The Prisoner's Dilemma (PD) is a famous game theory game:
|Red-tailed hawk; Wikipedia|
|Bar-shouldered dove; Wikimedia|
Game theory is immensely popular among evolutionary biologists (and others who are obsessed by the view that life is mainly about Darwinian winner-take-all competition, or who simply want to understand the balance between competition and cooperation). There is the additional appeal that game theory usually requires sexy, sophisticated mathematics to find the right strategies, or stable ones.
If people or birds are seen to be following some strategy when they compete, it is then assumed that they probably evolved to do this. This then whets the prurient appetites of those who want to peer into your genome to see how, despite silly illusions of free will, you're really just a genetic automaton.
So, is it realistic to assume that something so open-ended and complex as a game theory behavior could have evolved? After all, games like PD or HD seem widespread and if birds, ants, or even humans are just complex gene machines, mustn't it be possible to pre-program them (i.e., genetically) to play the game the evolutionarily optimized way?
This is really a dilemma, because even just one game, say HD, can arise in all sorts of ways even within a given individual's lifetime. How can genes be pre-wired to recognize all the situations and identify their similarity and then push the Play button? After all, every brain is wired in zillions of different ways in detail. So what kind of gene or genes could possibly produce this behavior? Remember that genes code for proteins, and have to be regulated in specific contexts; they are not individual computer programs.
One way to answer this is by a kind of meta-evolutionary view: we may not be able to identify the wiring diagram, but the net result of evolution is a brain that can perceive the environment and evaluate costs and strategies, and figure out for itself what is best. The selection pressure is general, and it's for evaluating conditions rather than 'for' some specific strategy. No need whatever for any specific genes 'for' HD or PD playing!
In this view, and especially if games really are cosmically mathematical (as they must be, given how widely they are found and shown to have similar strategy properties), then a brain that is somehow good at evaluating the real world will figure this out and identify the better strategy. The same brain is faced with multiple and diverse evaluation situations, so that all we need is overall evaluative ability to get what we see, however such ability actually can be built into neural synapses and the like.
One would certainly easily be able to relate this to probabilistic strategies like HD, because each individual is more or less guessing what to do each time, the result being an empirical probability--the observed fraction that individuals act like hawks, or doves. Likewise, one could observe that played something like PD properly, because s/he figures out the general risk-benefit situation. No need for specific evolution of some convoluted gene-based mechanism specific to the game (which would imply the same to evolve separately at the gene level, for every other situation-evaluating things that animals do).
This is a way in which things can be 'genetic' in a general sense, but not specifically hard-wired by selection for a specific task. That's a big difference!
It is genetically deterministic in a sense, by not in the precise Darwinian sense so often invoked, explicitly or just under the surface, so routinely in discussions of behavioral evolution.