Beyond the Prisoners' Dilemma: Coordination, Game Theory, and Law

59 Pages Posted: 23 Oct 2008 Last revised: 12 Jan 2009


This article reviews the state of game theory in legal scholarship and finds that it remains excessively focused on one tool: the Prisoners' Dilemma. I claim that this focus is not justified, that it distracts legal scholars from exploiting other insights of game theory, particularly the problem of coordination. I show how the need for coordination is as pervasive and important to law as the Prisoners' Dilemma, illustrating with game theory discussions of constitutional law, international law, property disputes, traffic, culture, gender roles, and many other topics. I also explain how a focus on the Prisoners' Dilemma unnecessarily contributes to the divide between Law & Economics and Law & Society scholars, all of whom might find some common ground in exploring coordination games.

Suggested Citation

McAdams, Richard H., Beyond the Prisoners' Dilemma: Coordination, Game Theory, and Law. Southern California Law Review, Vol. 82, 2009, U of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 437, U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 241, Available at SSRN:

Richard H. McAdams (Contact Author)

University of Chicago Law School ( email )

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