What was the first SciFi book/movie that has a species or other large group whose ethics is deliberately built based on game theory?

Doesn't have to use the word "Game Theory", as long as the concept is clear enough that anyone reading who knows what Game Theory is right away can recognize it.

2 Answers 2


I was tempted to say "Ender's Game" but while some facets of game theory actually showed up in context of ethics/morality in the sequels (or especially, prequel short stories), I don't think they were shown in "Ender's Game" itself.

But thinking about Ender's Game led me to a much ealier work that should satisfy the requirement: Heinlein's 1959 "Starship Troopers" (the RAH book, not the "let's buy the rights and totally pervert 100% of the book" movie).

In the book, one of the central themes is political/ethical theory - presented as lessons Rico attends in History and Moral Philosophy classes - that, leaving aside its particulars, is basically Game Theory.

  • 1
    Been some time since I read Starship Troopers, so cna't be sure, but from what I remember the main pieces of philosophy were regarding the military. The only political philosophy I remember is the one in which he argues why only people who serve in the military should get to vote.
    – apoorv020
    Commented Jun 24, 2012 at 14:24
  • @apoorv020 - there's lots more. Commented Jun 24, 2012 at 16:36

Since the accepted answer doesn't detail any actual game theory in Starship Troopers, I'm going to nominate Larry Niven's aliens.

The Pak protectors are constantly at war because they instantly react to public knowledge in the style prescribed by game theory, just like the rational wives who kill their husbands.

The Moties are trapped in a Prisoner's Game-like matrix where every individual's incentive is to reproduce, but the payoff when everyone reproduces is recurrent societal collapse. Crazy Eddie is the figure that urges everyone to defect and try birth control or emigration via blind hyperspace jump instead.

Niven is just shot through with game theory. Earth under ARM is an unstable, non-Nash equilibrium, and they know it. Space combat involves predicting your opponent's best strategy based on when information about your last move reached them. Pierson's puppeteers have a strict code of deleting any information they use for blackmail, making for an effective reputational strategy in a repeated game. If Niven didn't use game theory first, he used it best.

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