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< Contents ERCIM News No. 57, April 2004

Games and Life

by Milan Mares

The word 'game' has many specific meanings: sport, childish play such as sand castles, chess and other table games, poker, roulette, as well as mathematical models of a special type of multicriterial optimisation or decision-making under uncertainty, computer animations whose running can be influenced by external entries, and many others. They use various sorts of tools, from a sheet of paper and a pencil up to sophisticated supercomputers. All of them display a common principle, however - they simulate, relatively cheaply and relatively safely, situations which could in reality be much more expensive or dangerous. Of course, an extreme roulette player or F1 pilot might be an exception to this, but are they still really playing a game? People cannot exist without games, which is the main reason why the concept of the game is so widespread and why it deserves serious attention.

The contributions included in this issue are representative of a 'games technology' theme. They range from the mathematical background of theoretical models, via their attractive applications, to the description and characteristics of technical (in this case, computer-based) instruments. Those presented were selected from exactly thirty papers delivered to the editors, and we aim in this issue to represent the most obvious trends of recent game-related research. We have organised them into several main clusters.
The first of these, which we may call the 'classical' group, includes several contributions devoted to specific models of game theory. They deal with the mathematical representation of conflict of interest, optimisation under uncertainty, or finding rules for balanced cooperation. In a certain sense, a counterpart to this group is formed by a few papers looking at new types of entertainment computer games. The other contributions are distributed somewhere between these two extreme positions.

Another group is connected with sophisticated analysis of gaming methods, and the development of algorithms for the simplification of social communication in non-standard situations or among somehow exceptional partners. We can see that simulating reality through a game opens qualitatively new links between people who are in some sense isolated. It can also simplify the process of learning - the idea of schola ludus formulated by J. A. Comenius in the seventeenth century gains qualitatively new features.

A similar philosophy, though formulated in the language of technical communication (eg cellular phones technology or data networking), can be found in the background of the contributions devoted to game-based methods for the organisation of communication networks and behaviour within them. Even here the technology, supported by game theory, simplifies situations in which face-to-face contact is difficult or impossible.

New methods of graphical representation form a new and promising field of development (technical, as well as methodological and conceptual), offering flexible techniques for displaying complex environments in real time. This direction of research and development offers more than increasingly commercially attractive computer entertainment games. The procedures created for the games have had far-reaching consequences in other 'serious' scientific and intellectual fields in which a high level of graphical representation is desirable. This group may also include the models of virtual reality supported by game-theoretical approaches to optimisation problems, and in a wider sense it relates to the game-theory-inspired progress of technology.

Unfortunately, no results included among the contributions looked at the vagueness (fuzziness) observable in real conflict or decision-making situations, and randomness was mentioned very rarely.

Editing this issue was a challenge in the sense that we dare to attempt to forecast the near future of this attractive field of mathematical and computer sciences. There may be no other branch of science and technology in which development will progress so rapidly, and consequently there is a great deal of uncertainty in any forecast. Nevertheless, some general trends can be identified. The most spectacular of these is the progress towards reality in the models being produced, regardless of whether they relate to technical representation or methodological principles. In the computer representation of games, this trend can be observed in the continuous improvement of graphical software, real-time communication between man and computer, the dynamics and flexibility of the game, utilisation of modern communications technology and the ability to manage enormous quantities of data. In the mathematical models of game processes, basic models have been extended to special cases, including rather marginal or rare phenomena, and attention has been paid to extreme social - not strictly gaming - phenomena. If future development reinforces this trend, then we can expect further extension of applications of the gaming approach to contribute to an understanding not only of ourselves, but also of reality and its management.

Please contact:
Milan Mares, Institute of Information Theory and Automation, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic/CRCIM