Is Game Theory Used in Video Games?


Jane Flores

Game theory is a mathematical concept that studies decision-making in situations where multiple parties are involved. It is often used to analyze economic, political, and social interactions, but did you know that it is also used in video games? In this article, we will explore how game theory is applied in video games.

Understanding Game Theory

Game theory was first introduced by mathematicians John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern in 1944. The concept revolves around analyzing the behavior of rational decision-makers in different scenarios. In game theory, each player tries to maximize their own payoff or outcome while considering the potential actions of the other players.

Game Theory in Video Games

Video games are a perfect platform for implementing game theory concepts. Many games involve multiple players who must make decisions based on the actions of others. For example, in a shooter game like Call of Duty, players must decide whether to rush forward aggressively or hang back and wait for their opponents to make a move.

One famous example of game theory being used in video games is the Prisoner’s Dilemma. This scenario involves two suspects who have been arrested for a crime but cannot communicate with each other.

If both suspects remain silent, they will receive a light sentence. But if one confesses and implicates the other suspect while the other remains silent, the one who confesses will receive no sentence while the other will receive a heavy sentence.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma has been used in various video games such as Fallout 3 and Mass Effect 2 where players must make decisions based on their trust or distrust of NPCs (non-playable characters).

Types of Game Theory Strategies

In video games, players can adopt different strategies based on game theory concepts to achieve their desired outcome. Here are some examples:

  • Tit-for-Tat: This strategy involves mirroring the actions of the other player. If they cooperate, you cooperate.

    If they defect, you defect.

  • Maximin: This strategy involves maximizing the minimum outcome. In video games, this could mean taking a conservative approach to avoid losing points or lives.
  • Nash Equilibrium: This strategy involves finding a balance between cooperation and competition that benefits both players.

The Future of Game Theory in Video Games

As video games become more complex and involve more players, the role of game theory will only increase. Developers are constantly looking for ways to enhance player interactions and create engaging gameplay experiences. By incorporating game theory concepts into their designs, they can create more immersive and strategic games.


Game theory is a powerful tool for understanding decision-making in complex scenarios involving multiple players. As we have seen, it has many practical applications in video games. By understanding game theory concepts and applying them strategically, players can achieve their desired outcomes and developers can create more engaging games.