Died in a Blogging Accident has lived up to its name and died... in a blogging accident. That is to say it has concluded. You can still re-live the magic by clicking here to start at chapter 1. For genuine criticism of XKCD, please click the top link to the right (XKCD Isn't Funny).

Monday, February 13, 2012

1016: Nerds being awkward

Alt-text: The worst resolution to the Valentine Prisoner's Dilemma when YOU decide not to give your partner a present but your PARTNER decides to testify against you in the armed robbery case.

St. Valentine's Day is coming, which means that many webcomics, especially those that don't follow a storyline, will have a Valentine themed strip, like here or here (NSFW). And whaddya know, xkcd is one of those webcomics, too. So buckle up, this is gonna be on bumpy ride.

I really hate this comic, and I'll get to why in a second, but first let me take care of the usual: This is not a comic strip, it's just a script in a drawn form. Show us that Megan has her hand stapled to her face, don't tell us! Randall, you're not an artist, because you fail at art!

With that being said, there are three points in this comic that I would like to address. The first is the old, old "joke" of criticizing Valentine's Day. Yes, we all know that it's trite and clich├ęd, yes, we know that it's been commercialized to hell and back, but guess what? Literally everybody on this planet has already made the joke, and in much better ways at that. Also, fuck you.

The second point is the old, old "joke" about nerds overthinking the simplest of things, especially if it's wrong. Ignoring stick!Randall's attempt at figuring out the correct value of the gift he should give to Megan (also an old joke, done much better, for example, in The Big Bang Theory episode "Bath Item Gift Hypothesis"), we have the part where Megan's realizes that she has been caught up in a Prisoner's Dilemma, and then proceeds to panic anyway. We have that shit figured out! We know which choice to take in this scenario, and all you need to know is whether you want to maximize your reward or minimize your risk.

This ties directly into my third point which is not an old, old "joke", but rather the comparison of Valentine gift buying to the Prisoner's Dilemma. That's actually pretty clever, and even if it has been done before (which it probably has), it should have been the focus of your strip. Lose the wall of text, lose the stupid, stupid, characters and build on game theory. You're writing a nerd comic, ferchrissakes, the least you can do is analyze and algorithimize holidays.

But hey, at least Randall is being topical for once.


A little off-topic note: What I really like about the Oglaf comic linked above is that it's not only making fun of Valentine's Day, but it also offers a pretty cynical message about only professing one's love out of obligation. That's more of an xkcd comic than the actual xkcd comic.


  1. "Literally everybody on this planet"


    You could least do without the italics...

  2. "This ties directly into my third point which is not an old, old "joke", but rather the comparison of Valentine gift buying to the Prisoner's Dilemma. That's actually pretty clever, and even if it has been done before (which it probably has)"

    Incidentally I'm not even sure the payoff structure of this game is that of Prisoner's dilemma.

    If the woman in the comic would regret not reciprocating (and presumably the man feels the same way), I'm thinking the payoff structure would be for man and woman resp.:

    (no gifts, no gifts): (3,3)
    (gifts, no gifts): (2,1)
    (no gifts, gifts): (1,2)
    (gifts, gifts): (2,2)

    3 - best, no money or effort wasted on gifts, and no guilt
    2 - money spent on useless gifts, but no guilt
    1 - worst, guilt

    So it sort of looks like PD superficially but in truth the optimal solution for both is to give no gifts: if it were PD, the selfishly optimal solution would be either to give gifts and receive none (in order to manipulate the SO with guilt perhaps, but there's no hint of that here) or receive gifts but give none (for greedy material gain, which is more along the lines of the classic free rider problem) ... and the reason they do not attain this equilibrium seems pretty clearly to be strong risk aversion.

    Chalk up another all out epic fail for Randall Munroe.

  3. hmm, PD is (iirc) more like:

    defect/defect- 3 / 3 - bad/bad
    coop/defect - 4 / 1 - verybad/great
    defect/coop - 1 / 4 - great/verybad
    coop/coop - 2 / 2 - good/good
    with 1 being best and 4 being worst
    1= free
    2= 1 month
    3= 3 months
    4= 1 year

    so you need the valentines-dilemma (or VD, as i like to think of it) to match up...

    gifts/gifts = bad/bad
    nogifts/gifts = verybad/great
    gifts/nogifts = great/verybad
    nogifts/nogifts = good/good

    ....which only makes sense if your saying the best solution (for each individual) is for them to give a gift, and their partner not to. i'm not sure i buy that. it would look something like:
    (thoughts being from the first person in each case!)
    gifts/gifts = bad/bad = 'shit, we've both wasted our money and dont get to feel smug :('
    nogifts/gifts = verybad/great = 'ohnoes, i feel guilty :'('
    gifts/nogifts = great/verybad = 'ha! i get to feel smug and superior to my partner! :D'
    nogifts/nogifts = good/good = 'we both saved money, so i guess thats good, but no smugness either :)'

    it doesnt quite work of course...

    we could try reversing it:
    nogifts/nogifts = bad/bad = 'no presents for anyone, what a dull day! :('
    gifts/nogifts = verybad/great = 'wtf is this shit, i bought him a gift and got nothing in return?! :'('
    nogifts/gifts = great/verybad = 'i got given a gift, and it cost me nothing! :D'
    gifts/gifts = good/good = 'both got presents, both happy, but it cost money:)'

    yeah, thats the one RM was thinking of isnt it. the one where the outright best situation for you is for you to not buy a gift, but be given one by your partner. ah, what a pleasant relationship...

  4. i should mention, i know he's not actually thinking of the second one from the panel when she references it, but the other one makes no sense either ./shrug.

  5. It's not about smugness... neglecting to reciprocate on Valentines requires one to make up for it tenfold so... also the scales aren't balanced because women can always give a guy exactly what he wants for no cost.

    guy gift/girl no gift = girl owes guy, increased chance of sex
    guy no gift/girl no gift = guy is happy to have saved money, girl feels like the romance is gone, reduced chance of sex
    guy no gift/girl gift = guy is happy because he got a gift and spent money but then realized he is sleeping on the couch for a week, zero chance of sex
    guy gift/girl gift = Valentines day has worked as expected for the girl, illusion of romance maintained, increased chance of sex.

    Assuming that the goal of the girl is to reduce the expectation of sex, she should buy a gift.
    Assuming that the goal of the guy is to increased the chance of sex, he should buy a gift.

    This fails to take into account "the one who got the better/more thoughtful gift" and girls using the "you just bought me this so I'd be more likely to have sex with you" argument in "guy gift/girl no gift" situations.

    1. Why would the girl want to reduce chances of sex? Girls like sex too, you know.

    2. apparently not. apparently guys only buy presents to have sex, and girls only buy presents to get out of being forced to have sex.

    3. It's true, I saw it on reddit once

  6. In my analysis, I'm only going on what was in the comic.

    Nothing was said about expectation of sex one way or the other (and remember this is a shitty webcomic for nerds so we can't assume a lot about normal social behavior).

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