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date: 17 April 2024

Game Theory and Other Modeling Approacheslocked

Game Theory and Other Modeling Approacheslocked

  • Frank C. ZagareFrank C. ZagareDepartment of Political Science, University at Buffalo
  •  and Branislav L. SlantchevBranislav L. SlantchevDepartment of Political Science, University of California, San Diego


Game theory is the science of interactive decision making. It has been used in the field of international relations (IR) for over 50 years. Almost all of the early applications of game theory in international relations drew upon the theory of zero-sum games, but the first generation of applications was also developed during the most intense period of the Cold War. The theoretical foundations for the second wave of the game theory literature in international relations were laid by a mathematician, John Nash, a co-recipient of the 1994 Nobel Prize in economics. His major achievement was to generalize the minimax solution which emerged from the first wave. The result is the now famous Nash equilibrium—the accepted measure of rational behavior in strategic form games. During the third wave, from roughly the early to mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, there was a distinct move away from static strategic form games toward dynamic games depicted in extensive form. The assumption of complete information also fell by the wayside; games of incomplete information became the norm. Technical refinements of Nash’s equilibrium concept both encouraged and facilitated these important developments. In the fourth and final wave, which can be dated, roughly, from around the middle of the 1990s, extensive form games of incomplete information appeared regularly in the strategic literature. The fourth wave is a period in which game theory was no longer considered a niche methodology, having finally emerged as a mainstream theoretical tool.


  • International Relations Theory

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