9.5.4 Concerns Regarding Game Theory

One of the most basic limitations of game theory is that each player
must know the cost functions of the other players. As established in
Section 9.5.1, it is even quite difficult to determine an
appropriate cost function for a single decision maker. It is even
more difficult to determine costs and motivations of other players.
In most practical settings this information is not available. One
possibility is to model uncertainty associated with knowledge of the
cost function of another player. Bayesian analysis could be used to
reason about the cost based on observations of actions chosen by the
player. Issues of assigning priors once again arise. One of the
greatest difficulties in allowing uncertainties in the cost functions
is that a kind of ``infinite reflection'' occurs [392]. For example, if I am playing a
game, does the other player know my cost function? I may be uncertain
about this. Furthermore, does the other player know that I do not
completely know its cost function? This kind of second-guessing can
occur indefinitely, leading to a nightmare of nested reasoning and
assignments of prior distributions.^{9.10}

The existence of saddle points or Nash equilibria was assured by using randomized strategies. Mathematically, this appears to be a clean solution to a frustrating problem; however, it also represents a substantial change to the model. Many games are played just once. For the expected-case results to converge, the game must be played an infinite number of times. If a game is played once, or only a few times, then the players are very likely to experience regret, even though the theory based on expected-case analysis indicates that regret is eliminated.

Another issue is that intelligent human players may fundamentally alter their strategies after playing a game several times. It is very difficult for humans to simulate a randomized strategy (assuming they even want to, which is unlikely). There are even international tournaments in which the players repeatedly engage in classic games such as Rock-Paper-Scissors or the Prisoner's Dilemma. For an interesting discussion of a tournament in which people designed programs that repeatedly compete on the Prisoner's Dilemma, see [917]. It was observed that even some cooperation often occurs after many iterations, which secures greater rewards for both players, even though they cannot communicate. A famous strategy arose in this context called Tit-for-Tat (written by Anatol Rapoport), which in each stage repeated the action chosen by the other player in the last stage. The approach is simple yet surprisingly successful.

In the case of nonzero-sum games, it is particularly disheartening that multiple Nash equilibria may exist. Suppose there is only one admissible equilibrium among several Nash equilibria. Does it really seem plausible that an adversary would think very carefully about the various Nash equilibria and pick the admissible one? Perhaps some players are conservative and even play security strategies, which completely destroys the assumptions of minimizing regret. If there are multiple admissible Nash equilibria, it appears that regret is unavoidable unless there is some collaboration between players. This result is unfortunate if such collaboration is impossible.

Steven M LaValle 2012-04-20