Prisoners Dilemma

The Prisoners’ Dilemma simulation (located on the SCS Campus North island in the Tulane SCS Metaverse) is an interactive, student-tested virtual world learning activity that illustrates: (1) the bias against cooperation; and (2) the benefits to be gained from cooperating. Drawing on game theory and student preferences for virtual world learning simulations, the Prisoners’ Dilemma virtual world simulation [that was a 2012 Federal Virtual World Challenge finalist*] features numerous layers of resource materials for student use as well as an interactive game.

Question: What is the “Prisoners’ Dilemma”?

Answer: The “Dilemma” is whether to cooperate (and not confess) or to confess?


Question: How is the Prisoners’ Dilemma game played in a virtual world?

Answer: The game scenario includes two individuals/players (that are suspected “partners in crime”). More specifically, the players have been arrested for [illegally] possessing a gun. Further, the police have enough evidence to imprison each for one year on a weapons charge.

Still, since the police [correctly] suspect the pair are responsible for a recent bank robbery, they question each separately, offering you the following deal:

  • If you confess and implicate your partner, you go free.
  • If you do not confess but your partner implicates you, you receive a sentence of 20 years in prison. If you both confess, you each receive a sentence of 8 years in prison.
  • [If you both remain silent, you each receive a sentence of 1 year in prison (on the weapons charge).]

Bonnie and Clyde Payoff matrix

[Above] Bonnie and Clyde Payoff Matrix

Using the simulated cells in the virtual world, the players avatars are separated into [virtual] cells (see the image below).

gray background - cell

[Above] Close-Up of One of the Cells in the Virtual Simulation

Next, the players individually signal their willingness to cooperate or alternatively, take “the deal” (by using the signaling device in their cell — see the image below).

Do you confess

[Above] Cell View of the “Do You Confess?” Signaling Device

Do you confess 2

[Above] Simultaneous View of Both Players’ Answer to the “Do You Confess?” Question


* Kay McLennan’s Prisoners’ Dilemma [Game Theory] learning simulation was a finalist (3rd place) in the U. S. Army’s 2012 Federal Virtual Challenge (formerly the Federal Virtual Worlds Challenge) in the”Engaging Learning: Concept Building” category (see