Game theory is a method of studying strategic decision making. It helps us model conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers. It is commonly used in economic and business. I thought I would attempt to apply it to conflict in neutral territory in precincts with and without stand-your-ground laws. Of course models always over simplify real-world situations but they do help us think through situations and how the rules of the game change decision making.
I used the normal (or strategic form) game which is represented by a matrix which shows the players, strategies, and pay-offs. In this game, Tom and Bill are at the point of conflict and the decision to stand or retreat must be made. The potential outcomes of those decisions are included in the matrices. I have added points to make it easier to see how decisions are made.
First, let’s look at the matrix for a state in which there is no stand-your-ground law and individuals are expected to retreat.
The matrix explains outcomes. If both players stand, depending on who is quicker, one will end up dead and the other in prison on a murder rap. That is 0 points each. If one retreats and the other stands, the one who retreats runs some risk by letting down his guard, but the risk is reduced. That is 2 points. The individual who stands is going to get arrested for, at least, assault. Since it isn’t a murder rap and he doesn’t risk getting killed, that is 1 point. If they both retreat, it is freedom for each which is worth 10 points each.
Assuming neither player knows what the other will do, they make a decision. Standing gets you either 0 points or 1 point. Retreating gets you either 2 points or 10 points. The strategy is clear. It is better to retreat. If social policy is to reduce violence and conflict, the rules of the game appropriately designed.
Now lets look at states with a stand your ground law.
In this game, there is no legal penalty for standing your ground. Therefore, if both players stand, one player will be dead and the other will be free. Since death is 0 pts and freedom is 10 pts, we will split the difference and assign this option 5 pts. If one retreats and the other stands, as in the other game, the one who retreats runs some risk by letting down his guard, but their is still risk. That is 2 points. The player who stands, however, has no risk since he has the right to stand. In this case, he is free and that is worth 10 points. As in the other game, if they both retreat, it is freedom for each which is worth 10 points each.
Again, we will assume that neither player knows what the other will do as they make their decisions. Now things have changed. Standing gets you either 5 points or 10 points. Retreating gets you either 2 points or 10 points. Now the best strategy is far less clear. It is, however, slightly better to stand. If social policy is to reduce violence and conflict, the rules of the game badly designed. The stand your ground law is badly designed.
We can change the point structure around but, assuming the points are rational, the stand-your-ground matrix will always be more conducive to violence than the no-stand-your-ground matrix.
Food for thought.