David Shlapak is a senior international research analyst at RAND whose interests include U.S. national security strategy, the evolving East Asian and European security environments, and the use of gaming and simulation in defense planning. He is codirector of the RAND Center for Gaming, which promotes the use of games in research to improve decisionmaking across a wide range of policy areas.
What do we mean by “gaming” in the world of public policy?
Gaming for policy analysis is really just what it sounds like: applying the principles of competitive play to exploring real issues. You have two or more sides with goals that to some extent are in conflict. You have rules. And you have an invented environment that changes as the players interact. Today, we’re enjoying a renaissance in gaming, developing new methods, applying old ones to new problems, and growing a new generation of gaming professionals.
Are there particular problems or situations for which gaming works especially well?
Games are about people—about how they engage problems, and about how their choices interact to create new problems or generate unexpected outcomes. War games are the obvious example: The good guys have a plan, the bad guys have a plan, let’s see what happens when they collide.
But the same dynamics emerge in other areas. Take health care. The Affordable Care Act creates changes in the insurance marketplace that affect the behavior of individuals, employers, insurers, and providers, all of whom have different strategies for managing those changes. Those strategies lead to some complex and unexpected outcomes when they all bang into one another. Games could explore those interactions, helping shape policies that can gracefully accommodate the resulting uncertainties.
What’s the most challenging aspect of designing a game?
I find every aspect of it challenging, which is one reason why it’s so much fun. A RAND game demands the efforts of many colleagues, and you’re usually asking very busy people to come play it, so you have a big responsibility to respect the time everyone is giving you. So, my number one priority when I’m working on a game is making sure that it makes good use of that time. The experience should at least be interesting or informative. When things go well, it’s both.
Are there particular public policy concerns that could benefit from more gaming?
Absolutely. Climate change comes to mind, with its multiple stakeholders, deeply conflicting interests, and huge contrasts between short- and long-term perspectives. Gaming can be valuable in addressing issues where there are sharp divergences in points of view, because it creates a safe space to explore the ramifications of different approaches in a disciplined, objective, and unthreatening way. So, gun violence, drug use and abuse, economic inequality, other very polarizing issues … let’s play a game!
From Rand corporation. Read full article here.