Game theory is a set of principles governing how to design a game. It consists of four major parts: Game theory, Artifacts, Rules, and Storylines. The theory also requires several assumptions to work in practice, including the existence of a fully rational, objective actor for each player. Assumptions that must be met for game theory to be useful in practice include: players are all utility-maximizing rational actors, players can’t communicate, possible outcomes are known in advance, and the rules cannot be changed. Typically, there are two players, but this is not always the case.
Game theory deals with the representation of interactions between players as highly abstract games. It also describes the various outcomes a game may lead to, based on different solution concepts. For example, one common solution is the elimination of dominated strategies. The payoffs in the figure 4 game are different than those in the stag-hunt game. In this example, a player would be rewarded more for playing R2 than for playing S. This is because the game of figure 4 is more abstract, whereas the stag-hunt is a classic example of a game of chess.
Artifacts in games can be used to continue a game. However, artifacts are usually created by one person, not by the entire group. Also, they don’t usually capture what happened at the table. They may have one effect on the game, or they might have several. Here are three ways to use artifacts in games. All three can improve the overall experience. Let’s look at each of them in more detail.
Rules for games refer to the rules that govern the game. They are statements or directions, often fixed in “rulesets” by the game designer or agreed upon by the players themselves. The interactions between the rules form the formal system of the game. A rule can be as simple as drinking water with your secondary hand and keeping the glass within a thumb’s distance from the table’s edge. Some rules also have specific stipulations: you cannot put down an empty glass and must fill it with water, etc.
The power of interdependence is often understated, but storylines in games are just as important as the gameplay. For example, in the Persona series, players control a modern Japanese teen, who fights monsters in a mysterious world. The storylines in these games can be educational, teaching players valuable life lessons such as friendship and self-expression. Some themes are so relevant that players are likely to think about them in real life situations.
“The role of uncertainty in games is crucial to their survival and long-term enjoyment,” says award-winning game designer Greg Costikyan. In this book, he explains the various types of uncertainty in games and argues that these characteristics make games more interesting and compelling. Uncertainty is a central part of game design, and this book offers some tips on how to create games with more uncertainty. To learn more about this concept, read Uncertainty in Games by Greg Costikyan, published by MIT Press.