Game Theory

We have opened something of a floodgate at home. It all started a couple of weeks ago, when we were unloading the dishwasher together after watching a programme on game theory.

‘We play games all the time,’ I said to H.

‘In what way?’

‘Well, like now. Essentially, we’re in a complex dance to try to ensure that the other person unloads the worst bits.’

You may be playing that game,’ said H, ‘but I’m not. It’s going on entirely in your own head.’ And then, a few seconds later, he yelled, ‘Ha! I win!’ and I looked down to see that I was left with two baking trays, which live in the most inaccesible and over-packed draw in the kitchen. He had indeed won. And remarkably, we both knew the rules of a game that we’d never thought to mention.

Since then, I’ve seen games in everything we do. There is the game of methodically compressing the contents of the recycling bin so that you don’t have to be the one to empty the damned thing. There is the game of ensuring that you finish your glass of wine last, so that your other half has to go to the fridge to top it up. There is the game of eeking out the last smears of toothpaste so that the other person has to throw away the tube and open a new one.

I realise that these games suggest incredible laziness on our part, but I don’t think that’s the point. They certainly centre on the myriad of dull little jobs that fill our lives, but none of them are particularly difficult. It’s more like an elaborate form of procrastination, based on an imagined hierarchy of chores. We often expend more energy in avoiding them than we would in just doing them.

In our house, we approach this game with the strategising of grand chess masters. Patterns of manoeuvring and avoidance can spin out over several days. I have observed a gambit (at which H is better than me) of carrying out such a wide range of more pleasurable tasks that the other person feels duty-bound to undertake the rotten ones. On the other hand, I am remarkably adept at my own, special strategy: I can spend a very long time taking off my makeup. This simple but effective tactic eventually means that H gives in and carries out whatever infernal chore I’m avoiding. And the beauty of it is that he can’t retaliate, due to his avowed dislike of ‘washing as a leisure activity’ (his words).

Well, you have to pass the time somehow, don’t you? And, incidentally, he’d underestimated me when it came to unloading the dishwasher. Schoolboy error. Because what do you have to do after emptying the dishwasher? Load it again. A rather satisfying little task, which I bagged while he was wiping the worktops. This left only one item. The worst of them all. Our eyes fell upon it at the same moment, just as I was slotting in the plates.

‘Coffee pot,’ said H, grimly. ‘Bugger. You win,’ and with that, he began the dreaded task of emptying out the grouts, while I skipped happily off for some serious leisure washing. Cackling.

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4 Responses to Game Theory

  1. Kat Collins 23/07/2012 at 18:01 #

    Hysterical! It brought to mind the little games I play with my other half. I slowly drink my tea on the couch until she gets up and then I ask for a refill. I wonder how conscious we are of our thoughts when we do this…do we know we’re doing it? I get a small little smug sense of satisfaction with a tiny dose of guilt so that next time, I offer to do something for her. So I suppose she really wins, huh? ;)

    • Betty Herbert 24/07/2012 at 08:36 #

      It’s almost subconscious isn’t it? We’re not really trying to stich each other up, just being a tiny bit lazy ;-)

  2. beccy 29/07/2012 at 12:37 #

    I’ve just realised that I don’t have the patience to play; thus, my husband, who does not feel duty bound to hurtle through life, is a perpetual winner!. Grrrrrr!

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