Game theory is a theory which interprets human interactions as a set of strategies and actions intended to move individuals closer to attaining goals, in either a collaborative or competitive framework. Game theory can be used to model conflict.
Three areas of focus include:
According to game theory, there are two types of games:
A cooperative or collaborative game is one where players work together by creating binding commitments to jointly win.
EXAMPLEA football team can have a great quarterback, but if it doesn’t have great offense and defense, it probably won't win the game. All team sports are based on this idea of collaboration.
Conversely, in non-cooperative games, each win for one player represents a loss for another. There are no binding commitments in this sort of game.
EXAMPLEIn the game of chess, one person is pitted against another person. There are no binding commitments to work with anyone else, so this is non-cooperative game.
In the context of game theory, games also consist of certain components:
A player is a person participating in an interaction or process that is interpreted as a game. For our purposes in discussing conflict resolution, we're looking at conflict as a game.
All of a game’s players make moves. In game theory, a move is an action taken with the intent of moving closer to a goal.
These actions then lead to payoffs, which can be either gains or losses. As a gain, the payoff is a movement closer to a desired goal in a game. As a loss, it is a movement away from that goal.
As we mentioned earlier, game theory can be used to model conflict as a series of strategic moves.
EXAMPLEQuite often, a country might form an alliance with a nation that might ordinarily be considered an enemy; this alliance is formed as a strategic move because it might result in a gain. The gain could be anything from land, a trade agreement, or a mutual desire to prevent another country from acquiring weapons.
Game theory can also model conflict as a series of strategic moves in a cooperative game.
EXAMPLELet's say someone wants to build a high rise in a residential community near a lake. You don't want this high rise built because you want to keep a limit on the height of the buildings in your community. Either you or the party that is opposing you might then reach out to a number of players in order to bring them to a particular side of the conflict.
Source: Adapted from Sophia tutorial by Marlene Johnson.