Traditional applications of game theory attempt to find equilibria in these games—sets of strategies in which individuals are unlikely to change their behavior. Many equilibrium concepts have been developed (most famously the Nash equilibrium) in an attempt to capture this idea. These equilibrium concepts are motivated differently depending on the field of application, although they often overlap or coincide. This methodology is not without criticism, and debates continue over the appropriateness of particular equilibrium concepts, the appropriateness of equilibria altogether, and the usefulness of mathematical models more generally.
Although some developments occurred before it, the field of game theory came into being with the 1944 book Theory of Games and Economic Behavior by John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern. This theory was developed extensively in the 1950s by many scholars. Game theory was later explicitly applied to biology in the 1970s, although similar developments go back at least as far as the 1930s. Game theory has been widely recognized as an important tool in many fields. Eight game theorists have won Nobel prizes in economics, and John Maynard Smith was awarded the Crafoord Prize for his application of game theory to biology.
The extensive form can be used to formalize games with some important order. Games here are often presented as trees (as pictured to the left). Here each vertex (or node) represents a point of choice for a player. The player is specified by a number listed by the vertex. The lines out of the vertex represent a possible action for that player. The payoffs are specified at the bottom of the tree.
In the game pictured here, there are two players. Player 1 moves first and chooses either F or U. Player 2 sees Player 1's move and then chooses A or R. Suppose that Player 1 chooses U and then Player 2 chooses A, then Player 1 gets 8 and Player 2 gets 2.
The extensive form can also capture simultaneous-move games and games with incomplete information. To represent it, either a dotted line connects different vertices to represent them as being part of the same information set (i.e., the players do not know at which point they are), or a closed line is drawn around them.
The normal (or strategic form) game is usually represented by a matrix which shows the players, strategies, and payoffs (see the example to the right). More generally it can be represented by any function that associates a payoff for each player with every possible combination of actions. In the accompanying example there are two players; one chooses the row and the other chooses the column. Each player has two strategies, which are specified by the number of rows and the number of columns. The payoffs are provided in the interior. The first number is the payoff received by the row player (Player 1 in our example); the second is the payoff for the column player (Player 2 in our example). Suppose that Player 1 plays Up and that Player 2 plays Left. Then Player 1 gets a payoff of 4, and Player 2 gets 3.
When a game is presented in normal form, it is presumed that each player acts simultaneously or, at least, without knowing the actions of the other. If players have some information about the choices of other players, the game is usually presented in extensive form.
The origin of this form is to be found in the seminal book of von Neumann and Morgenstern who, when studying coalitional normal form games, assumed that when a coalition forms, it plays against the complementary coalition () as if they were playing a 2-player game. The equilibrium payoff of is characteristic. Now there are different models to derive coalitional values from normal form games, but not all games in characteristic function form can be derived from normal form games.
Formally, a characteristic function form game (also known as a TU-game) is given as a pair , where denotes a set of players and is a characteristic function.
The characteristic function form has been generalised to games without the assumption of transferable utility.
Game theory has been used to study a wide variety of human and animal behaviors. It was initially developed in economics to understand a large collection of economic behaviors, including behaviors of firms, markets, and consumers. The use of game theory in the social sciences has expanded, and game theory has been applied to political, sociological, and psychological behaviors as well.
Game theoretic analysis was initially used to study animal behavior by Ronald Fisher in the 1930s (although even Charles Darwin makes a few informal game theoretic statements). This work predates the name "game theory", but it shares many important features with this field. The developments in economics were later applied to biology largely by John Maynard Smith in his book Evolution and the Theory of Games.
In addition to being used to predict and explain behavior, game theory has also been used to attempt to develop theories of ethical or normative behavior. In economics and philosophy, scholars have applied game theory to help in the understanding of good or proper behavior. Game theoretic arguments of this type can be found as far back as Plato.
For early examples of game theory applied to political science, see the work of Anthony Downs. In his book An Economic Theory of Democracy , he applies a hotelling firm location model to the political process. In the Downsian model, political candidates commit to ideologies on a one-dimensional policy space. The theorist shows how the political candidates will converge to the ideology preferred by the median voter. For more recent examples, see the books by Steven Brams, George Tsebelis, Gene M. Grossman and Elhanan Helpman, or David Austen-Smith and Jeffrey S. Banks.
A game-theoretic explanation for democratic peace is that public and open debate in democracies send clear and reliable information regarding their intentions to other states. In contrast, it is difficult to know the intentions of nondemocratic leaders, what effect concessions will have, and if promises will be kept. Thus there will be mistrust and unwillingness to make concessions if at least one of the parties in a dispute is a nondemocracy .
