Game theory is a branch of mathematics that deals with the study of strategic decision-making, especially in situations where there are multiple players with competing interests. It has become an increasingly important field in economics, political science, and psychology, among other disciplines.

But where did game theory come from? Let’s take a look at its origins.

The Early Years

The earliest roots of game theory can be traced back to the 18th century when mathematician and philosopher Jean le Rond d’Alembert introduced the concept of the “minimax” principle. This principle stated that in any situation where two players had opposing goals, each player should choose their actions so as to minimize their maximum possible loss.

However, it wasn’t until the early 20th century that game theory began to take shape as a formal field of study. In 1913, French mathematician Émile Borel introduced the idea of “games of strategy,” which he defined as situations where multiple players each had a set of possible actions they could take.

Von Neumann and Morgenstern

The most influential figures in the development of modern game theory were John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern. In their landmark 1944 book “Theory of Games and Economic Behavior,” they laid out the mathematical framework for analyzing strategic decision-making in games.

One key contribution they made was introducing the concept of a “payoff matrix.” This matrix represents all possible outcomes for a given game based on each player’s choices. By analyzing this matrix, one can determine what strategies are likely to be successful for each player.

Game Theory Today

Since von Neumann and Morgenstern’s seminal work, game theory has continued to evolve and expand into new areas. Today it is used not just in economics but also in fields like political science, biology, and computer science.

One notable recent development in game theory is the concept of “evolutionary game theory.” This approach applies the principles of natural selection to game theory, allowing researchers to study how strategies can evolve over time in a population of players.


Game theory has come a long way since its early roots in the 18th century. Thanks to the work of pioneering mathematicians like d’Alembert, Borel, von Neumann, and Morgenstern, we now have a powerful tool for analyzing strategic decision-making in a variety of fields. And as game theory continues to evolve and expand, it promises to provide new insights into human behavior and decision-making for years to come.