Gentle reader,
The Betrayers’ Banquet is an experiment.

It is a 32 course banquet with an embedded implementation of the iterated prisoner's dilemma, a game famous from classical game theory and economics, presented as an immersive theatrical experience.

The iterated prisoner's dilemma has been written about extensively in popular non–fiction as the canonical example of a situation modelling the dynamics of group cooperation and betrayal, and has been used to explain real world behaviour ranging from arms races and psychological addiction to drug cartels. I won't go into more background detail about it here, but in the event this is the first time you've heard of it I recommend you check out the Wikipedia entry.

The event works as follows:

A banqueting table is set with 48 chairs, 24 on each side, at which players are seated at random. For a period of two hours, the food is served in small portions every fifteen minutes, and varies in quality; at the top end of the table, it is exquisite – food you could expect at a fancy restaurant. At the bottom end, the food is charitably described as unpalatable. In between, it is a spectrum between these two extremes.

At regular intervals, pairs of opposing diners are invited to play a round of the prisoner's dilemma with each other; They are each provided with a small wooden coin with symbols on each side representing cooperation and betrayal, which they place on the table concealed under their palms, and then simultaneously reveal:

• If they both cooperate, then they are both moved up five seats towards the good food.
• If they both betray, they are both moved five seats down towards the worse food.
• If one betrays and one cooperates, the betrayer moves up ten seats, and other down ten seats.
The event is presented as an initiation ritual of a freemason–esque secret society; service is run by servers in hooded robes and the game is arbitrated by a dour, unsympathetic master of ceremony, who punctuate the courses with grave speeches describing the discovery of the game in the court of Charlemagne in the eighth century.

From the participant's point of view, aside from getting to play a game and try a variety of different foods, the main attraction is that they get to move around the table and talk to a variety of people throughout dinner. The iterated prisoner's dilemma is famous for creating very complex social dynamics, which keeps conversation lively and generates a high eagerness to continue playing.

The pilot event we ran to test the game dynamics was a great success, and it’s exciting to bring this to the public; it will be run once a month and tickets can be booked below, and the price includes the food, unlimited drink and the show – and don’t worry, everyone gets to eat their fill by the end!

Edward Saperia
Creative Director
Original Content London