What Is Game Theory in Simple Terms?


Diego Sanchez

Have you ever heard of game theory before? You might have come across it in a movie or TV show, or maybe in your economics class. But what exactly is game theory, and why is it important?

At its core, game theory is the study of strategic decision making. It’s a way of analyzing situations where multiple individuals or groups have to make choices that affect each other’s outcomes. Game theory can be applied to a wide range of fields, from economics and political science to psychology and biology.

What is a game?
In game theory, a “game” refers to any situation where there are two or more players who are trying to achieve some kind of outcome. Each player has their own set of possible actions they can take, and the payoffs for each player depend on the combination of actions taken by all players.

The key components of a game are:

  • Players: The individuals or groups involved in the game
  • Actions: The possible choices that each player can make
  • Payoffs: The outcomes that result from each combination of actions

Types of games
There are many different types of games that can be analyzed using game theory. Here are a few examples:

Prisoner’s Dilemma

The prisoner’s dilemma is a classic example used in game theory to demonstrate the tension between individual self-interest and collective interest. Two criminals are arrested and held separately, with no means of communicating with each other.

They are both given the option to confess or stay silent. If both confess, they will both receive longer sentences than if they had both stayed silent. However, if one stays silent while the other confesses, the one who stays silent will get a longer sentence while the one who confesses gets off easy.

Battle of the Sexes

In this game, a couple has to decide between going to see a movie that one of them really wants to see (but the other doesn’t), or going to a different movie that they both like, but neither loves. The payoffs depend on which movie they end up seeing.


The game of chicken involves two players driving towards each other at high speed. The first player to swerve is seen as “chicken” and loses the game. However, if neither player swerves, they both crash and lose.

Why is game theory important?
Game theory provides a framework for understanding strategic decision making in a variety of contexts. By analyzing the possible actions and payoffs for each player, we can identify solutions that are optimal for all players involved. It can also help us understand why certain outcomes occur in real-world situations.

Whether you’re interested in economics, politics, psychology, or any other field where people make decisions that affect each other’s outcomes, game theory is an essential tool for understanding strategic behavior.