Fourth Grade Valentine’s Cards: The OG Game Theory

Way back when, in the days of yore, Valentine’s cards were handed out willy-nilly. You received a card from many of your classmates and reciprocated as such. However, what happened when there was that special someone across the room that you really wanted to give a valentine to, but likely didn’t share this interest? What if this person failed to give you one back? This is where game theory comes into play.

Your moves:

Give the love interest a valentine

Don’t give the loves interest a valentine

Your Pseudo-lovers moves:

Give you a valentine

Don’t give you a valentine

The Outcomes:

You both give each other a valentine: A fleeting moment of bliss

You give her a card and she fails to reciprocate: A year of embarrassment and shame

You don’t give her a card and she gives you one: You feel guilty and like you made a mistake

Neither of you give each other cards: No guilt or embarrassment is felt


Obviously, the best outcome for you is to attain the moment of bliss by exchanging cards. However, as she likely doesn’t share these feelings, you know her best move is to not give you a card (saves paper). Based on her likelihood of playing this move, you know it is in your best interest to not give her a card and save yourself the embarrassment.



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5 Responses to Fourth Grade Valentine’s Cards: The OG Game Theory

  1. kobzeffr says:

    I loved this, a very funny spin on game theory and one that we can all relate to. My only problem is that back in the day we really didn’t know if the other classmate was interested in us either, like we actually had no clue. We had blind hope and optimism of course, but actually any history or knowledge about this other person was non existent. Also lets say this girl doesn’t like you right now, you’re in 1st grade, one well written Valentine with an extra sticker and BOOM she is doodling her signature with your last name in it. But I think you are right, the Nash equilibrium would be to both “not give”, but I believe the Pareto optimum would be to “both give”. Society (or this elementary classroom’s) benefits are maximized.

  2. knightli says:

    When I think back to the days when I was in elementary school I’m pretty sure we all HAD to give each other Valentine cards, so to both not give was never really an option. I think it is hard to have a true Nash equilibrium in this case since the card giving was forced. Of course, giving something ‘extra’ to that one special person could still occur so it would probably be Nash equilibrium of not giving that something extra.

  3. phillels says:

    It would apply once the givers reached a grade where it wasn’t mandatory to give a Valentine’s Day card. I think this is an excellent example!

  4. mcneiljo says:

    I think that this is a great example. However, I think you forgot about the ridiculous gender roles problem. If a girl gets him a card and he gives her nothing most girls will make sure he feels more than just guilty. But if it were the other way around the girl might feel a little bad, but it’s more common for the male to get the female something so she could easily justify not giving him anything. I’m not saying this is right, just saying that it’s how it goes! Us girls put a new spin on game theory.

  5. hondoh says:

    I don’t know about everyone else, but when I was in elementary school I was much more interested in amassing the largest amount of candy that I possibly could, rather than getting the attention of the girls in my class. However, my scenario would have still been related to game theory because I would barter the candy that my parents purchased for me with the other students.

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