We play games as soon as we open our eyes and up to the moment we leave this place. That’s what we do. The games may vary from a simple peek a boo or hide and go seek to large games as setting up the board for later years of life, but we can’t help but play. We’ll get sucked into games no matter what because we’re a part of society and the games are a part of its fabric on purpose because they keep things balanced.
Anything we do, any interaction with others, any relationship, personal or professional goal, or contact with the outside world is a sort of a game, no matter how clear or fuzzy the rules are. This is also why we love to watch movies, read stories, play board games, follow sports, hear about how others achieved something or why they failed. Because all of these things are useful and help us unconsciously pick up the rules of the games we observe and play. The obvious goal of any game you play would be to win, right? It is, to an extent. But the goal is also to play fair as a good sportsman would, so you can get invited to play again and to get continuously better and more sophisticated in the games you play no matter the win-loss ratio. It is not just about opposed dipoles of victory and defeat. These are just smaller games nestled within an overarching game, the goal of which is to keep on playing indefinitely.
You can pretty much win and get what you want with all sorts of below the belt moves, but this way of playing the game is not sustainable. You might win, once or a couple of times, but as soon as there is a whiff of foul play, you won’t be invited into the game anymore and will have to move on from the current social structure to find a new clump of suckers to play with, until they figure out you’re not playing well or reciprocally as well. Depleting this social resource and breaking the contract of logical social rules, you’ll need to move once again as a parasite would, killing the host and itself in the process. This might very well be your end game – to get what you need and then move on. It might work splendidly in short term with a different rule set than longer games. But the ultimate objective of life is to learn how to play well continuously through a series of varying games, to see the big picture and get the best possible compounded score, even if it meant losing here and there or sacrificing things along the way, going one step backward to jump three ahead, or forfeiting the small stuff for the sake of being able to play a much greater stakes game later.
Although most situations in life seem different, as separate individual games, it’s possible to clump them up together into groups within the same cloud of logic. This is what game theory does. It is the study of strategically independent behavior that tries to outline the games we play, and make you better at them by understanding the objectives and how to get to them in the most efficient and sustaining way, with the best possible outcome for you and/or all players, depending on the nature of the game.
It could be about winning or losing for sure, but it mostly isn’t. It’s about playing smart on various boards and in various arenas and managing your resources. Understanding game theory will help get a better overview of seemingly different situations, draw parallels and notice the differences and will help us think on our feet as well as see the situation objectively and plot out all possible viable moves.
Game theory is pretty much mathematicizing the decision-making process. It applies to a large variety of areas in life and presumes that the “players” are rational decision-makers, meaning that they know what they want, that they will use expected variables or their sets to model uncertainty present in any system, and that they will choose the optimal expected outcome for themselves out of all available options. This would mean that game theory will most likely help you navigate any quantifiable and measurable action. It is the basis of logical lateral or up movement through life which pertains to humans, animals, and computer models alike. Sometimes we act according to our feelings and gut instinct, but sometimes we need to roll up our sleeves, put our logic caps on and calculate out the best possible move in the numbers game. So if you’ve been looking for a 2021 personal development project, taking a peek at game theory might be just what you need to streamline the New Year ahead.