Economists have long used game theory to analyze a wide array of economic phenomena, including auctions, bargaining, duopolies, fair division, oligopolies, social network formation, and voting systems. This research usually focuses on particular sets of strategies known as equilibria in games. These "solution concepts" are usually based on what is required by norms of rationality. In non-cooperative games, the most famous of these is the Nash equilibrium. A set of strategies is a Nash equilibrium if each represents a best response to the other strategies. So, if all the players are playing the strategies in a Nash equilibrium, they have no unilateral incentive to deviate, since their strategy is the best they can do given what others are doing.
The payoffs of the game are generally taken to represent the utility of individual players. Often in modeling situations the payoffs represent money, which presumably corresponds to an individual's utility. This assumption, however, can be faulty.
A prototypical paper on game theory in economics begins by presenting a game that is an abstraction of some particular economic situation. One or more solution concepts are chosen, and the author demonstrates which strategy sets in the presented game are equilibria of the appropriate type. Naturally one might wonder to what use should this information be put. Economists and business professors suggest two primary uses.
The first known use is to inform us about how actual human populations behave. Some scholars believe that by finding the equilibria of games they can predict how actual human populations will behave when confronted with situations analogous to the game being studied. This particular view of game theory has come under recent criticism. First, it is criticized because the assumptions made by game theorists are often violated. Game theorists may assume players always act in a way to directly maximize their wins (the Homo economicus model), but in practice, humans behaviour is often contrary to this model. Explanations of this phenomenon are many; irrationality, new models of deliberation, or even different motives (like that of altruism). Game theorists respond by comparing their assumptions to those used in physics. Thus while their assumptions do not always hold, they can treat game theory as a reasonable scientific ideal akin to the models used by physicists. However, additional criticism of this use of game theory has been levied because some experiments have demonstrated that individuals do not play equilibrium strategies. For instance, in the centipede game, guess 2/3 of the average game, and the dictator game, people regularly do not play Nash equilibria. There is an ongoing debate regarding the importance of these experiments.
Alternatively, some authors claim that Nash equilibria do not provide predictions for human populations, but rather provide an explanation for why populations that play Nash equilibria remain in that state. However, the question of how populations reach those points remains open.
Some game theorists have turned to evolutionary game theory in order to resolve these worries. These models presume either no rationality or bounded rationality on the part of players. Despite the name, evolutionary game theory does not necessarily presume natural selection in the biological sense. Evolutionary game theory includes both biological as well as cultural evolution and also models of individual learning (for example, fictitious play dynamics).
On the other hand, some scholars see game theory not as a predictive tool for the behavior of human beings, but as a suggestion for how people ought to behave. Since a Nash equilibrium of a game constitutes one's best response to the actions of the other players, playing a strategy that is part of a Nash equilibrium seems appropriate. However, this use for game theory has also come under criticism. First, in some cases it is appropriate to play a non-equilibrium strategy if one expects others to play non-equilibrium strategies as well. For an example, see Guess 2/3 of the average.
Second, the Prisoner's dilemma presents another potential counterexample. In the Prisoner's Dilemma, each player pursuing his own self-interest leads both players to be worse off than had they not pursued their own self-interests.
Unlike economics, the payoffs for games in biology are often interpreted as corresponding to fitness. In addition, the focus has been less on equilibria that correspond to a notion of rationality, but rather on ones that would be maintained by evolutionary forces. The best known equilibrium in biology is known as the Evolutionarily stable strategy or (ESS), and was first introduced in . Although its initial motivation did not involve any of the mental requirements of the Nash equilibrium, every ESS is a Nash equilibrium.
In biology, game theory has been used to understand many different phenomena. It was first used to explain the evolution (and stability) of the approximate 1:1 sex ratios. suggested that the 1:1 sex ratios are a result of evolutionary forces acting on individuals who could be seen as trying to maximize their number of grandchildren.
Additionally, biologists have used evolutionary game theory and the ESS to explain the emergence of animal communication . The analysis of signaling games and other communication games has provided some insight into the evolution of communication among animals. For example, the Mobbing behavior of many species, in which a large number of prey animals attack a larger predator, seems to be an example of spontaneous emergent organization.
Biologists have used the hawk-dove game (also known as chicken) to analyze fighting behavior and territoriality.
Maynard Smith, in the preface to Evolution of the Theory of Games writes, "[p]aradoxically, it has turned out that game theory is more readily applied to biology than to the field of economic behaviour for which it was originally designed." Evolutionary game theory has been used to explain many seemingly incongruous phenomena in nature.
