Betrayers' Banquet: gourmet dining vs the Prisoner's Dilemma

Ed writes, "The Betrayers' Banquet is an experimental dining experience from London, where guests play the iterated prisoner's dilemma to win a better or worse meal. Each of the 48 participants is served eight different courses over two hours; two starters, four mains and two desserts. While all dishes are edible, their allure differs considerably between the top and the bottom of the table; those at the top will enjoy a fine dining experience to match any in London, while those at the bottom will grapple with pickled walnuts, chicken's feet soup, lumpy gruel, and worse."

At regular intervals during the dinner, guests are invited to play the prisoner's dilemma with their opposites. If they both cooperate, they move up the table by six places. If they both betray, they move down the table by six places. If one cooperates and the other betrays, the betrayer moves up ten places, and the other down ten.

Tickets are available to buy from the website; the next event is Saturday 23rd November, and the final one is on Saturday 21st December.

Betrayers' Banquet

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  1. Wouldn't the game be affected by the fact that the ends of the table represent a terminal state where gains or losses are not possible?

    That is, the payoff matrix near the top of the table cannot offer any differential improvement based on behavior: there is nowhere to go but down, so there'd be no gain to being the sole defector.

    (On the other hand this might accurately model a conspiracy of the 1% to jointly protect their shared status.)

  2. There's a fascinating report from a previous game here:

    We were now some 90 minutes into the dinner, everyone was drunk, and everyone down at the bottom of the table was hurting, hungry and drunk. The game had been running for long enough that the foot of the table had become the domain of either players who’d been betrayed, or players whom the two sweating, overworked adjudicators hadn’t given their fair number of turns. It was awful. A dozen people pushing around plates of pickled radishes, all of them either too moral or, in my own case, too immoral to be good at the game.

  3. This sounds as fun as Monopoly.

  4. Sounds like the rules are kind of informal in their enforcement. Which makes it more like real life, but less interesting as a game. So far as the finite number of spots is concerned, it would obviously be possible for the table position (ordinal ranking) to simply be based on some number of points each player had, with the +10 or +6 or what have you applied to the point total. In that case, the only way to move up in position would be to do better than average. I suspect that because the game is positional the value of moving up would be perceived quite differently by different participants. Anyway, if it were done in this way I would expect the middle of the table to be stable and dominated by cooperators while a lower end of the betrayed and mutual betrayers developed, and (if the payoffs were similar to those in the original dilemma) a small and gradually shrinking upper end as the betrayers tried to cannibalize each other...

  5. Games run methodically by seat. So every seat at the table gets a game, in a regular pattern. Of course, people move around a lot and swap partners, so you might not get exactly the same number of games as the next person - but I don't think it's possible to ensure that, and certainly not under live conditions. It's hard to imagine if you're not there, but the game is pretty chaotic because people are moving constantly.

    At the ends, if you would move off the table, you move as far as you can.

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