Games People Play: Game Theory in Life, Business, and Beyond

Learn how to apply the precepts of game theory to help you make better decisions at work, home, or anywhere with this highly useful course taught by an award-winning professor.
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Game theory-the science of interactive, rational decision making-helps us understand how and why we make decisions. It also provides insights into human endeavors including biology, politics, and economics. In Games People Play: Game Theory in Life, Business, and Beyond, business consultant and award-winning Professor Scott P. Stevens helps you understand this profoundly important field. Throughout these 24 enlightening lectures, you explore the fundamentals of game theory in an engaging, comprehensible manner. You investigate the field's classic games, encounter its greatest minds, and discover its real world applications in arenas including corporate negotiations, foreign policy-and your everyday life.


Scott P. Stevens
Scott P. Stevens

If you keep your eyes and mind open, you're going to find a lot of other places that our ideas apply.


James Madison University
Dr. Scott P. Stevens is Professor of Computer Information Systems and Management Science at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where he has taught since 1984. Professor Stevens holds a Ph.D. in Mathematics from The Pennsylvania State University, where he received B.S. degrees in both Mathematics and Physics and graduated first in his class in the College of Science. Honored many times over for his remarkable abilities in the classroom, Professor Stevens has been a recipient of the Carl Harter Award, his university's highest teaching award; been named the outstanding graduate teacher in JMU's M.B.A. program; and has on five occasions been selected by students as the outstanding teacher in JMU's undergraduate business program, the first teacher to be so honored. A frequent consultant in the business arena, Professor Stevens has been published in a broad variety of academic and professional journals, writing or collaborating on subjects as varied as neural network prediction of survival in blunt-injured trauma patients; the effect of private school competition on public schools; standards of ethical computer usage in different countries; automatic data collection in business; and optimization of the purchase, transportation, and deliverability of natural gas from the Gulf of Mexico.

By This Professor

Mathematical Decision Making: Predictive Models and Optimization
Games People Play: Game Theory in Life, Business, and Beyond
Games People Play: Game Theory in Life, Business, and Beyond


The World of Game Theory

01: The World of Game Theory

"Games" apply to all aspects of life. You're introduced to the subject with a perplexing dilemma, a brief history of the field, and some of its applications, and the three fundamental components of any game: players, strategies, and payoffs.

33 min
The Nature of the Game

02: The Nature of the Game

You gain a deeper insight into the essential building blocks of players, strategies, and payoffs-most of them more complex and subtle than they might appear-along with two new concepts, rationality and common sense.

30 min
The Real Life Chessboard-Sequential Games

03: The Real Life Chessboard-Sequential Games

In seeking the optimal strategies for games in which players take turns and where the full history of the game is known to all, you learn how to construct a "game tree" and are introduced to one of game theory's key concepts: the Nash equilibrium.

31 min
Life's Little Games-The 2 x 2 Classic Games

04: Life's Little Games-The 2 x 2 Classic Games

You examine four classic two-player games, with each player considering his or her own two choices. Simple though they may be, these games appear at the heart of larger, more complicated games and provide important insights into dealing effectively with others.

31 min
Guessing Right-Simultaneous Move Games

05: Guessing Right-Simultaneous Move Games

You learn a general way of representing simultaneous-move games-where players make decisions without knowing those of others-and acquire valuable tools to solve them. Military and business examples are used to introduce the minimax approach, the iterated elimination of dominated strategies, and the best response method.

30 min
Practical Applications of Game Theory

06: Practical Applications of Game Theory

Applying what you've learned, you see how a stock bid of $98 can beat one of $102; how insisting you lose a competition can be a winning strategy; and why being blackmailed can be in your best interest....

31 min
A Random Walk-Dealing with Chance Events

07: A Random Walk-Dealing with Chance Events

Many games include aspects that depend on random chance. Probability theory addresses such uncertainties. Using a simultaneous, two-player game, Professor Stevens shows you how to use probability to define the expected (or average) value of a payoff in an uncertain situation.

31 min
Pure Competition-Constant-Sum Games

08: Pure Competition-Constant-Sum Games

Can you escape the second-guessing that arises when each player in a two-person game tries to anticipate the other's choice? You learn how every such game, no matter how apparently hopeless, has at least one Nash equilibrium point.