One such phenomena is known as biological altruism. This is a situation in which an organism appears to act in a way that benefits other organisms and is detrimental to itself. This is distinct from traditional notions of altruism because such actions are not conscious, but appear to be evolutionary adaptations to increase overall fitness. Examples can be found in species ranging from vampire bats that regurgitate blood they have obtained from a night’s hunting and give it to group members who have failed to feed, to worker bees that care for the queen bee for their entire lives and never mate, to Vervet monkeys that warn group members of a predator’s approach, even when it endangers that individual’s chance of survival. All of these actions increase the overall fitness of a group, but occur at a cost to the individual.
Evolutionary game theory explains this altruism with the idea of kin selection. Altruists discriminate between the individuals they help and favor relatives. Hamilton’s rule explains the evolutionary reasoning behind this selection with the equation cRecent applications of biological game theory to humans has garnered some criticism because evolutionary analysis cannot provide a value-neutral evaluation of a given cultural situation. The valuations of whether an action is good or bad constitute a normative judgment of whether an action is altruistic. Altruism also has a different socially constructed meaning in the context of human society because altruistic actions within culture are not all instinctually driven and do not always result in increased fitness for a group.
Computer science and logic
Game theory has come to play an increasingly important role in logic and in computer science. Several logical theories have a basis in game semantics. In addition, computer scientists have used games to model interactive computations. Also, game theory provides a theoretical basis to the field of multi-agent systems.
Separately, game theory has played a role in online algorithms. In particular, the k-server problem, which has in the past been referred to as games with moving costs and request-answer games . Yao's principle is a game-theoretic technique for proving lower bounds on the computational complexity of randomized algorithms, and especially of online algorithms.
Game theory has recently become a useful tool for modeling and studying interactions between cognitive radios envisioned to operate in future communications systems. Such terminals will have the capability to adapt to the context they operate in, through possibly power and rate control as well as channel selection. Software agents embedded in these terminals will potentially be selfish, meaning they will only try to maximize the throughput/connectivity of the terminal they function for, as opposed to maximizing the welfare (total capacity) of the system they operate in. Thus, the potential interactions among them can be modeled through non-cooperative games. The researchers in this field often strive to determine the stable operating points of systems composed of such selfish terminals, and try to come up with a minimum set of rules (etiquette) so as to make sure that the optimality loss compared to a cooperative - centrally controlled setting- is kept at a minimum.
Other authors have attempted to use evolutionary game theory in order to explain the emergence of human attitudes about morality and corresponding animal behaviors. These authors look at several games including the Prisoner's dilemma, Stag hunt, and the Nash bargaining game as providing an explanation for the emergence of attitudes about morality (see, e.g., and ).
Some assumptions used in some parts of game theory have been challenged in philosophy; psychological egoism states that rationality reduces to self-interest—a claim debated among philosophers. (see Psychological egoism#Criticism)
Often it is assumed that communication among players is allowed in cooperative games, but not in noncooperative ones. This classification on two binary criteria has been rejected .
Of the two types of games, noncooperative games are able to model situations to the finest details, producing accurate results. Cooperative games focus on the game at large. Considerable efforts have been made to link the two approaches. The so-called Nash-programme has already established many of the cooperative solutions as noncooperative equilibria.
Hybrid games contain cooperative and non-cooperative elements. For instance, coalitions of players are formed in a cooperative game, but these play in a non-cooperative fashion.
Most commonly studied asymmetric games are games where there are not identical strategy sets for both players. For instance, the ultimatum game and similarly the dictator game have different strategies for each player. It is possible, however, for a game to have identical strategies for both players, yet be asymmetric. For example, the game pictured to the right is asymmetric despite having identical strategy sets for both players.
Zero sum games are a special case of constant sum games, in which choices by players can neither increase nor decrease the available resources. In zero-sum games the total benefit to all players in the game, for every combination of strategies, always adds to zero (more informally, a player benefits only at the equal expense of others). Poker exemplifies a zero-sum game (ignoring the possibility of the house's cut), because one wins exactly the amount one's opponents lose. Other zero sum games include matching pennies and most classical board games including Go and chess.
Many games studied by game theorists (including the famous prisoner's dilemma) are non-zero-sum games, because some outcomes have net results greater or less than zero. Informally, in non-zero-sum games, a gain by one player does not necessarily correspond with a loss by another.
Constant sum games correspond to activities like theft and gambling, but not to the fundamental economic situation in which there are potential gains from trade. It is possible to transform any game into a (possibly asymmetric) zero-sum game by adding an additional dummy player (often called "the board"), whose losses compensate the players' net winnings.
