Friday, September 7, 2018

Game Theory as a Theory of Conflict resolution

Author: Anatol Rapoport
Link: https: //  

In the introduction of Game Theory as a Theory of Conflict Resolution, Rapoport begins by explaining how game theory is structured. Game theory, originally created by John Von Neumann, includes 1. Players, or decision makers; 2. A list of strategies; 3. Outcomes resulting from each strategy; and 4. The payoffs from the outcomes. Each player is assumed to be a rational player, with the goal to achieve their preferred payoffs. Interests may be opposed but there may be conflicts of interests, so players will utilize their skills and choose their best strategies, at least guaranteeing a minimal payoff or gaining an advantage.

Rapoport compares this constant-sum game to the game of Chess or Go, which in a way, are conflict models. The result of the game is an equilibrium, where the payoffs remain interchangeable to each player, but one player achieves his optimal strategy, and the other has to alter his optimal strategy. For the best results and equilibrium to remain, prescribing strategies to each rational player will allow both players to do as well as they possibly can in that game. Prescribing strategies work best when only two players are involved in order for the game to preserve its salience, although, there are solutions for games with N (more than two) players. Coalitions are formed if three or more players are involved. Typically the two stronger ones will link up against the weaker player or two weaker ones will link up against the stronger player. As the paper goes on, Rapoport broadens the player range to four or five players, which diverts away from an equal outcome.

Game theory is considered a descriptive, or predictive research tool in behavioral science. The theory has dissatisfied many while appealed to others. Those who were disappointed have used the game-theoretic analysis to create methods in conflict situations including, war; war planning; power politics; and business competition. Combining formal game theory to competitive expertise, caused an ineffective outcome. Rapoport raises the point that the usual explanation of this failure is that the “’effect that the real world is too complex to be stimulated by formal game-theoretic models,” misses the main point: even if real conflicts were no more complex than theoretically tractable formal games, game theory would be powerless to prescribe ‘optimal strategies’ in any but total bi-polar conflicts...”
Burn’s and Meeker’s paper regarding the mathematical symbolism of game theory, ultimately concludes that payoffs in any game, more specifically Prisoner’s Dilemma, does not represent the player’s utilities, which Rapoport agrees with. In any situation, real-world or theoretic, the overt payoffs do not always influence the decisions.

I agree with Rapoport when he explains that game theory loses its distinction and strays away from equality if there are more than two players. Payoffs become more difficult to achieve and some strategies become ineffective, so they must be reformed. The course of action is bound to change and is not always as obviously perceived when prescribed the course of action in the beginning. I believe this is a great explanation on why we do not see game theory as successful as it can be in real-world situations. The misconception over the controversy has been proven wrong when used correctly. It has been applied and successful when used in some real-world situations, including military tactics. 


  1. I think you made a great point when you talked about game theory being "used correctly" in your critique. Like several of these analytic techniques, there are instances wherein they prove more useful than others. I think knowing when to use certain techniques is as important as knowing how to use them. What do you think would be an ideal situation to which we could apply game theory?

    1. I believe game theory is useful in many disciplines. Of course I would like for it to be more successful in war planning or national security. It is advantageous, and possibly more successful in business decisions. When trying to gain competitive advantage, game theory helps recognize the opponent's behaviors. In game theory, the payoffs are projected and remain constant. When an opponent knows this, it helps which determine future behaviors.

  2. Chelsie - before diving into the other posts on game theory - the article and your summary were helpful as thorough introductions to the method. You echo Rapoport's notion that game theory begins losing value with the addition of players beyond the ideal two. I would argue that this is likely the case with most methods in the line of game theory, but that is not to say they aren't still helpful. It is why we as analysts must use them to complement and not supplement our analyses.

  3. Your summary has me interested in something. Does game theory break down as quickly with the addition of more players beyond the second for games of cooperation or zero sum games? Or does the breakdown only occur for conflict of zero sum games?

    1. Again, assuming the players will play rationally, it will determine the direction of success. The more actors involved in the game, the more other actors can be influenced. Zero sum can be very competitive. More input can impact the game and sway the direction of the result.