A vocabulary primer to strategic interaction, pt 1

by Suspended Reason

These definitions are in-progress and always evolving, but by laying them out, some clarity will be shed on conversations around here.

superorganism: Any coordinating body of agents or sub-organisms, united by a shared goal, and sequestered by a boundary to keep goal-advancing resources/agents in and goal-stymying resources/agents out. These superorganisms are often hierarchically nested, with a series of boundaries leading to an inner sanctum or top-brass. Nations, companies, clubs, sports teams, etc all fit this pattern.

game: Any interaction between an agent and environment. Agents, by definition, have agendas or goals (preferred states of being, e.g. maintaining homeostasis). These goals instrumentalize the environment into a set of obstacles and affordances. (This environment often consists, at least in part, of other agents.)

strategy game: A game between 2+ agents, which is marked by mixed interests (the agents are neither purely aligned nor misaligned, adversarial nor cooperative). In contrast to games of skill and games of chance, in games of strategy, each player’s best choice of action depends on the actions the other player takes. This leads to mutual modeling of futures (theory of mind), Sicilian reasoning, and anti-inductive dynamics.

selection game: A strategy game in which an evaluator selects candidates from an applicant pool, typically for inclusion in a superorganism, or for advancement up the power hierarchy of a superorganism. Sports teams host try-outs, companies job interviews, a country may only allowed skilled immigrants, etc.

extrinsic v. intrinsic: The outcome of a game is intrinsic insofar as it would have occurred identically sans spectator, and extrinsic insofar as the outcome relies on a spectator. An actual swordfight is extrinsic, in its outcome, insofar as—even if it occurs in a dense patch of fog, or in the dark, or on a desert island, a mortal wound is a mortal wound. Fencing is intrinsic insofar as a judge who fails to witness a blow will fail to score the blow. Extrinsic games are ~opticratic.

opticratic/optikratic: Usually we have an idea that markets, democracies, and Western institutions are meritocratic,” such that appropriately skilled individuals rise through the ranks. The selection games that gate entry to institutions, or alter stock prices, are not, however, tested against reality at any point, rather, they are tested against appearances. Individuals who appear smart, competent, and hard-working are hired, or rise through the ranks, or elected to office. And the more distance there is between evaluators and candidates, in these selection games, the more opticratic the game becomes—the less tethered appearances are to reality—as it is only through prolonged proximity, and close monitoring, that appearances are kept honest and accountable.

surrogates: In evaluating a candidate (e.g. if we are an evaluator in a selection game), or evaluating the outcome of a game (e.g. if we are its judge), we do not have access to the truth” or reality” of the situation—only its appearances. We cannot know, with certainty, whether a date is kind and honest, or a job applicant hard-working and loyal, or a stock a sound investment. We must look instead for signs or cues—surrogates—which we know to correlate with these underlying, hidden, or future-projected qualities. As a result, strategy and selection games often bottleneck around these surrogates, with intense pressure put on players to perform certain token markers of identity.