The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Mar 2, 2011

Game Theory

While I claim no particular expertise in history or historiography, archaeology or archaeolography (or indeed ethnology, graphology or game theory), I am grateful indeed to Elke Rogersdotter's recent doctoral dissertation (Gaming in Mohenjo-daro) for providing a small eye-opener. In her rich survey of relevant literature, she has covered why people find the study of games fascinating. The variety of questions that can arise in such study has piqued my interest.

Sticking to board games, as Elke Rogersdotter does, we face a veritable cornucopia of detail. A plenitude of material. We can classify these games not merely on the basis of chance versus skill. There are war-games (chess), hunt-games (goat and tiger), race-games (ludo), and others.

We can study their origins. Dice, that famed game of Indians (recall Yudhishthira's fateful obsession with it in the Mahabharata), have been documented over millennia. The ancestry of other games is more difficult to trace. Not having obvious inventors, and being easily portable from one culture to another, there are no self-evident roots to any particular game. Also, as Rogersdotter states, not all games required equipment of permanence: boards could be drawn on the ground; their provenance thus is fleeting and their origins murky.

(Here's an example that pops up in my head: In today's globalised world, it is not surprising that something like poker finds adherents across race and creed and geography. The Indian game teen patthi might be precursor to poker, given that there are some claims that poker itself derives from a Persian game As Nas. Or it might be an offshoot of poker. Who knows? Has anyone studied the linkage? I suspect a nice Master's thesis can come out of this question.)

We can analyse the reasons for game play. Besides that obvious one of fun, there's also learning, and religion, and divination, and instruction.

We can study the gaming material: the boards themselves, or the moving pieces, or any of their accoutrements and embellishments.

We can investigate the gaming rules.

In short, there's enough scope for any budding game theoretician to get stuck into.


Anonymous said...

Hello! Have you read Iain M. Banks' The Player of Games? It's an interesting sf concept where life = game and in order to survive you have to play the game, literally.

Fëanor said...

Haven't read any Banks at all. But there was a Star Trek Deep Space Nine episode in which the protagonists find themselves in a game where they are game pieces, and the only way to survive is by killing each other off. Good fun!

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