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Prisoner's Dilemma is a game used to study both social and economic research. You can read more on it on Wikipidia or in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Interestingly, it seems that either:

  1. These two sources are not consistent in how they spell it
  2. They change spelling depending on context in a way I do not grasp

For instance on Wikipedia we have

The prisoner's dilemma is a standard example of a game [...]

and then

Prisoner's Dilemma tournaments have been held [...]

or

The structure of the traditional Prisoner's Dilemma can be generalized [...]

Similarly in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy we have:

A closely related view is that the prisoner's dilemma game [...]

and then

[...] take the Prisoner's Dilemma to say something important [...]

or

[...] story suggests that the Prisoner's Dilemma also occupies [...]

It seems that on Wikipedia lower case spelling dominates, while in in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy both versions are used interchangeably.

I would expect it might be correct to use upper case spelling for games matching the definition or for the original version of the game and lower case for variations on it or when more general sense is meant.

That is, we can write

In Golden Balls contestants are presented with prisoner's dilemma

because we mean type of situation in general.

And we can write

This game is a proper instance of Prisoner's Dilemma

meaning that this games matches the definition the specific Prisoner's Dilemma.

However, the abovementioned examples do not seem to comply understanding nor to any other that I could see.

So do these two source spell Prisoner's Dilemma correctly?

And how should we spell it?

  • 2
    We Brits seem to have made up our minds in recent decades (as with so many similar terms, eventually we drop the capitals once the usage becomes sufficiently familiar). Americans seem to be still making up their minds, but I think any attempt to infer a different meaning based on capitalization is just spurious. – FumbleFingers Sep 25 '16 at 19:05
  • There's no difference at all. There is no original version of the "game". It is a logical deductive process. – Lambie Sep 25 '16 at 20:22
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    Google Ngram Viewer seems give the same answer for American English - prisoner's dilemma it is, at least starting from the 90s. Thanks! – Legat Sep 26 '16 at 19:46
  • @FumbleFingers You Brits don't have a monopoly on ... wait... maybe you do...wait again...actually looking at all those graphs together makes me think that in both BrE and AmE there's roughly the same usage of both (but that brits talk about them more either way). – Mitch Oct 26 '16 at 22:29
  • @Legat It seems to be in free variation. It started off in caps, but then with familiarity lost the caps sometimes. Which one to do is a style choice at this point unless some style guide specifies. – Mitch Oct 26 '16 at 22:36
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A proprietorial, commercial game such as Scrabble or Cludo, needs capitals. For how long it legally needs capitals depends on copyright law; how long idiomatically or socially needs capitals depends on who is asked…

A traditional game such as chess or draughts or checkers doesn't strictly need capitals, but no-one's going to complain if capitals are used through personal preference.

  • Interesting answer, I only wonder if there are any non-proprietorial / non-commercial games that have their names capitalized anyway? – Legat Oct 23 '16 at 23:13
  • Yes, Legat, there doubtlessly are… and don't you think they're covered by "such as chess or draughts or checkers"? Did I miss something there? – Robbie Goodwin Oct 26 '16 at 21:38
  • @RobbieGoodwin The Prisoner's Dilemma was never a commercial game. It is a thought experiment or theoretical modeling problem. It's capitalization is more on par with Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic vs fundamental theorem of arithmetic – Mitch Oct 26 '16 at 22:41
  • Oh… thanks, Mitch. If there are rules within the particular subject - yes, like your F/fundaments… - then I suppose those take precedence over general language – Robbie Goodwin Oct 27 '16 at 8:59
  • Chess, draughts and checkers aren't examples of non-propetorial games that are capitalized. – Legat Oct 28 '16 at 1:59

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