Game Over: Can Game Theory explain how video games are designed and played?

Posted by Michael Jhonson

Game theory is the study of mathematical models for strategic decision making. It can also be defined as decision making under conflict. Game theory finds its application mostly in economics, psychology and political science. It is also used in computer science, biology and various other fields. The other economic theories like decision theory, general equilibrium theory and mechanism design theory are closely related to game theory. One of the industries that extensively use the concepts of Game theory in not only designing the product but also selling it is – Video Games.

Video games can be broadly classified into single player and multi-player games. In single player game, the player’s opponent is the computer. The game is designed by the designer in such a way that the player will find the game challenging and he would get the feeling of accomplishment after winning the game. The game designer wants the player to win the game but at the same time he wants player to feel an ego boost. For multiplayer games, game-play balance is a desired goal. The designer does not want one player to dominate all the levels in the game or he does not want people with specific gaming skill-set to win the game. What the game designer wants is a fun and engaging experience for all. A variety of strategies and play styles are used in designing the game so that it is appealing to the wide variety of players.

Once a game has more than three players, coalitions begin to form and players get team play. In such games, game theory is extensively used – controlling information shared with each player, limiting strategies chosen by players, awarding and penalising for co-operative strategies and sharing benefits and costs associated with the moves made by the players.

Thus various concepts of game theory are used in designing the video games so that it appeals to wide range of players and keeps them engaging.