I first encountered the Prisoner’s Dilemma in a middle school seminar, where it was presented as a morality problem. Do you potentially doom your unknown partner in order to improve your own odds? After seeing it presented with a similar framing soon afterward in Knights of the Old Republic, and as a case of social dynamics in Roger Highfield’s The Science of Harry Potter, I figured it was just a moral dilemma in the sense of questions like “do you let yourself die to save someone else?” and didn’t think of it much afterward.

The next time I encountered the Prisoner’s Dilemma was many years later, in an essay about how the Prisoner’s Dilemma should decidedly not be viewed as a moral issue in the traditional sense. You’re supposed to think of your partner either as someone entirely morally irrelevant, or assume that any bad karma points that you would get for defecting are reflected in the payout. Viewed this way, the problem is still at least as interesting.

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