Methods Center

Center for Gaming

U.S. military and Japan Self-Defense Forces in a war game exercise.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Nathan Allen/U.S. Air Force

Context

The Center for Gaming promotes the use of games in research to improve decision-making across a wide range of policy areas. The Center supports the innovative application of gaming, the development of new gaming tools and techniques, and the evolution of existing forms and methods.

A "game" can be thought of as any interactive process with five basic characteristics: (1) multiple independent decision-makers, who (2) compete to achieve goals, (3) in evolving contexts that change according to their interactions; (4) which are governed by a set of rules; and (5) the results of the interactions do not directly impact on the state of the world.

The question "What are games good for?" can most easily be answered by a stroll through the toy department at any local department store. The shelves are full of games of business and conquest, of war and diplomacy, of crime, education, dating and marriage, of life and death. Similarly, "serious games" have been used—at RAND and elsewhere—to explore issues ranging from urban planning, climate change, drug policy, and disaster response, to nuclear proliferation, and of course, military operations and warfare.

Nobel-prize-winning economist and RAND alumnus Thomas Schelling put the value of gaming quite succinctly when he wrote that alternative approaches to strategic analysis can fall short because no-one can “make a list of things you never thought of.” Games create opportunities to think of things you wouldn’t otherwise.

"One thing a person cannot do, no matter how rigorous his analysis or heroic his imagination, is to draw up a list of things that would never occur to him"

Thomas Schelling

Map and game pieces from RAND-conducted war game

Map and game pieces from RAND-conducted war game that tested NATO defense capabilities.

Photo by Karl Mueller

Methodologies & Tools

Games can be used at various points in an analytic process to achieve different objectives. At the outset, games can help to make sense of poorly understood problems and identify hypotheses to be tested. Gaming can also be used for experimentation, to test concepts and plans and to explore the problem space. Finally, at the end of the research process, games can be used to assess whether findings can survive contact with human decision­makers.

Because games offer a visceral first-hand experience, they are also powerful tools for training or educating players. They can spark communication and collaboration among people who otherwise would never see the benefits of interacting, or would lack a compelling opportunity to do so.

  • Gaming
  • Simulation
  • Modeling

Real-World Applications

Paratroopers perform an airborne training exercise

Photo by Capt. Tom Cieslak/U.S. Army

Army airborne forces are unique in their ability to quickly deploy worldwide from the continental United States via transport aircraft, including to objectives that may be deep inland and generally beyond the reach of maritime forces. Examples of this type of mission include quick-response efforts to seize and secure weapons of mass destruction, to protect an enclave, or to prevent genocide. A RAND project focused on the pivotal role that airborne forces could play in key missions in the future—particularly against hybrid threats and in anti-access environments.

In the future, airborne forces will likely be confronted with increasingly sophisticated anti-access threats, and improved tactical combat capabilities in the hands of potential opponents. To overcome these new threats, the airborne force will need new capabilities. A very important consideration in this research was the need to identify potential enhancements to today’s airborne forces that could be made in the next three to five years. The research team identified the concept of enhancing today’s airborne forces by adding a light armored infantry that could be airdropped by parachute or air-landed at an airfield. Such a capability provides airborne forces with increased speed and mobility once it arrives in the objective area, as well as greater survivability and firepower.

After developing the initial concept, the research team conducted extensive analyses of vehicle options, as well as the airlift requirements that such a concept would generate. An important part of this analysis was a series of tabletop exercises conducted with subject-matter experts to explore how such a concept could be employed in a variety of scenarios.

Expertise

The RAND Center for Gaming co-directors

RAND's Long History of Gaming

The RAND Corporation has been at the forefront of gaming for nearly seven decades. In the 1950s it pioneered the use of political-military crisis games to study nuclear deterrence. The idea for the U.S.-Soviet "hot line"—the famous "red telephone" that allowed the American president and his Soviet counterpart to communicate directly and securely in a time of crisis—grew out of a 1961 RAND game. During the 1990s it developed the innovative "Day After" approach to explore the consequences of nuclear proliferation, and the platform has subsequently been used for topics as diverse as global warming and cybercrime. Among other topics, RAND is currently using gaming to examine impending changes in national health-insurance regulations, key issues in U.S. national security strategy around the world, and political transformation in volatile regions.

War gaming exercise at the RAND Corporation

War gaming exercise at the RAND Corporation

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