Playing for Real: A Text on Game Theory

Playing for Real: A Text on Game Theory

Playing for Real: A Text on Game Theory

Playing for Real: A Text on Game Theory


Ken Binmore's previous game theory textbook, Fun and Games (D.C. Heath, 1991), carved out a significant niche in the advanced undergraduate market; it was intellectually serious and more up-to-date than its competitors, but also accessibly written. Its central thesis was that game theory allows us to understand many kinds of interactions between people, a point that Binmore amply demonstrated through a rich range of examples and applications. This replacement for the now out-of-date 1991 textbook retains the entertaining examples, but changes the organization to match how game theory courses are actually taught, making Playing for Real a more versatile text that almost all possible course designs will find easier to use, with less jumping about than before. In addition, the problem sections, already used as a reference by many teachers, have become even more clever and varied, without becoming too technical. Playing for Real will sell into advanced undergraduate courses in game theory, primarily those in economics, but also courses in the social sciences, and serve as a reference for economists.


There are at least three questions a game theory book might answer:

What is game theory about?
How do I apply game theory?
Why is game theory right?

Playing for Real tries to answer all three questions. I think it is the only book that makes a serious attempt to do so without getting heavily mathematical. There are elementary books that offer students the opportunity to admire some game theory concepts. There are cookbooks that run through lots of applied models. There are philosophical works that supposedly address the foundational issues, but none of these address more than two of the questions.

However, answering questions is only part of what this book is about. Just as athletes take pleasure in training their bodies, so there is immense satisfaction to be found in training your mind to think in a way that is simultaneously rational and creative. With all of its puzzles and paradoxes, game theory provides a magnificent mental gymnasium for this purpose. I hope that exercising on the equipment will bring you the same kind of pleasure it has brought me.

Moving on. Playing for Real isn’t my first textbook on game theory. My earlier book, Fun and Games, was used quite widely for teaching advanced undergraduate and beginning graduate students. I had originally planned a modestly revised second edition, in which the rather severe introduction would be replaced with a new chapter that would ease students into the subject by running through all the angles on the Prisoners’ Dilemma. The remaining chapters were then simply to be broken down into more digestible chunks. But the project ran away with me. I made the improvements I planned to make but somehow ended up with a whole new book.

There are two reasons why. The first is that game theory has moved on since I wrote Fun and Games. Some of the decisions on what material to include that . . .

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