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Research Questions

  1. In what ways can a game be designed to accurately reflect the realities of thinking through, strategically and militarily, nuclear weapon employment?
  2. What theories would inform such a nuclear-focused wargame?
  3. How can this game design be expanded in the future to reflect different regions and scenarios?

To assist the U.S. Department of Defense and other stakeholders addressing the subsiding interest in and knowledge of a continued nuclear threat, RAND Corporation game designers and subject-area experts developed A Strange Game, named in reference to the 1983 techno-thriller movie, Wargames, which presents thermonuclear war as a conflict that no one can win. A Strange Game, however, very much concerns the present day and the future in that it gives players an opportunity to explore the problems of near- or longer-term future intra-war deterrence where the taboo against the use of nuclear weapons has broken down.

This report provides the scientific and theoretical background that informed the creation of the A Strange Game prototype. This report also offers relevant context that went into game design. Therefore, it should be useful to those considering adopting the game, game masters who will want to conduct fully informed gaming sessions, and players wanting a first-hand account of the diplomatic and military concepts used in the game. The information presented in this report can also assist other game designers as they work toward the development of further games that immerse participants in environments designed to improve decisionmaking before, during, and after conflict.

Key Findings

  • A Strange Game can allow players the opportunity to learn about the fundamental dynamics of nuclear weapon employment theory in a new way.
  • The design of A Strange Game provides players with a better awareness of current-day nuclear strategies, plans, threats, and blind spots that might exist in U.S. national security knowledge.

Funding for this research was made possible by the independent research and development provisions of RAND's contracts for the operation of its U.S. Department of Defense federally funded research and development centers.

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