The Archers, game theory and the kitchen sink
It began, a couple of weeks ago, with my editor asking, "Chris do you know about game theory?" I've been a journalist long enough to know it doesn't pay to plead ignorance (unless you've done something wrong or stolen pens from the desk of a colleague), so I said, "I know all about game theory - I studied it at university." This wasn't entirely untrue: I remember the subjects I studied at university, but in the same way a hangover remembers the last thing you drunk.
"Great, I knew you'd know", said my editor, "I want you to do a piece on game theory and The Archers for Broadcasting House: the plot-line with Matt, Chalky and the SFO is a perfect example of the prisoner's dilemma". This was a bit of a challenge. The prisoner's dilemma has been used to analyse everything from the cold war to the economy, but I believe this was the first time it had been applied to Ambridge.
In the end, I did what any good student of game theory would do, I cheated and let two other people make the radio piece for me. A very patient and kind professor of economics, Martin Cripps gave up his Friday to visit The Archers' studios and an equally charming and patient Mary Cutler - the longest serving script writer currently working on the show - agreed to discuss her craft with Martin.
The end result was a fascinating conversation and the two had more in common than you might suppose.
You can listen to a longer version of their conversation in the player below.
- Chris recorded his interview in The Archers' studio in Birmingham. The picture shows a kitchen sink used to make sound effects in the studio. It's from a slideshow of pictures of the studio.
- Chris's Broadcasting House item about The Archers and game theory went out on 29 March (podcast).
- Entries about game theory from The Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy and Wikipedia.
- A history of the RAND Corporation (PDF) where much of the early work on the practical application of game theory was done.
- The Telegraph's City Diary on the SFO's arrival in Ambridge.
- A Shockwave game based on the prisoner's dilemma from the Open University.