What Is Dilemma Game Theory?


Vincent White

Dilemma game theory is a branch of mathematics that explains the interactions between different individuals or groups in situations where the outcomes depend on the actions of each participant. Essentially, it is a study of strategic decision-making, where the choices made by one person or group affect the choices made by others.

What is Game Theory?
Game theory is a mathematical framework for analyzing conflicts and cooperation between rational decision-makers. It provides a way to study how people interact with each other in competitive or cooperative situations, such as business negotiations, political campaigns, or military conflicts.

Types of Games in Game Theory
There are several types of games in game theory. They include:

  • Zero-sum games: These are games where one player’s gain is exactly equal to another player’s loss. For example, poker is a zero-sum game because the total amount of money won by all players remains constant.
  • Non-zero-sum games: In contrast to zero-sum games, non-zero-sum games are those where players can both win or lose together. This type of game includes business negotiations and international relations.
  • Cooperative games: In cooperative games, players work together to achieve a common goal. For example, two people working together to lift a heavy object would be an example of cooperative gameplay.
  • Non-cooperative games: In non-cooperative games, players act independently and do not work together towards a common goal. Examples include most competitive sports and board games that require individual play.

Dilemma Game Theory

Dilemma game theory is a type of non-zero-sum game that involves two or more players who must choose between cooperation and competition. The dilemma arises when each player has an incentive to defect from cooperation in order to gain a greater reward, but if all players do so, then everyone loses.

The most famous dilemma game is the Prisoner’s Dilemma. In this game, two suspects are arrested for a crime and are being held in separate cells.

The prosecutor offers each suspect a deal: if one confesses and implicates the other, they will go free while the other will receive a heavier sentence. If both suspects remain silent, they will each get a light sentence. If both confess, they will each receive a moderate sentence.

In this scenario, the optimal outcome for both suspects would be to remain silent and get a light sentence. However, each suspect has an incentive to defect and confess in order to avoid the possibility of receiving a heavy sentence.

Applications of Dilemma Game Theory

Dilemma game theory has applications in many areas of life. It can be used to study political negotiations, military conflicts, environmental issues, and social dilemmas such as public health crises or resource allocation.

One example is the tragedy of the commons – a situation where multiple individuals use a shared resource for their own benefit, leading to depletion or degradation of that resource over time. Dilemma game theory can help explain why people continue to overuse resources like water or forests even when it is clear that doing so will ultimately lead to negative consequences for everyone.


Dilemma game theory provides insights into strategic decision-making in situations where outcomes depend on the actions of multiple individuals or groups. By understanding how people interact with each other and what factors influence their choices, we can better navigate complex social problems and find solutions that benefit everyone involved.