zero-sum game

Benjamin Barrett gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM
Sat Jun 2 22:56:41 UTC 2012

Thank you for that response. I'm glad to see there's a reason for my puzzlement.

The grammar "X is/are a zero-sum game" seems to be normal.

I looked at a few examples on the web, and some seem to use it correctly, while others I still cannot figure out. Here are a few that seem odd:

Here's on one Gigaom that seems to mean "nothing positive results from engaging in the zero-sum game (using an app to find apps)":

And here's one from the China Daily that seems to mean "promoting one's own interests without regard to others' interests":

Here are two that take "zero-sum" more literally:

From the TriplePundit, seemingly posing not replenishing wasted materials as a zero-sum game because then there is no waste (zero equals zero):

Suffering in this life is balanced by rewards in heaven, resulting in a "zero-sum game" (though there is also mention that this same zero-sum game involves the wicked benefitting while the good suffer):

When used more or less correctly, it seems that "zero-sum game" does indeed mean one party gains while the other loses with the difference being more or less equal:

Here's an article that says that competition for products is a zero-sum game, in that you buy Company A's or Company B's widget but not both, but that content is not a zero-sum game:

Here, the US says that it can grow relations with both India and China, and therefore its relations between the two are not a zero-sum game (pitting two relationships against each other in the zero-sum game):

Here's one that puzzles me from the New York Times where the zero-sum game is an African country having good relations with China OR the US but not both (the article argues that is not the case):

Here, "time is a zero-sum game" (opportunity cost in terms of time) because you can do A or B within time X, but not both:

Benjamin Barrett
Seattle, WA

On Jun 1, 2012, at 9:27 PM, Victor Steinbok wrote:

> Like other originally technical terms, this is one is often misused.
> There should be some tracking done on how people use the expression, but
> I doubt it's any indication of an actual shift.
>     VS-)
> On 6/1/2012 8:20 PM, Benjamin Barrett wrote:
>> I've struggled with the expression "zero-sum game" for quite a while. I often think it's my lack of understanding, but I think I've found a clear example where the use varies from the standard definition, such as "(of a game or situation) in which whatever is gained by one side is lost by the other: altruism is not a zero-sum game" for "zero-sum" in the Mac dictionary.
>> "On Facebook, 'Likes' Become Ads" by Somini Sengupta in the New York Times (on
>> -----
>> "So Sponsored Stories creates a zero-sum game," Mr. Goldman wrote. "I as a user probably don't get any value from the public presentation of my implicit endorsement (if anything, it might hurt my position with my friends), but Facebook and its advertisers benefit from it."
>> -----
>> Here, Facebook users who "like" a product are then featured as liking that product to their Facebook "friends." Mr. Goldman's face is appearing on his "friends'" feeds or ad bar, but I don't think he's losing anything at all.
>> Even in the case of altruism (the example in the Mac dictionary), the benefactor is going out of their way to do something nice to the recipient of the altruistic act, so there is some sort of loss, but can Mr. Goldman's appearance as pseudo-ads somehow factor in a zero-sum game?

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