Simultaneous games are games where both players move simultaneously, or if they do not move simultaneously, the later players are unaware of the earlier players' actions (making them effectively simultaneous). Sequential games (or dynamic games) are games where later players have some knowledge about earlier actions. This need not be perfect information about every action of earlier players; it might be very little knowledge. For instance, a player may know that an earlier player did not perform one particular action, while he does not know which of the other available actions the first player actually performed.
The difference between simultaneous and sequential games is captured in the different representations discussed above. Often, normal form is used to represent simultaneous games, and extensive form is used to represent sequential ones; although this isn't a strict rule in a technical sense.
An important subset of sequential games consists of games of perfect information. A game is one of perfect information if all players know the moves previously made by all other players. Thus, only sequential games can be games of perfect information, since in simultaneous games not every player knows the actions of the others. Most games studied in game theory are imperfect information games, although there are some interesting examples of perfect information games, including the ultimatum game and centipede game. Perfect information games include also chess, go, mancala, and arimaa.
Perfect information is often confused with complete information, which is a similar concept. Complete information requires that every player know the strategies and payoffs of the other players but not necessarily the actions.
Games, as studied by economists and real-world game players, are generally finished in a finite number of moves. Pure mathematicians are not so constrained, and set theorists in particular study games that last for an infinite number of moves, with the winner (or other payoff) not known until after all those moves are completed.
The focus of attention is usually not so much on what is the best way to play such a game, but simply on whether one or the other player has a winning strategy. (It can be proven, using the axiom of choice, that there are games—even with perfect information, and where the only outcomes are "win" or "lose"—for which neither player has a winning strategy.) The existence of such strategies, for cleverly designed games, has important consequences in descriptive set theory.
Much of game theory is concerned with finite, discrete games, that have a finite number of players, moves, events, outcomes, etc. Many concepts can be extended, however. Continuous games allow players to choose a strategy from a continuous strategy set. For instance, Cournot competition is typically modeled with players' strategies being any non-negative quantities, including fractional quantities.
These are games the play of which is the development of the rules for another game, the target or subject game. Metagames seek to maximize the utility value of the rule set developed. The theory of metagames is related to mechanism design theory.
Although Cournot's analysis is more general than Waldegrave's, game theory did not really exist as a unique field until John von Neumann published a series of papers in 1928. While the French mathematician Émile Borel did some earlier work on games, Von Neumann can rightfully be credited as the inventor of game theory. Von Neumann was a brilliant mathematician whose work was far-reaching from set theory to his calculations that were key to development of both the Atom and Hydrogen bombs and finally to his work developing computers. Von Neumann's work in game theory culminated in the 1944 book Theory of Games and Economic Behavior by von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern. This profound work contains the method for finding mutually consistent solutions for two-person zero-sum games. During this time period, work on game theory was primarily focused on cooperative game theory, which analyzes optimal strategies for groups of individuals, presuming that they can enforce agreements between them about proper strategies.
In 1950, the first discussion of the prisoner's dilemma appeared, and an experiment was undertaken on this game at the RAND corporation. Around this same time, John Nash developed a criterion for mutual consistency of players' strategies, known as Nash equilibrium, applicable to a wider variety of games than the criterion proposed by von Neumann and Morgenstern. This equilibrium is sufficiently general, allowing for the analysis of non-cooperative games in addition to cooperative ones.
Game theory experienced a flurry of activity in the 1950s, during which time the concepts of the core, the extensive form game, fictitious play, repeated games, and the Shapley value were developed. In addition, the first applications of Game theory to philosophy and political science occurred during this time.
In 1965, Reinhard Selten introduced his solution concept of subgame perfect equilibria, which further refined the Nash equilibrium (later he would introduce trembling hand perfection as well). In 1967, John Harsanyi developed the concepts of complete information and Bayesian games. Nash, Selten and Harsanyi became Economics Nobel Laureates in 1994 for their contributions to economic game theory.
In the 1970s, game theory was extensively applied in biology, largely as a result of the work of John Maynard Smith and his evolutionarily stable strategy. In addition, the concepts of correlated equilibrium, trembling hand perfection, and common knowledge were introduced and analysed.
In 2005, game theorists Thomas Schelling and Robert Aumann followed Nash, Selten and Harsanyi as Nobel Laureates. Schelling worked on dynamic models, early examples of evolutionary game theory. Aumann contributed more to the equilibrium school, introducing an equilibrium coarsening, correlated equilibrium, and developing an extensive formal analysis of the assumption of common knowledge and of its consequences.
In 2007, Roger Myerson, together with Leonid Hurwicz and Eric Maskin, was awarded of the Nobel Prize in Economics "for having laid the foundations of mechanism design theory." Among his contributions, is also the notion of proper equilibrium, and an important graduate text: Game Theory, Analysis of Conflict .