Zero Sum Games are for Losers

photo of two red dices

Zero-sum games are those in which the gains of one player are exactly offset by the losses of another. In other words, the total benefit to all players is constant, and any gain by one player necessarily comes at the expense of another player. These games are often portrayed as highly competitive and cutthroat, with players motivated by a win-at-all-costs mentality. However, it is important to recognize that zero-sum games are ultimately a losing proposition for all involved.

The first reason why zero-sum games are for losers is that they are inherently limiting. When players approach a game with the mindset that any gain for one player must come at the expense of another, they close themselves off to the possibility of creative solutions that could benefit everyone. In a non-zero-sum game, players can work together to find solutions that benefit all parties involved, rather than constantly trying to outdo one another.

Second, zero-sum games encourage a scarcity mindset, in which players feel that resources are limited and must be hoarded or fought over. This can lead to an emphasis on short-term thinking, rather than long-term planning and sustainable growth. In a non-zero-sum game, players can focus on creating new opportunities and expanding the pie for everyone involved.

Third, zero-sum games are often characterized by a lack of trust and cooperation. When players are constantly trying to outdo one another, they may be less likely to share information, resources, or expertise that could benefit others. This can ultimately lead to a lose-lose situation, in which all players end up worse off than they would have been if they had worked together.

Fourth, zero-sum games can be highly stressful and emotionally taxing. When players are constantly fighting over limited resources, it can be difficult to maintain positive relationships and build trust. This can lead to feelings of anxiety, frustration, and even anger, which can ultimately harm both personal and professional relationships.

Fifth, zero-sum games can be highly destructive, both to the players involved and to the broader social and economic systems in which they operate. When players are focused solely on winning, they may be more likely to engage in unethical or illegal behavior, such as cheating, lying, or sabotage. This can ultimately harm not only the players involved, but also the broader society in which they operate.

Sixth, zero-sum games can lead to a vicious cycle of retaliation and counter-retaliation. When one player feels that they have been wronged, they may be more likely to seek revenge or retribution, rather than focusing on finding a mutually beneficial solution. This can ultimately lead to a never-ending cycle of aggression and hostility, which can be difficult to break.

Finally, it is worth noting that zero-sum games are not the only option. In many cases, it is possible to create non-zero-sum games in which all players can benefit. This requires a mindset shift away from competition and towards collaboration, but it can ultimately lead to better outcomes for everyone involved.

In conclusion, zero-sum games are for losers because they limit creativity, encourage a scarcity mindset, discourage trust and cooperation, are emotionally taxing, can be destructive to individuals and society, lead to a cycle of retaliation, and are ultimately unnecessary. By embracing non-zero-sum games, we can create more opportunities for everyone involved and build a more sustainable and collaborative world.

By Marek Foss

I graduated Oxford University Computing Laboratory in 2008 and since then have been a full-stack lead on many projects, in different technologies. Myself, I like to code in Perl, Solidity and JavaScript, run on Debian & Nginx, design with Adobe CC & Affinity and work remotely, but overall I always do whatever gets the job done. I like to learn new things all the time!

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