What Is a Non-Cooperative Game in Game Theory?

Game theory is the study of decision-making and interaction among individuals or groups. It is a complex branch of mathematics that finds its application in various fields, including economics, political science, and psychology. One of the primary concepts in game theory is the idea of a non-cooperative game.

What Is a Non-Cooperative Game?

A non-cooperative game is a type of game where players make decisions independently and do not communicate or collaborate with each other. Each player aims to maximize their own payoff or utility function without considering the impact of their actions on other players. In other words, players act as if they are independent agents who do not take into account the actions of others.

The most common example of a non-cooperative game is the prisoner’s dilemma. In this scenario, two suspects are arrested for committing a crime and are held in separate cells without communication.

The prosecutor offers each suspect a deal: if one confesses and implicates the other, they will receive a reduced sentence while the other will receive a harsher sentence. If both suspects remain silent, they will both receive moderate sentences.

The prisoner’s dilemma is an example of a non-cooperative game because each suspect must decide whether to cooperate with the other suspect (by remaining silent) or defect (by confessing). However, since each suspect does not know what the other will do, they must make their decision independently.

Nash Equilibrium

In non-cooperative games, one concept that helps predict players’ behavior is Nash equilibrium. A Nash equilibrium occurs when no player can improve their payoff by changing their strategy while assuming that all other players’ strategies remain unchanged.

For example, in the prisoner’s dilemma scenario described above, the Nash equilibrium is for both suspects to confess and implicate each other. This outcome is not the best for either suspect individually, but it is the best outcome for both suspects given what they believe the other suspect will do.

Applications of Non-Cooperative Games

Non-cooperative games have many applications in real-life situations. For example, in business, companies may compete with each other without collaborating or communicating. Each company tries to maximize its profits without considering how its actions affect the market as a whole.

In politics, countries may engage in non-cooperative games when negotiating trade agreements or treaties. Each country tries to maximize its own benefits without considering the impact on other countries.


A non-cooperative game is a type of game where players make decisions independently and do not communicate or collaborate with each other. While it may seem counterintuitive, this type of game can help predict players’ behavior and outcomes based on their individual decisions. By understanding non-cooperative games and Nash equilibrium, individuals can better understand decision-making in various fields such as economics, political science, and psychology.