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Why games?

As in some other computer applications, games raise the question of whether computers can make good decisions based on the evaluation of present and possible future situations. They also provide a suitable environment to support experimentation in different areas of computer science such as algorithms, data structures, machine learning, knowledge engineering, tree search, and reasoning.

If computers cannot solve decision-making problems in ``simple'' domains like games, then how can we be sure that they can make good decisions in other complex domains where rules are ill-defined, or there are high levels of uncertainty? Four characteristics make games suitable for computer representation:

the state of the world is easy to represent,
there is a fairly small number of well-defined rules and a clearly specified goal,
the relative success obtained by playing a game can be measured with quantifiable results, and
the basic infrastructure for a game-playing program is easy to build.

Games are an abstraction of worlds in which hostile agents act to diminish each other's well-being. Thus, they can be used to design and analyze situations with multiple interacting agents having competing goals. Since real life contains many situations of this kind, a method to solve a game may be applied to problems in other areas. For example, in Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, Von Neumann and Morgenstern state that a study of ``games of strategy'' is required in order to develop a theory for the foundations of economics and for the main mechanisms of social organization, because games are analogous to a variety of behaviors and situations that occur in these two areas [29]. In fact, games are already used to model certain economic problems.

In addition, the development of a program to play a strategic game often involves the application of theoretical concepts to practical situations. Programs that implement different theories can be played against each other to provide a comparison of the effectiveness of these theories in a practical domain. Therefore, games can be used as an experimental environment to obtain supporting or refuting evidence for new ideas, and to stimulate discussion on different approaches to solve a particular problem.

next up previous contents
Next: Why poker? Up: Introduction Previous: Introduction
Lourdes Pena