This evening, I drove to the bank to deposit the latest BYOND Membership checks. The last two weeks had produced a grand total of five $15 deposits, a fairly paltry sum barely worth the drive, but I wasn't doing anything better.
As I was sitting in the parking lot contemplating how we would spend today's massive bounty, a well-groomed guy in his 20s or 30s approached me. He gave me this sob story about how he had lost his wallet and was stranded in my lovely city. His wife/girlfriend was standing next to him so I asked about her, and she apparantly didn't have any money either. It was all pretty shady-- my dominant cynical side suspected he just needed a few bucks to score more fine OC marijuana-- but I respected this desperate plea in front of his woman (who seemed embarrassed). So I asked him how much he needed and he said $14 "for gas" (unusually specific amount, no?) I gave him $15 and told him that, whether his story was true or not, he couldn't be in a good place having to ask a stranger for money, so I just hoped he would return the favor should the tables be turned one day. He and his wife/girlfriend thanked me profusely and I drove on my merry way.
It didn't occur to me until later that the $15 was the exact price of a membership. If I were writing a contrived M. Night Shyamalan script, the plot twist would be that the stranger was really just begging for $15 so that he could go home and subscribe to his favorite gaming system! That would be unusual in the face of destitution and gaslessness, but everyone has their own priorities in this life. And damnit, BYOND being #1 never hurt anyone.
As I was driving home, I thought about how my hero, game-theorist Johnny Von Neumann, would have handled the situation. Let's play another round of WWVND ("What Would Von Neumann Do?" duh!)
VN: How much money do you need, my son?
Stranger: I need...
VN: I shall write a dollar figure on this piece of paper. If you guess this amount or less, I shall give you however much you guessed. If you guess over, you get nothing!
Stranger: But I really need this money...
VN: Quiet! Guess!
I don't know if Von Neumann was really that belligerent, but I do think he could appreciate this situation, as it is a classic game-theory issue. Suppose you really need, say, $14, but think the generous fellow in front of you is willing to give $1000, or $10000? How do you measure risk vs. reward, when the reward is an unknown?
Speaking of game-theory, if you're a fan of this kind of problem you'll undoubtedly enjoy Gughunter's classic game, "Conflict". I give it "thumbs up". You'll also initially like the brutal casino game of Texas Hold'em, which on the surface appears to have the game-theory elements of pot odds, risk vs. reward, and so forth, but ultimately is really just luck and smack talk. That gets a "thumbs down, waaaaay down" from me. I still curse you, drunken master!