How Game Theory Is Used in Economics?


Jane Flores

Game theory is a branch of mathematics that studies strategic decision-making in situations where multiple individuals or groups have conflicting goals and interests. It has become an essential tool in economics, helping to explain many complex phenomena, from the behavior of firms in oligopolistic markets to the strategic interactions between countries in global politics.

What is Game Theory?

At its core, game theory is about predicting how people will behave when they are faced with choices that depend on the actions of others. It provides a framework for analyzing strategic interactions between individuals or groups who are pursuing their own self-interests. The basic building block of game theory is the concept of a game, which consists of players, strategies, and payoffs.

The players are the individuals or groups who are involved in the game. They may be firms, consumers, governments, or any other actors who have some stake in the outcome.

Strategies are the choices that players can make within the game. For example, in a simple two-player game like rock-paper-scissors, each player has three strategies: rock, paper, or scissors.

Payoffs are the rewards that each player receives for their chosen strategy. These can be monetary rewards or other forms of utility.

  • The Uses Of Game Theory In Economics

Game theory has a wide range of applications in economics. Here are just a few examples:


Oligopoly refers to a market structure where a small number of firms dominate the industry. Game theory is useful for modeling firms’ behavior in oligopolistic markets because it takes into account how each firm’s decision affects its competitors’ profits.

For example, imagine two airlines competing for passengers on a particular route. If one airline lowers its prices to attract more customers, the other airline may respond by also lowering its prices.

But if both airlines lower their prices, they will both lose money. Game theory can be used to analyze this kind of strategic interaction and predict how the airlines will behave.


Auctions are another area where game theory is commonly used in economics. In an auction, bidders compete to buy a particular item or set of items. Each bidder must decide how much they are willing to pay for the item, taking into account what they think other bidders will do.

Game theory can be used to model different types of auctions and predict which type will result in the highest revenue for the seller. For example, in a first-price sealed-bid auction, bidders submit their bids in secret and the highest bidder wins. In a second-price sealed-bid auction (also known as a Vickrey auction), the highest bidder still wins but pays only the second-highest bid.

Global Politics

Game theory has also been applied to international relations and global politics. One classic example is the Prisoner’s Dilemma, which is often used to model situations where two countries must decide whether to cooperate or compete with each other.

Imagine two countries who each have nuclear weapons. If one country launches a nuclear attack on the other, it will likely trigger a devastating counter-attack that would harm both countries. But if neither country launches an attack, both are safe.

Game theory can be used to analyze this situation and predict which strategy each country is likely to choose. It turns out that if both countries act rationally (i.e., pursue their own self-interest), they will both choose to launch a nuclear attack – even though this results in a worse outcome for both than if they had cooperated.


In conclusion, game theory is an essential tool for economists because it allows them to model and analyze complex strategic interactions between individuals or groups who are pursuing their own self-interests. It has a wide range of applications, from analyzing the behavior of firms in oligopolistic markets to predicting how countries will behave in global politics. By understanding the principles of game theory, economists can gain valuable insights into many of the most important issues facing our society today.