Prisoner’s Dilemma

40 minutes Online activity
Learning Outcomes

Participants’ decision-making skills are intensely trained during this activity. Participants also practice strategic thinking by developing a long-term plan.

It also functions as an effective catalyst for post-game discussions on decision-making, ethics, communications, etc., giving participants the opportunity to reflect on these subjects.


Participants are divided into two teams. If done online, teams should work in virtual breakout rooms.

Each team represents a suspect in a crime. The teams must now choose to either remain silent or betray their partner in crime (the other suspect). 

Points (”sentences”) are given according to the decisions made. If both teams remain silent, they both get only a 6-month sentence (+3 points). If they both choose to betray each other, both teams get a 10 year sentence (-3 points). If one team remains silent, and the other team betrays it, the team which remained silent will get a 5-year sentence (-5 points), and the team that betrayed the other will go free (+5 points).

Multiple rounds are played either with a set number of rounds or a time limit. Each team must earn as many points as possible without considering the other team’s points tally. (to create incentives for gaining points, possibly create some sort of reward, based on the number of points gained, regardless of whether or not they have more points than the other team) 

The teams are not allowed to communicate with each other. Alternatively, allow each team to send a negotiator to neutral ground before each round to discuss with the other team. This will be the only communication between the two teams.

Ideas For Reflection

Post-game discussion is encouraged. Possible subjects to discuss: 

  • Decision-making: How did they make decisions? Did they have a long-term strategy? 
  • Ethics: how did they feel if/when they betrayed the other team? Is it okay to do so? Why? 
  • Communication: How did they come to an agreement within the team? Did they make a strategy for the negotiator?