The researchers at the Monash Business School in Australia may have come up with a novel way to revolutionise how the economic strategy of game theory is taught in universities around the world.
Game theory is one of the most challenging concepts taught in the first year of business and economic degrees. It requires strategic thinking to predict human behaviour, considering all players, their actions and knowledge.
However, using the Netflix drama the researchers argued in their paper, ‘Using Squid Game to Teach Game Theory’—published in December 2021—that the show demonstrated to students the realities of microeconomics and game theory with real-world concepts.
“The players in Squid Game are a metaphor for companies, and we have examined the strategic interactions of Squid Game in comparison to real-life business,” Associate Professor Wayne Geerling, a co-author of the paper, said.
“How do players, that is the companies, interact? Game theory has a lot of real-world applications, analysing how actions influence others and the strategic implications of such.”
Squid Game is a dystopian Korean-language TV drama on Netflix. The show focuses on 456 heavily indebted players that risk their lives, competing in a series of six children games to win ₩45.6 billion (US$38 million).
The players are all worth ₩100 million (US$83,000) and are killed if they lose a game. If a player is killed the money that they are worth is added to the winning pot of the other players, creating a zero-sum game.
The players are not told what the games will be, whether they have to pair up, team up or play individually. They have to prepare themselves for all possibilities and make strategic decisions
“The concept of a winner-take-all jackpot of ₩45.6 billion is zero-sum because the payoffs (positive and negative) for all participants sum to zero,” the paper said.
“When a player is eliminated from the game, they are either shot dead or die as part of the game’s mechanics. One person’s death is another person’s chance at life with the prize money.”
Geerling notes that the research identifies several scenes in the show from three of the six games. He has used these scenes to develop easily adaptable teaching guides for educators that want to use the new method.
There are of course other media that illustrate game theory but Squid Game is unlike media that has been used in the past because it’s a global sensation. The examples given in the guide will be globally understood, making the guide internationally accessible.
The current teaching methods used in economics do not typically involve such active learning.
“Despite the growth in teaching resources and the ability for educators to integrate innovative teaching practices into their curriculum more easily, the vast majority of educators continue to teach using a traditional lecture,” Geerling said.
But, Geerling believes the new methods will help students understand the concepts better and plans to use his new method to teach the microeconomics students starting in Semester 1, 2022 at Monash Business School.
“Many students struggle to think in a strategic manner when the material is taught through traditional methods alone,” Geerling said.
“Pop culture, such as Squid Game, can be used as an effective medium to break down barriers to learning because it taps into everyday life and allows students to see connections between abstract theory and real-world applications,” he said.