31 min
Mixed Strategies and Nonzero-Sum Games

09: Mixed Strategies and Nonzero-Sum Games

How should we think about mixed strategies? What makes a given strategy "best"? Is there an easy way to determine if a set of strategies is optimal? You explore these questions from a more intuitive perspective and learn how to use the techniques of Lecture 8 in nonzero-sum games.

30 min
Threats, Promises, and Commitments

10: Threats, Promises, and Commitments

Can you gain an advantage by moving before, the game begins? Such actions, called "strategic moves," can be both effective and dangerous. You learn the three categories of strategic moves-commitments, threats, and promises-and the essential requirement for their success: credibility....

30 min
Credibility, Deterrence, and Compellence

11: Credibility, Deterrence, and Compellence

This lecture explains how a player best gains credibility for a threat, promise, or commitment and also explores how these strategic moves are most commonly and advantageously used for deterrence (meant to maintain the status quo) and compellence (meant to change it)....

31 min
Incomplete and Imperfect Information

12: Incomplete and Imperfect Information

What if some events or decisions are known to only one player? This lecture explores such games of asymmetric information and introduces you to a clever means of analyzing such a game.

30 min
Whom Can You Trust?-Signaling and Screening

13: Whom Can You Trust?-Signaling and Screening

This lecture uses examples from mythology, the animal world, movies, card games, and real life to show you how players in a game of asymmetric information try to convey information, elicit it, or guard it.

31 min
Encouraging Productivity-Incentive Schemes

14: Encouraging Productivity-Incentive Schemes

How do you get others to do what you want them to do, whether in business, politics, international relations, or daily life? You learn how players create an alignment between the behavior they desire and the rewards other players receive and examine what can be done when the behavior being addressed is not directly observable.

31 min
The Persistence of Memory-Repeated Games

15: The Persistence of Memory-Repeated Games

Although the games so far have been simplified examples assuming no previous or subsequent interactions, real-life games generally don't work that way. This lecture uses an iterated game of Prisoner's Dilemma to examine the impact of repeated interactions on determining optimal strategy....

30 min
Does This Stuff Really Work?

16: Does This Stuff Really Work?

Can game theory accurately model real-world behavior? You examine some reasons that its track record for predicting behavior in some designed experiments and some observed behavior has been mixed.

31 min
The Tragedy of the Commons

17: The Tragedy of the Commons

You explore what is essentially a many-player version of Prisoner's Dilemma. Each player's self-interested choices ironically contribute to a social dilemma in which every player suffers, in a scenario equally applicable to topics as diverse as global warming, traffic congestion, and the use of almost any nonrenewable resource....

30 min
Games in Motion-Evolutionary Game Theory

18: Games in Motion-Evolutionary Game Theory

Classical game theory relies heavily on the assumption of rationality. This lecture examines an evolutionary perspective, in which successful strategies are "selected for" and propagate through time.

31 min
Game Theory and Economics-Oligopolies

19: Game Theory and Economics-Oligopolies

You explore how game theory is used in economics-a discipline in which five Nobel Prize winners have been game theorists-by seeing how a monopolist determines optimum production levels and how other competitors affect the situation.

30 min
Voting-Determining the Will of the People

20: Voting-Determining the Will of the People

Can game theory evaluate voting systems? You apply what you've learned to several approaches and encounter a theory that no system ranking the candidates can avoid serious problems before you move on to two alternatives that might.

31 min
Auctions and the Winner's Curse

21: Auctions and the Winner's Curse

Auctions play a significant role in our lives, affecting the ownership of radio frequencies, the flow of goods over the Internet, and even the results produced by search engines. This lecture discusses some important categories of auctions and examines which is best for buyer and seller.

31 min
Bargaining and Cooperative Games

22: Bargaining and Cooperative Games

Cooperative games are ones in which players may join in binding agreements. But how do you identify a division of the payoffs that is reasonable and fair? And what mechanisms persuade members of a coalition to accept their allotment?

30 min
Game Theory and Business-Co-opetition

23: Game Theory and Business-Co-opetition

In the first of two lectures on Brandenberger's and Nalebuff's practical application of game theory to business decision making, you learn how to construct an analytic schematic of key relationships and discuss the impact of both players and the concept of added value.

31 min
All the World's a Game

24: All the World's a Game

You complete your introduction to co-opetition by adding the concept of rules, tactics, and scope to the plays and added value before examining the materials in a broader context, particularly the relevance of game theory to our daily lives.

31 min