tit for tat] strategy will initially cooperate, then respond in kind to an opponent's previous action. If the opponent previously was cooperative, the agent is cooperative. If not, the agent is not."

    Applied to the present context of an LTR, if your spouse is acting like a butt-head and chooses (or hints at choosing) the "not nice" strategy, you've got to spank her (so to speak). You've got to respond in kind–that is, show (or threat to show) your un-nice options as well.

    All else equal, you assume niceness. You wake up and start the day on the "nice" side of the binary. Henceforth, you reward "nice" with niceness and punish "not nice" accordingly. It's almost behaviorist in the reward/punishment structure.

    Perhaps this is another way of saying "don't be supplicating" the face of your wife acting bitch-like. If she's being a bitch, you need to call her on it. It can't be rewarded. Otherwise, you can easily end-up in that lower-left quadrant where no healthy man wants to be (and quite frankly, where no healthy woman wants to find her man as well).

    In fact, I'd go on to say that many shit tests can be viewed as simple exercises along these lines–to see just which game theoretic style you, as a man, tend to pursue. I'm talking about the kind of test where a woman pushes your buttons just to see how you'll respond. "Passing" this short of shit test involves first recognizing it as a test and then choosing the appropriate game-theoretic response and not blindly always pursuing "nice."

  4. Demonspawn says:


    Thank you for the ad hominem which touched none of my points and pandered to a woman's feelings as being more important than discussions of facts. You supported my argument far more than you detracted from it.

  5. hambydammit says:

    The aptly named "Tit for tat" strategy works best with some modifications. I can't remember all the details, but it goes something like this:

    Both players assume cooperation once. If iteration 1 is betrayal, there is a very limited opportunity for forgiveness. Either one or two more iterations. As both players progress through multiple iterations with no incidence of betrayal, the "forgiveness factor" goes up, but only to a point of diminishing returns. In other words, after a hundred cooperation iterations, forgiveness might be extended ten times, but regardless of how many cooperative iterations, it will never be extended fifty times.

    After a certain number of betrayals, the "cheater" is no longer engaged in iterations.

    I'm sure there is also a successful algorithm for frequency of betrayal as a factor in willingness to forgive.

    Athol, I'll be honest and say that I think you're oversimplifying things to the point that you're patting yourself on the back for getting married. While I fully understand where you're coming from on this, I think it's a bit um… presumptuous to try to reduce the totality of relationships to four squares.

    For one thing, you really did just write finances out of the equation. Sure, you allude to them in the squares, but finances are deserving of their own square. And getting caught/not getting caught deserves a square too.

    For another thing, the opposing diagonals are not equal for "wife cheats" and "husband cheats." The laws in America are strongly biased towards the woman when a marriage ends. If a woman is caught cheating, she still gets child support. If a man is caught cheating, he gets jack shit. So Wife commit/husband cheat/husband caught would be 5 points for wife and 2 points for husband, perhaps. The wife loses, but the husband loses his gain from cheating in court. With husband commit/wife cheat/wife caught, the wife gets lots of points. Maybe ten or fifteen. She gets her jollies AND gets the husband's money.

  6. hambydammit says:

    To wit:

    "What a load of macho BS. Women are the spoils of war. Give me a break! If anything we're the recipients of the spoils of war. Ask my first EX. No one, except my EX, cared that I cheated the last two years of the marriage. I received custody of our daughter, stayed in our home, and received a large settlement for child support. So it really doesn't matter if we're naughty or nice, in most instances we are the WINNER in the divorce wars. Don't think most women do not realize that fact."


  7. Athol Kay says:

    Well of course I'm oversimplifying things. I thought the entire post was purposely overstated. In part for comedic effect, in part to try to draw attention to the possiblity that actually being pleasant to women is part of a viable strategy for seducton.

    MNL gets it.

  8. An Average 7, So Shoot Me Already! says:
  9. BUY CANNED GOODS – very funny! Or you can can stuff from your own garden. ;)

    Seriously, though, it's hard in our current society to succeed the way our grandparents easily succeeded unless you are on the jump early and can delay instant gratification.

    The problem is that by the time many people start seeing how stacked the deck is it's sort of too late.

  10. Athol Kay says:

    My grandparents talked a lot about World War I and the Great Depression. Around 25% of the young men in New Zealand were killed in World War I, so… hmmm. Easier?

  11. Socially straightforward would be a better choice of words. My grandparents were younger than yours and not subject to the draft due to health and necessary vocation (farming). I really didn't know so many Kiwi men died in WWI. That's astounding. My cousin lives in Auckland now. He says NZ is the most amazingly beautiful place to live.

  12. Athol Kay says:

    Actually from a historical point of view I think a decent portion of the young men in very generation being killed by war is basically normal.

    We've had a fairly long golden age in recent decades.

  13. Athol Kay says:

    Deleted comment for advocating threats of murder as a way around divorce law.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I love the Punnett squares, but they demonstrate something you haven't really touched on in the accompanying article – the fact that all they demonstrate is you have absolutely no knowledge whatsoever of family law.

  15. Athol Kay says:

    The point of the post and indeed the entire blog is to be positive and pro-active in a male approach to being married. I am quite aware that legal pitfalls await the man that fails at marriage.

    Being marriage avoidant is not always the answer. Being marriage positive sometimes is.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Hmm, not nuanced, but not a bad summary. I still prefer Christianity and sexually the "whatever works for that couple" rule.


  17. Anonymous says:

    Ooh, it's not just a game for spouses then (read the Wiki page). How damn fascinating!

    Lots of golden rule/common sense tidbits throughout. But guys, don't look at marriage as a game. Like Dan Connor of "Roseanne" said, "Marriage isn't a game, it's a bloodsport". Or it will be if you treat it like a calculated game.


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