Have you ever heard of game theory?
John Nash? Beautiful Mind? Prisoner dilemma?
Might not mean anything to you…..
But the thing is that you are using game theory every day in every decision that you make. Game theory is about understanding how we (as humans) weigh up the benefits that we receive by virtue of the decisions we make. And it’s way more complex than that but presents some basic principles that are useful to understand how we work and engage with each other.
There are various research studies that show the impact of considering game theory and the concept of making decisions that benefit all, not just the individual. What’s particularly interesting is that our decisions are relative. That is, it depends on the personalities involved but that only influences the degree to which we are prepared to give. As a general rule, we humans will seek a decision that benefits all involved.
My mum was a research mathematician into game theory and she worked with John Nash during her masters. She was one of the first people to use computers for mathematical processing in the 1970s. I am incredibly proud of her and proud to be her daughter. She has always loved playing games and still does now. I talk in the past tense because my Mum has multiple sclerosis and she is now in a home where she receives excellent care and support. She can no longer consider the complexity of game theory and her short term memory is shot to pieces but d’you know what? Ask her about calculus…. it’s somehow built into her brain and she knows it like the back of her hand. Complex, ordinary, she’s not fussed. She can still make it make sense and that was always what made her a fantastic teacher.
This post is not some kind of pre-emptive memorial for my mum but rather a recognition of the spark that makes us who we are. We are capable of so much and yet we understand so little. Game theory has always appealed to me as the fun side of mathematics and I don’t think I ever really appreciated how relevant it is in understanding people. If we think about decision theory, critical path analysis and game theory (have I lost you now?), then we are really contemplating how we humans process complex situations and that tells us how we can respond to ensure a productive response.
Game theory will not provide all the answers but it does provide a framework in which to consider the wider network and the impact/response of others in our networks. If we do x, then what might the y response be? In order to accurately understand the response of others, we need to get to know them (there are limitations to modelling that can never take account of human nature to be contrary!) and we can then apply game theory to consider their response to circumstances or changes.
There is something in the idea of game theory that is about play. Our patterns of play can be mapped and can be predictable. Perhaps we need to try different patterns, different responses to find new perspectives, gain insight, challenge ourselves, face failure, engage success and who knows, enjoy ourselves?
Irrespective of our individual circumstances, and inspired by Playday this week, let’s keep playing games…..just like my Mum!
Claire Eason-Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky