Game Theory

games, theory of

theory of games, group of mathematical theories first developed by John Von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern. A game consists of a set of rules governing a competitive situation in which from two to n individuals or groups of individuals choose strategies designed to maximize their own winnings or to minimize their opponent's winnings; the rules specify the possible actions for each player, the amount of information received by each as play progresses, and the amounts won or lost in various situations. Von Neumann and Morgenstern restricted their attention to zero-sum games, that is, to games in which no player can gain except at another's expense.

This restriction was overcome by the work of John F. Nash during the early 1950s. Nash mathematically clarified the distinction between cooperative and noncooperative games. In noncooperative games, unlike cooperative ones, no outside authority assures that players stick to the same predetermined rules, and binding agreements are not feasible. Further, he recognized that in noncooperative games there exist sets of optimal strategies (so-called Nash equilibria) used by the players in a game such that no player can benefit by unilaterally changing his or her strategy if the strategies of the other players remain unchanged. Because noncooperative games are common in the real world, the discovery revolutionized game theory. Nash also recognized that such an equilibrium solution would also be optimal in cooperative games. He suggested approaching the study of cooperative games via their reduction to noncooperative form and proposed a methodology, called the Nash program, for doing so. Nash also introduced the concept of bargaining, in which two or more players collude to produce a situation where failure to collude would make each of them worse off.

The theory of games applies statistical logic to the choice of strategies. It is applicable to many fields, including military problems and economics. The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences was awarded to Nash, John Harsanyi, and Reinhard Selten (1994), to Robert J. Aumann and Thomas C. Schelling (2005), and to Lloyd Shapley and Alvin Roth (2012) for work in applying game theory to aspects of economics.

See J. Von Neumann and O. Morgenstern, Theory of Games and Economic Behavior (3d ed. 1953); D. Fudenberg and J. Tirole, Game Theory (1994); M. D. Davis, Game Theory: A Nontechnical Introduction (1997); R. B. Myerson, Game Theory: Analysis of Conflict (1997); J. F. Nash, Jr., Essays on Game Theory (1997); A. Rapoport, Two-Person Game Theory (1999).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Game Theory: Selected full-text books and articles

Playing for Real: A Text on Game Theory By Ken Binmore Oxford University Press, 2007
Game Theory: A Critical Introduction By Shaun P. Hargreaves Heap; Yanis Varoufakis Routledge, 1995
Schelling's Game Theory: How to Make Decisions By Robert V. Dodge Oxford University Press, 2012
A History of Game Theory By Mary Ann Dimand; Robert W. Dimand Routledge, vol.1, 1996
Nash in Najaf: Game Theory and Its Applicability to the Iraqi Conflict By Brightman, Hank J Air & Space Power Journal, Vol. 21, No. 3, Fall 2007
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Economics and the Theory of Games By Fernando Vega-Redondo Cambridge University Press, 2003
Game Theory and the Environment By Nick Hanley; Henk Folmer Edward Elgar, 1998
State, Anarchy and Collective Decisions By Alex Talbot Coram Palgrave, 2000
Librarian's tip: Chap. 1 "State, Anarchy, and Game Theory"
Political Science: The State of the Discipline II By Ada W. Finifter American Political Science Association, 1993
Librarian's tip: "Prisoners' Dilemma: The Problem of Collective Action, and the Developments of Non-cooperative Game Theory" begins on p. 87
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