601: Game Theory

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Game Theory
Wait, no, that one also loses. How about a nice game of chess?
Title text: Wait, no, that one also loses. How about a nice game of chess?

[edit] Explanation

The comic and title text is a direct reference to the movie WarGames.

In the movie, the Artificial intelligence (AI) that controls the US Nuclear Weapons is asked to play Global Thermonuclear War, a real time game simulating a nuclear attack scenario.

Spoilers: In the movie it then takes the simulation to the real world, planning to launch a real attack on the USSR. In the end the AI is tricked into quickly running through several scenarios of the game, and then shuts down its planned attack as a result of what it finds out.

After analyzing all possible strategies, the AI reports: "A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?" Interpreted literally, this means that the computer has figured out that it will lose the game no matter how it plays, so it chooses to play chess instead (at the time of the movie, computers could not yet beat the best human chess players, so it would be more interesting). A more profound interpretation is that wars always end badly for all parties involved so it's better to play nicer games like chess.

In this comic Cueball loads an AI and then ask it to "analyze love" (equivalent to playing the "love game"), which initially could be expected to end happily for everyone involved, as love is the opposite of war and war ends always so badly. Surprisingly, the result from the AI is similar to the war games. Thus if you "play the love game", you'll end up badly, regardless which moves you play.

The title text leaves love as looking actually worse than war, since in war there's at least the "winning move" of not playing, however in love even refusing to play means that the player loses the game anyway. Randall is thus stating that you have to go after love, even though you know you will loose/get hurt sometimes, because you will for sure also loose the game, even if you pretend not to play. The AI then again suggest a game of chess, as in the movie.

[edit] Transcript

[Cueball is sitting at a desk in an office chair typing on his computer. The text appearing above him is implied to be what is displayed on the screen.]
A.I. Loaded
>>> Analyze love
[An hourglass appears over the computer as Cueball sits back and wait.]
[The hourglass continues to display as Cueball shifts in his chair.]
[A zigzag line from the computer indicates the final reply from the computer to the query.]
Computer: A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.


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Discussion

WarGames is also referenced in the title text for http://xkcd.com/696 -- ‎Blagae (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

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