What Is Game Theory in Economics for Dummies?


Diego Sanchez

Game theory is a fascinating branch of economics that studies strategic decision-making. It explores how individuals, firms, and governments make choices in situations where the outcome depends on the decisions of others. In this article, we will explore what game theory is all about and how it is used in economics.

What Is Game Theory?

Game theory is a mathematical approach to understanding human behavior in situations that involve strategic decision-making. It was first introduced by mathematician John von Neumann and economist Oskar Morgenstern in their 1944 book “Theory of Games and Economic Behavior.”

Game theory models interactions between rational agents who make decisions based on their own self-interests. It looks at how these agents interact with each other, and how they respond to different strategies.

Types of Games in Game Theory

In game theory, there are two main types of games: cooperative games and non-cooperative games.

Cooperative games are those in which players can communicate with each other before making their decisions. They can cooperate with each other to achieve a better outcome for everyone involved. Examples of cooperative games include labor unions negotiating with employers or countries negotiating trade deals.

Non-cooperative games, on the other hand, are those in which players cannot communicate with each other before making their decisions. They must make their choices based on what they think the other players will do. Examples of non-cooperative games include auctions and competitions.

The Components of a Game

Every game has three components: players, strategies, and payoffs.

Players are the individuals or groups involved in the game. Strategies are the options available to the players for making decisions. Payoffs are the outcomes associated with each possible combination of strategies chosen by the players.

The Nash Equilibrium

One of the most important concepts in game theory is the Nash equilibrium. This occurs when each player chooses the best strategy for them, given the strategies chosen by the other players.

In other words, a Nash equilibrium is a situation where no player can improve their outcome by changing their strategy, assuming that all other players keep their strategies unchanged.

How Is Game Theory Used in Economics?

Game theory is used in economics to analyze a wide range of situations, from oligopolies to auctions. It is particularly useful in understanding strategic interactions between firms and how they affect market outcomes.

For example, game theory can be used to analyze the behavior of firms in an oligopoly. An oligopoly is a market dominated by a few large firms.

In such a market, each firm must take into account the actions of its competitors when making decisions. Game theory provides a framework for analyzing how these firms will interact with each other and what the outcomes are likely to be.


In conclusion, game theory is an important tool for understanding strategic decision-making in economics. It provides insights into how individuals and organizations make choices in situations where the outcome depends on the decisions of others. By using game theory models, economists can better understand complex economic interactions and predict outcomes more accurately.