The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Which profession(s) are good at games?

Via Marginal Revolution, I noticed a post asking if Economists are better at games.

I was torn over whether to invite a few game-theory pros for fear that they might whip my proverbial ass. Who better to consult than a neuroeconomist? Kevin McCabe told me he had not seen any formal studies of how game theorists perform in strategic settings, though some game theorists do quite well at bridge.

I don’t recall seeing any economists in my gaming sessions, so if they are strong, they don’t seem to want to play. [Of course, I don’t know the professions of about half of my regular opponents]. Interestingly, the one PhD economist I know does play a high-caliber game of bridge. If I had to pick one profession that consistently shows up (both in numbers, and strength) I’d say ‘computer professional/engineer.’ While I know strong opponents with many different backgrounds, that one just keeps popping up again and again. I don’t consider this surprising, as it’s the most common ‘analytic’ profession.

My background plays a part, no doubt. Since I went to technical colleges, I know quite a few programmers (and in my “Top 10 opponents” list, a good chunk are from grad school). I do know strong players from a wide variety of backgrounds, but don’t know enough economists to say for sure. I suspect the answer is “no” (for general games), although for games that match up closely with game theory, they probably do fine.

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Written by taogaming

March 1, 2005 at 10:30 pm

Posted in Misc

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  1. Do the Motley Fool guys count as economists?

    Doug Orleans

    March 2, 2005 at 8:42 am

  2. I also see mostly engineers and computer professionals in my gaming groups. (I myself am an engineer so there is some self-selection.)

    My wife is getting her PhD in economics and most of her colleagues are not the gaming type (obviously that is a small sample size).

    I doubt a knowledge (and general use) of game theory, rational/irrational behavior, etc, would necessarily predispose someone towards board games. In my (limited) experience, economists are more interested in analyzing large amounts of data to prove/disprove theories on concrete effects of laws, water quality, etc. A gaming night would have little significant data (especially when games are played “optimally” via min-max), and the solution spaces are rather large.

    Psychologists seem more likely to be interested in small-scale studies like a gaming night.

    Oops, now I notice that the question is what profession would be *good* at board games. That’ll teach me for opening my mouth without reading carefully. I would guess/judge that economists with the right background (e.g., game theory) might do well at hidden information, concrete valuation games (e.g., bridge), but that most boardgames are rather more studies of character/personality or have choices whose utility is indeterminate.

    Ryan Beasley

    March 4, 2005 at 1:31 pm


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