Building Better Games for National Security Policy Analysis

Towards a Social Scientific Approach

by Elizabeth M. Bartels

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This dissertation proposes an approach to game design grounded in logics of inquiry from the social sciences. National security gaming practitioners and sponsors have long been concerned that the quality of games and sponsors' ability to leverage them effectively to shape decision making is highly uneven. This research leverages literature reviews, semi-structured interviews, and archival research to develop a framework that describes ideal types of games based on the type of information they generate. This framework offers a link between existing treatments of philosophy of science and the types of tradeoffs that a designer is likely to make under each type of game. While such an approach only constitutes necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for games to inform research and policy analysis, this work aims to offer pragmatic advice to designers, sponsors and consumers about how design choices can impact what is learned from a game.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction: Games for National Security Policy Analysis and How to Improve Them

  • Chapter Two

    Study Approach

  • Chapter Three

    Towards a Social Science of Policy Games

  • Chapter Four

    Four Archetypes of Games to Support National Security Policy Analysis

  • Chapter Five

    Designing Games for System Exploration

  • Chapter Six

    Designing Games for Alternative Conditions

  • Chapter Seven

    Designing Games for Innovation

  • Chapter Eight

    Designing Games for Evaluation

  • Chapter Nine

    Trends in RAND Corporation National Security Policy Analysis Gaming: 1948 to 2019

  • Chapter Ten

    Conclusions, Policy Recommendations, and Next Steps

  • Appendix A

    Sample Template for Documenting Game Designs

Research conducted by

This document was submitted as a dissertation in March 2020 in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the doctoral degree in public policy analysis at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. The faculty committee that supervised and approved the dissertation consisted of Steven Popper (Chair), Stacie Pettyjohn, and Yuna Wong.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation dissertation series. Pardee RAND dissertations are produced by graduate fellows of the Pardee RAND Graduate School, the world's leading producer of Ph.D.'s in policy analysis. The dissertations are supervised, reviewed, and approved by a Pardee RAND faculty committee overseeing each dissertation.

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