1016: Valentine Dilemma

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Valentine Dilemma
The worst resolution to the Valentine Prisoner's Dilemma when YOU decide not to give your partner a present but your PARTNER decides to testify against you in the armed robbery case.
Title text: The worst resolution to the Valentine Prisoner's Dilemma when YOU decide not to give your partner a present but your PARTNER decides to testify against you in the armed robbery case.


Both Megan and Cueball are agonizing over what to get each other for Valentine's Day. Both panic and do weird things. At the heart of the way they are acting is the prisoner's dilemma, which has been referenced before in xkcd.

The prisoner's dilemma is a canonical example of a game analyzed in game theory that shows why two individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interest to do so. Wikipedia has a great example of prisoner's dilemma, which illustrates it very well:

Two men are arrested, but the police do not possess enough information for a conviction. Following the separation of the two men, the police offer both a similar deal—if one testifies against his partner (defects/betrays), and the other remains silent (cooperates/assists), the betrayer goes free and the cooperator receives the full one-year sentence. If both remain silent, both are sentenced to only one month in jail for a minor charge. If each 'rats out' the other, each receives a three-month sentence. Each prisoner must choose either to betray or remain silent; the decision of each is kept quiet. What should they do?

In this way, both Cueball and Megan are kept separate, each not knowing what the other is going to do for Valentine's Day in the Valentine Dilemma as it is named in the title of this comic. And both do weird things for Valentine's Day, which ends up being the perfect result to the Valentine Dilemma as both end up with the same level of weirdness and don't go for the grand gesture.

The title text combines the two dilemma scenarios in an absurd juxtaposition, with the reader ("you") choosing from the Valentine's Day gift-no gift dilemma and the other person choosing to betray the reader in an armed-robbery case.


[Cueball standing with hand on chin.]
Cueball: Flowers seem so... trite. Something homemade? Easy to look halfhearted.
[Megan sitting at a computer, also with hand on chin.]
Megan: Valentine's day is a corporate construct.
Megan: But hard to opt out of.
Megan: I don't want to be a corporate tool or an inconsiderate jerk.
[Cueball pacing.]
Cueball: How do I fight cliché? I could get her a gift on a different day.
Cueball: But what am I proving?
[Megan leaning back with stapler in hand.]
Megan: It's such a contrived ritual. But maybe rituals are necessary social glue.
[Cueball panicking.]
Cueball: Forty presents. No, none! No, give her five items and then steal two from her.
Cueball: OK, breathe, keep it together.
[Megan sweating, still holding the stapler.]
Megan: And what if he gets me something and I don't reciprocate?
Megan: Prisoners dilemma!
[Cueball and Megan talking. Cueball is holding a basket and a jar of hammers. Megan's hand is stapled to her face.]
Cueball: I got you Easter candy and a jar of hammers.
Megan: I panicked and stapled my hand to my face.
Cueball: We overthought this.
Megan: Yes.
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It really depends on how good the hammers are. Good, solid machined hammers are enough to win any girl's heart. Davidy22[talk] 13:07, 18 February 2013 (UTC)

The hammer is my penis. 18:41, 4 March 2015 (UTC)
Well that's no good, is it? Made by unskilled labour. Homegrown is not a desirable attribute here. Xilotha (talk) 20:22, 18 August 2019 (UTC)

In frame 4, is Megan holding a laptop or the stapler? Looks more like a stapler... Sabik (talk) 08:34, 10 February 2014 (UTC)

Given that she appears to be gripping it as though it was a narrow object, and in the next frame mentions that she stapled her hand to her face, I'd say it's quite likely that it is a stapler.Pennpenn (talk) 03:42, 26 February 2014 (UTC)