Explaining Game Theory
A book review of ‘Introducing Game Theory’
I believe I was first introduced to game theory with the concept of evolutionarily stable strategies, in Dawkin’s classic The Selfish Gene. I didn’t quite know what game theory was, but I understood its underlying concept, and I was fascinated. I stumbled upon a few more concepts from game theory later on, and I knew that I should dedicate some more time to it.
Although the subject is famously complicated, I never found a book that seemed a good introduction that wouldn’t require me to spend hundreds of hours to read and understand it. I’ve read a couple of other topics of this “graphic guide” series, so when I found out they had one on game theory, I got it immediately.
Game theory is the study of interactions between agents. I quite like the name, and it’s very fitting. It’s indeed very much like a game, where the goal is to try to maximize points. Except the game is the real world, and the points are whatever the agents value. Modern game theory was first developed by John Neumann in the late 1920s, and it’s been an active field ever since.
To give an example, I’ll describe the “Hawk-Dove Game”, which I already knew before from Dawkin’s as I alluded, but remains one of my favourites, and quite intuitive to understand. Let’s say there are two 2 types of animals, a hawk and dove type. The first compete for mating and food, willing to be physically aggressive, while the dove only threatens other animals, never becoming aggressive and gives up if a conflict arises.
If a dove type engages in conflict with a hawk one, the dove one will lose every time. If 2 dove types engage in conflict, there is a 50% chance that one will win. If 2 hawk types engage in conflict, again there is a 50% chance for either of them to win, although they suffer the cost of physical combat. Which type is more successful? It depends on the benefit of resources and the cost of fighting. And with some math, you can calculate it.
However, whatever type ends up being most effective, will change the ratio of types (because they are more successful and outcompete the other group), and this will, in turn, affect the payoff for each type. For example, being a hawk, the more doves the better, since they will win each time. Yet, if there are too many hawks (because they outcompete doves), then it will be more problematic for hawks because they will have to fight each other every time. In the numbers that the book used, this will cause a “perfect” ratio of 5 hawks for 1 dove. It’s called a stable strategy because even if the ratio is affected, evolutionary forces will restore the equilibrium. Not every game has this type of equilibrium, but this aspect of having certain rules and what maximizes the “game” is the foundation of all game theory.
Regarding the book itself, I think it was well made. It made the topic easy to understand, and kept it as simple as possible. Although just like other books from this series, I found that it had too many examples. I think it would be better for the selection to be more limited, but be able to go more in-depth into each one.
Nevertheless, likely a good choice for anyone interested in the topic. I liked the fact that the games shown were quite broad, and not specific to any given field. I was never interested in anything related to economics, but reading a few applications from game theory, made the topic a lot more appealing to me.
Thanks for reading. If you like non-fiction book reviews, feel free to follow me on Medium. You can get new articles by email by clicking here.
I also have a philosophy podcast. If you want to check it out look for Anagoge Podcast.