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Game of chicken

The game of chicken (also referred to as playing chicken) is a "game" in which two "players" each drive a vehicle of some sort towards each other, and the first to swerve "loses" and is humiliated as the "chicken". In practice, this sort of game, if played at all, is most likely to be played amongst adolescents or aggressive young men, though it is not at all popular.

The phrase game of chicken may also be used as a metaphor for a situation where two parties engage in a showdown where they have nothing to gain, and only pride stops them from backing down. Bertrand Russell famously compared the game of chicken to nuclear brinkmanship.

One of the earliest examples of a game of chicken is in the film Rebel Without a Cause, though in that version the players drive two cars towards a cliff, and the first to jump out is the "chicken". The version where the players drive towards each other is now regarded as the standard version of the game.

Chicken and game theory

The modern version of the game may be seriously studied in game theory. Because the "loss" of swerving is so trivial compared to the crash that occurs if nobody swerves, the reasonable strategy would seem to be to swerve before a crash is likely. Yet, knowing this, if one believes one's opponent to be reasonable, one may well decide not to swerve at all, in the belief that he will be reasonable and decide to swerve, leaving the other player the winner.

The payoff matrix looks like this, where "cooperation" is swerving and "defection" is driving straight:

Cooperate0, 0-1, +1
Defect+1, -1-20, -20

Of course, this model assumes that one chooses one's strategy before playing and sticks to it - an unrealistic assumption, since if a player sees the other swerving early, he can drive straight, no matter what his earlier plans.

Anyway, under this model, and in contrast to the prisoner's dilemma, where one action is always best, in chicken one wants to do the opposite of whatever the other player is doing.

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