game theory

When the sibling rivalry was at its boringest late last year I tried a two-pronged approach. First, we instituted and enforced some non-negotiables: you will speak to one another with respect; you will respect one another’s personal space.

Second, shameless bribery. A child could report an act of kindness undertaken towards it by another child. On receipt of such reports, both children earned a point. No points were earned for self-reported acts of kindness. At some arbitrary threshold, points can be redeemed for valuable prizes (tea at Lovejoy’s.)

They earned eight and a half points non-ironically before Claire figured out how to game the system, conspired with Julia to perform a short role-play and presented us with the hilariously unconvincing spectacle of: “the children being nice to one another.” I kept a straight face and gave them each a point.

Tonight Claire and I were talking about some school exercises that bore her. I told her that the trick was figuring out how to hack them. We’re middle-class people. We have to jump through hoops to earn our bread. But we can at least jump through hoops in ways we find amusing. I used the sibling rivalry exercise, and the way she hacked it, as my example.

We’d had a perfect day. The weather was divine and we spent most of our time at Adventure Playground in Berkeley, which has got to be one of the nicest places in the world. But the no-contest awesomest moment of the day was Claire’s expression when she realized that I had tricked her and her sister into joining forces for a prank.

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