Game Shows!

December 2, 2011

Political Theory, Uncategorized


Who doesn’t like to watch game shows?  Every now and again I love to just flip on some good old Family Feud or pretty much any other game show.  I try to shout out as many answers as I possibly can and when I don’t know something I’ll just yell any random guess that comes to mind.  What does this say about game shows?  Are my extremely random guesses acceptable and what game shows should be asking for or should game shows be based on one’s knowledge?  In other words, should rewards be based more on luck or more on one’s personal situation and capabilities?

Let’s look at three of my personal favorites: Jeopardy (Even though Trebek annoys me, I still love it.  What a classic), Who Wants to be a Millionaire (Gotta love Regis.  He’s the man) and Deal or No DealJeopardy rewards its contestants by how much they know, how quickly they can recite their answers or determine the answer to a question or problem and essentially how well they are able memorize and retain information.  This is a game show that rewards the highly intelligent and the highly educated scholars who apply to be on it.  In fact, many people don’t even make the cut to be on JeopardyYou have to be of a certain level of intelligence to even grace the show with your presence because the show has an image.  Its image is one of wisdom and sophistication: people on this show are smart and given the chance to win money because of it.

Who Wants to be a Millionaire is a more dynamic game show in that it has luck and knowledge involved in the equation.  Intelligent contestants are given the chance to vie for the position to possibly win a million dollars, but they are also given four choices to choose from in each question.  Each question is inherently answerable due to the four choices and hence twenty-five percent chance that the contestant has to answer correctly.  Not only this, but contestants are provided with helpful “life-lines” that give them extra room for error within their random guesses for the questions they are unsure of.  Ultimately, this game show is rewarding of those who are both lucky and smart.  Somebody could get lucky every time and just guess the right answer out of the four, or somebody could know every single one and not even expend a “life-line”.

Lastly, Deal or No Deal is all luck.  Let’s be honest, there isn’t much skill in choosing stainless steel briefcases with plastic figures for numbers pasted on them.  Some people out there claim to by psychic or what not and if they truly are then they might have a leg up in this game, but otherwise everybody is given an identical opportunity to be rewarded with a monetary prize.

Should game shows be based on luck alone, primarily on luck, primarily on knowledge, or a balanced combination of the two?  I find this to be an intriguing question because Rousseau and Rawls’ work both touch on concepts similar to this game show concept I’ve discussed.

Rawls fights for “social justice” (37), in the words of Thomas Nagel.  He doesn’t believe in rewarding people based on their inherited skills and letting the less skilled suffer comparatively.  Nagel said, “Rawls’ outlook is that differences in ability, to the extent that they have genetic sources, do not in themselves justify differences in reward” (39).  This means that Rawls generally disapproves of better rewards for those who are inherently more able because of their lineage.  Inheriting abilities is somewhat unfair in the sense that one does not earn their advantageous talents, but just has them upon birth.  He takes on a more democratic perspective in that he advocates for more support for those lower in society.  Rousseau doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with people rising above others because of natural distinctions.  He is mainly against this happening with the presence of social institutions that have become in society because they are artificial in creation.  Rousseau comes across as less forgiving than Rawls in his writings.  He does not necessarily believe in the more able triumphing over those without comparable abilities, but he is less sympathetic than Rawls seems to be.

If we created a world in which rewards were doled out through game shows (I know, what a strange life that would be), what would these guys think?  As they don’t directly deal with luck, they both deal with the issues of rewards, natural abilities and justice in general.  Rawls’ theory asserts that people should not be ahead of others naturally, but that differences in natural capability cannot be annihilated or removed (40).  So, if game shows were the key to gaining rewards, which would he support?  On the other hand, Rousseau is more accepting of the concept of those with greater natural talent receiving more benefits, but his ideas do not fully support this.  Both philosophers have ideas on natural ability and subsequent rewards, but both of their dispositions are not radically against the opposing side.  Rawls doesn’t support rewards based on natural gifts, but he is also aware that natural advantages and disadvantages should not be erased completely.  Rousseau is not against natural differences in ability, but his ideas acknowledge that they are not the best things by any means.  What would they say about these game shows if they determined how people were to be rewarded in life?

Is luck is a MORE fair way to distribute rewards?  What is the quintessential game show?  How should a game show reward its contestants?

Work Cited:

Nagel, Thomas. “Justice, Justice, Shalt Thou Pursue.” The New Republic 25 Oct. 1999: 36-41.

Image: http://sharetv.org/images/deal_or_no_deal-show.jpg

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3 Comments on “Game Shows!”

  1. cchevat Says:

    While a world where everyone gained money through game show experiences seems like a farfetched idea, it really is similar to how the world works today. Lets take the specific game shows used in the post. Jeopardy as explained is a game of skill and logic; knowing how much to wage and knowing as many facts as possible. In some ways, Jeopardy is the elite of game shows. A person must be educated to a certain point in order to even be considered a contestant. In order to reach that level of knowledge you need a certain education which can be considerably expensive. That there already divides people who can and cannot be considered. My friend was on Teen Jeopardy and she is one of the smartest people I know and studied immensely before the pretest for the show. Just like today, there are the elite who attend the highest of educations and then are able seek rewards due to having access to that education.
    On the other hand, with Deal or No Deal which is solely luck is a game for the masses. Anyone could have the ability to be a contestant because there is no skill. One could be a contestant that went to Oxford University and have the same chance at winning as a twelve year old. In that same vein, there is less of a chance of winning any money at all unless you are wise enough to stop while you are ahead and take the money you have already received. These game shows replicate society today because the masses are all trying to go for the almost unobtainable chance at earning one million dollars, while a smaller group is able to work for money that is in some ways more obtainable because there is preparation involved. If only everyone was able to win money every time they played in a game show. That would definitely be ideal.

  2. emmaknev Says:

    I share your love of game shows, and I must say, I find the ones where luck is the main factor a bit more enticing. I think that luck is ALWAYS a factor in any game show, that’s what makes it a game. I understand that game show’s like Jeopardy reward those who deserve it, however, the people who go on it are usually already well off if they have the education and knowledge to play. So, when the win the reward, I’m less excited for them. However, game shows like Deal or No Deal allow everyone, educated and not, to have a chance at winning a big reward. This makes me root for them during the show, and makes it more interesting to watch. Personally, I favor the middle ground, like Who Wants to be a Millionaire, because both knowledge and luck are equal factors. It’s interesting because I am engaged in the questions and feel like I’m learning something, as well as the luck involved in picking the correct answer, or hoping that the person’s lifeline will be of use. I don’t think luck makes anything more or less fair, because a person can’t do anything about it.

  3. aecorwin Says:

    I feel like game shows should not be set to a certain “standard” of luck and education- they are GAME shows and should each be different. If they were each calculated to fit a certain amount of luck and ability, they would all be similar and not as much fun to watch. There are different ones that appeal to different people, for all kinds of reasons. Some people do not want to watch a show like deal or no deal because they feel like it is completely based on luck and there is no skill involved whatsoever. But should the people who love this show be punished because of this lack of skill? The reverse can also be applied. Jeopardy is a collection of random facts, and some people just may not care at all. If you were to set a standard for game shows, they would all become just like the next, and people would be dissatisfied. No one should be punished from watching their favorite game shows, and those who enjoy games of all kinds should not be either.

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