What Are the Basics of Game Theory?


Martha Robinson

Game theory is a branch of mathematics that deals with decision-making in situations where multiple parties are involved and the outcome depends on the choices made by each party. It is an important tool for understanding human behavior, economics, politics, and many other fields. In this article, we will explore the basics of game theory and its applications.

Introduction to Game Theory

Game theory was first introduced by mathematician John von Neumann and economist Oskar Morgenstern in their book “Theory of Games and Economic Behavior” in 1944. The theory has since become an essential tool for economists, political scientists, psychologists, and sociologists.

The basic idea behind game theory is that it provides a framework for analyzing strategic interactions between two or more parties. These parties could be individuals, firms, countries or any other group of people who make decisions that affect each other’s outcomes.

The Elements of Game Theory

The three primary elements of game theory are players, strategies, and payoffs. Players are the individuals or groups involved in the game.

Strategies are the actions that each player can take in response to the actions of others. Payoffs are the outcomes associated with different combinations of strategies.

For example, consider a simple game where two players must choose between two options: cooperate or defect. If both players cooperate, they both receive a reward of 3 points each.

If one player cooperates while the other defects, then the cooperating player receives 1 point while the defecting player receives 5 points. Finally, if both players defect, they both receive 0 points.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma

This simple game is known as “The Prisoner’s Dilemma” and is one of the most studied examples in game theory. It shows how even though cooperation would lead to better outcomes for both parties involved; self-interest often leads to a suboptimal outcome for both players.

Nash Equilibrium

Another important concept in game theory is Nash equilibrium. A Nash equilibrium occurs when no player can improve their payoff by changing their strategy, assuming that all other players keep their strategies unchanged. In other words, it is a situation where each player’s strategy is the best response to the strategies of all the other players.

Applications of Game Theory

Game theory has many practical applications in fields such as economics, political science, psychology, and biology. One of its most significant applications is in understanding market behavior. Game theory provides a framework for analyzing how firms interact with each other and how these interactions affect market outcomes.

In addition to economics, game theory is also used in political science to understand voting behavior and international relations. It has been used to model conflict situations such as wars and arms races.


In conclusion, game theory provides a powerful tool for understanding strategic interactions between individuals or groups. Its applications are numerous and diverse, ranging from economics to political science and beyond. Understanding the basics of game theory can help us make better decisions in situations where multiple parties are involved and outcomes depend on the choices made by each party.