Using Game Theory in Art & Design

What is Game Theory? Is it just fun and games you ask? Game Theory amongst many other things deals primarily with how groups of people interact. Relating with one another is an important aspect of social life. Now you don’t need a PhD to understand this as all of us have grow up in some kind of relationship or the other; family, relatives, friends, colleagues and lovers. How does this string together with design? Think about it and you’ll realize that every single aspect of design inter-relates with one another to create a composition that you reveal to the world as a work of art or design to reckon with. Whitespace, typography, color, perspective, spacing, size, depth, layers, etc. all play together to form a masterpiece. Still sounds far-fetched? I don’t think so. Let’s explore further how we can use the Game Theory to improve our understanding of the various aspects of design and how they play together.

Existence & Meaning

In a game, the players should be offered choices that mean something and offer value to their life/goal. Similarly when an artist/designer decides to create a composition, it is imperative to first set the characters in place. Imagine a chess board and if you think that you can play the game with half the number of pawns, you are mistaken. Thus decide before hand what are the elements you will be using in your masterpiece and what their relative function will be. We often refer to this phase as blueprinting, storyboarding or pre-production. Often this can be no more then a doodle/sketch on a paper napkin at a cafe. Yet it bears supreme importance and we all know how important this start is for a great ending. Let’s add to this basic an outlining of the elements of what your attempting to create and how they each add a role and responsibility to the final output. Now you are beginning to apply the basics in your existing methodology or process of creation. Don’t stop, there’s more to come.

Decisions & Role Play

Players have a certain function and role to play in every game and how well they interact together in a team decides the outcome of the game. When we have a multitude of elements all fighting for space and weight on the blank canvas, you have the makings of a chaotic creation that in most probability will turn out to be disastrous. If your typography hogs all the limelight and the subtle gradients you have used in the background are lost to all but the discerning eye, you may wish to re-assemble and juggle a few elements here and there to ensure harmony and balance. At other times, you may wish to have the liberty to magnify the typo to such an extent that everything else loses significance and it may be just right. Maybe the color of the text changes the entire character and tempo of your creation. So while each element has it’s place in the grand structure of things, don’t be limited and allow the element to overplay or underplay it’s role. This flexibility allows possibilities unbound and is the hallmark of an ever evolving artist. Don’t be afraid to make bold decisions and even change your ideas half way through the process. Lose the analysis paralysis!

Team Spirit

In any interactive team game, players shouldn’t feel like they’re missing out. In basketball and football, many a player sitting on the bench nurses a regret of not playing in the midst of all the action, yet knows that when the time comes he/she must rise to the occasion and play! In many a design composition, we notice many subtle elements often underplayed and overlooked offer that little extra that makes the piece of art a masterpiece. As I sit typing this on my MacBook Pro, the subtle shadows underneath every application window make the entire landscape of my desktop so much more attractive and comforting to the eye to work with offering depth and perspective to an otherwise flat 2D workspace. So as an artist, we must remember to place equal importance to all elements that together form a piece of art; be they subtle background, slight gradient tints or flamboyant text that grabs all the attention. Remember the big picture!

Puzzles – Nothing like Mystery

Puzzles are the the gripping strength that hold the narrative of many a tale, serving as the backdrop for a gripping game. After knowing why the lead character of a game is out to seek revenge makes getting into his shoes so much easier and fun doesn’t it? Some games call for manipulation of objects in solving puzzles, while other games with narrative puzzles call for the manipulation of dialogue and story elements in pursuit of each puzzle’s solution. This provides meaningful choices in the context of a game’s narrative. Swinging these ideas into your process of creation, we find that using different elements in varying strengths and sizes can offer different view points and perspectives to different viewers. Knowledge of culture and color offers an interesting experiment since most of us are united via the Interwebs and our audience is global. So one viewer’s understanding of your work of art will differ from another who is looking at your work of art with a differently colored perspective. So allow yourself the indulgence of playing with puzzles. You don’t have to be a genius like Escher, but adding that little twist in your tale can make the difference between a mundane creation and a mind-blowing masterpiece. Similarly you can limit your audiences interpretation and avoid the illusion of choice that you may otherwise wish to offer. Am I sounding like the Devil’s Advocate here? Well you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. What I’m trying to say is that while you may juggle around a dozen elements, try and limit the number of elements so you only use those that really make a difference! More is not always merrier.

Game On!

One way of implementing all these ideas in your process is to kickstart a new project based on this article. How would you want to portray the Game Theory in your artwork? Would you create a 3D sculpture, a digital painting, wallpaper, typo-inspired collage, photograph a game in motion or just write a comment? Feel free to send in your feedback. And at the very least, go out there and have a blast. We designers and artists are a hard-working, dedicated group of people and enjoying a good game might be just what we need!


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Ritesh Reddy

Dr. Ritesh Reddy, PhD aka Reddy2Go is a Creative Generalist, who uses the magic of the written word and the allure of the visual medium in conjunction with bleeding edge technology to creating communication collateral for the New Media. He believes in the power of the individual & inspires independence through the Freelance Firestarter. In the spirit of selflessly sharing knowledge with the community for the betterment of society, he does not charge any fee for the same.