Using innovative analytic games to improve decisionmaking

Center for Gaming

Strategy, policy, and operational decisions emerge from judgments made by human beings. Accurately simulating the complexity of this human decisionmaking is a challenge for many analytic techniques. Games, however, are simple models that incorporate human beings as their key variable.

At the most basic level, games are events that allow participants—bound by a set of rules—to make decisions and work through their potential consequences without affecting the real world. Games can be used to explore competitive situations—such as warfare—or cooperative situations where key stakeholders hold different preferences.

Gaming methods have deep roots at RAND, dating back to the 1940s when social scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and others pioneered the use of political-military crisis games to study nuclear deterrence.

On this legacy, the Center for Gaming supports a wide range of games to explore the sometimes unpredictable drivers behind human decisionmaking and to tap into human ingenuity, helping policymakers make better decisions and develop innovative solutions.

Games can serve many purposes. They can be used at the outset of the analytic process to better define poorly understood problems and identify hypotheses to test. They can also be used to evaluate and test different concepts or ideas. Finally, games can help assess whether research findings derived from other methods can survive contact with human decisionmakers.

The Center for Gaming brings together skilled game designers with RAND’s multidisciplinary staff—including economists, operations researchers, cyber experts, political scientists, climate scientists, engineers, educators, and beyond—so that our games combine both innovative design and deep subject matter expertise.

Our Focus

Because each type of game has its own unique strengths, we use various games—including seminar-style games, manual games, and computer-assisted games. We explore topics as diverse as urban planning, climate change, military strategy, drug policy and more.

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Methods In Action

  • uturistic soldiers wearing virtual reality goggles, photo by Donald Iain Smith/Getty Images


    Next-Generation Wargaming for the U.S. Marine Corps

    The U.S. Marine Corps has an opportunity to adopt wargaming best practices, tools, and approaches from other sources and adapt them to suit its needs. What courses of action should the Marine Corps take toward building its next-generation wargaming concept?

  • A participant votes for the team he thinks should win RAND's education policy game, Let's Improve Tanner High School!, in Pittsburgh, September 28, 2018


    Education Policy 'Game Night' Debuts at RAND

    Parents, teachers, principals, and community leaders played RAND's first education policy game. Participants had to work through scenarios affecting a fictional high school, such as how to cut its budget by 4 percent. The game showed researchers how different stakeholders might approach school improvement challenges and what drives their decisions.

  • Digital devices on a map of Australia


    Australia's Cyber Security Policy Options

    An exercise with participants from government, industry, think tanks, academia, and the media explored opportunities to improve cyber security and inform Australia's strategy. Recommendations include creating and enforcing technology security standards, crafting international agreements to address challenges, and increasing awareness to keep users safe online.

  • Researchers demonstrating a gaming exercise for board members in Santa Monica, 1966


    The Serious Role of Gaming at RAND

    RAND uses gaming techniques to develop insights into a host of 21st century challenges. In this Events @ RAND podcast, David Shlapak, founding codirector of the RAND Center for Gaming, discusses the strengths, weaknesses, and limitations of using gaming in research.

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Student Spotlight

  • Lauren Buitta, founder of Girl Security, and RAND's Jenny Oberholtzer, Stacie Pettyjohn, Becca Wasser, and Ellie Bartels host a wargame for girls, July 2019, photo by Dori Gordon Walker/RAND Corporation

    A Wargame at RAND Puts Teen Girls in Command

    As a student, Ellie Bartels (cohort '15) worked with her fellow RAND "Dames of War Games" to develop and host an event for young women to learn firsthand about national security. The day offered a lesson in strategy, in the hard realities behind news headlines, and also in agility and resilience.

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