Deadlines are looming. Which means I have a chapter on the relationship between game theory and video games. This chapter is longish.
But if anyone has an interest in this eternally fascinating topic I would love some critical comments. So let me know.
Here’s the brief summary of the chapter:
1.11 Final remarks on games as incentive structures
This chapter has introduced a perspective on games as incentive structures. In this perspective, games are reduced to their strategic core and seen as frameworks for the interaction between forces. To this end, concepts and tools of economic game theory were brought to bear on video games which paved the way for a series of observations. Let us briefly recap:
Game theory is a way to make the Rational Agent model of player behaviour analytically salient. It implies specifying the game goals and the options available to the player, assuming that the player shares the objective goals and considering which type of behaviour the game in question is likely to produce. The advantage of such an approach may be the ability to pinpoint similarities between games normally considered quite different as much as it may be the “results” of single game analyses.
By use of the analytical model, video games were shown to range between the entirely cooperative (coordination games) and the entirely competitive (e.g. two-player constant sum games). In between those extremes, a larger number of n-player games create incentives for semi-cooperative behaviour.
Furthermore, games were shown to differ as to the information available to the player. Generally, the video game player knows far less than the board game player since in the former, the computer can process the game state independently of the player. It was also observed how certain combinations of information types seem more common in game design than do others. Moving beyond design choices, the role of communication in multi-player games was discussed and various ways in which players, and game designers, have dealt with commitment problems were identified.
Next, the notion of strategy was revisited showing how common usage in the game design literature refers to a rather imprecise (sometimes necessarily imprecise) concept of compound strategy. On this background, forms of equilibrium in games were discussed and their relationship to the Rational Agent model identified.
And finally, it was shown how games can be said to vary in strategicness beyond their status as strategic/non-strategic in strict game theory terms. The strategicness of games was discussed as a spectrum leading from games with close-to-zero strategic interaction between players to games of many choices, all of which depended in effectiveness on the choices of other players. And strategicness was shown to often vary over time within individual games.
The analyses of this chapter provides a way of looking at games. And while it does not yield strong design suggestions it gives a direct way of understanding the relationship between game design and player behaviour. But only to the extent that the model works. Whether that’s the case will be established in the following chapter.