The Social Sciences and Innovation in Gaming

By McCown, Margaret M. | Joint Force Quarterly, July 2010 | Go to article overview

The Social Sciences and Innovation in Gaming

McCown, Margaret M., Joint Force Quarterly

This is a fascinating time to be a gamer, particularly one developing policy games. The types of problems to be gamed, the technical support available to do so, and the importance of exercises' findings all seem imbued with unusual potential and urgency. The security challenges that we capture and present in strategic games are increasingly characterized by transnational, networked, and multilevel domestic, national, and international factors, all of which require new or, at least, sharpened tools to represent and assess. At the same time, a range of new tools, from distributed computer gaming systems to virtual reality, has become available. This article argues, however, that for practitioners writing virtually any game, the social sciences--economics, political science, and sociology--constitute the single most important source of both substantive theory and methodological insight.

The simple explanation behind this assertion is that almost all strategic level policy problems are also social science problems; they concern how actors, whether individuals, groups, bureaucracies, social movements, or nations, make calculated decisions with respect to their interests and environment, construct social institutions and rules to further those goals, and compete for goods allocated in ways influenced by all of the above. This article briefly highlights some ways in which social scientists have theorized and tested hypotheses about how and why actors make and break rules, and the relevance of these efforts to gaming.

Game Theory Is Not a Theory of Gaming

Game theory is, of course, the social science tool mostly widely associated with gaming. Game theory is not a theory of wargaming, policy gaming, or strategic gaming, but rather a tool of applied mathematics used widely across the social sciences.

If one is writing and executing tabletop exercises, one is, in fact, doing almost the opposite of game theory--but it is useful to review the discipline nonetheless, for its approach yields concepts useful to gamers in both their parsimony and generalizability.

Game theorists create mathematical models of interdependent decisionmaking. These models represent how rational players make calculated decisions, anticipating other players' reactions on the basis of their preferences that yield certain outcomes. In other words, a game is some set of rules, giving a group of players choices that result in different payoffs. The "game" is for players to determine the choice that gets them the biggest payoff, taking into account the ways that they anticipate other players responding to them. (1) Taken together, these concepts--rational actors, rules presenting players with some set of choices, and outcomes with some payoffs--define the game.

In tabletop exercises, designers do not express these factors in diagrams or equations but rather in detailed scenarios rich in contextual detail. Even though the "rules" may be no more elaborate than a description of the state of the world within the game and the instruction that players should describe their best response to it, these key elements are embedded within every good scenario: some set of rules that shape the players' options--options that will have different potential payoffs and can be assumed to elicit some reaction from other players. Games may hold some factors constant (such as a game with only a blue team, in which the reactions of "opponents" are not explicitly projected) or just describe them cursorily (a scene-setting scenario that tells participants which sandbox they are playing in and the context that shapes their decisions but that may not restrict their decision options beyond that). But it is useful for gamers to keep in mind that an effective exercise will have all of these components explicitly or implicitly and, just as important, the postexercise analysis should address them and explain why they were instantiated as they were. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Social Sciences and Innovation in Gaming


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.