Using Games to Explore Public Policy Issues

The use of game tech to explore public policy alternatives is touted by futurist Jamais Cascio, writing for the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies:

The big advantage of games as a foresight device is the capacity to fail in interesting ways: you can try out different, even bizarre, strategies for success, and do so without worry of harming yourself or others. It’s a form of rehearsal, a way to understand the ways in which the present may be manipulated to create a desirable tomorrow.

Cascio makes his case by detailing a trio of policy-oriented simulations. He leads off with Oil ShockWave, a petro-crisis simulation developed at Harvard. While previous editions were studied at the 2006 World Economic Forum and at the 2007 Aspen Strategy Group conference, a new version is intended for college classroom use. From the game’s Harvard website:

Students play the roles of U.S. Cabinet members developing a policy response to a potentially devastating crisis that affects global oil supplies. Situations are presented primarily through pre-produced newscasts, video briefings and insert cards handed to the students during discussion. The exercise vividly illustrates the links between oil, the economy, and national security.


The box set… contains maps, multimedia components, simulated newscasts, a range of background materials, and an instructor’s manual. To ensure that the latest information is always available to you, the box set will be fully web-supported…

GP: I must concur with Cascio’s lament that the game is not generally available. It  sounds fascinating.

Cascio also looks at Budget Hero, a sim sponsored by American Public Media’s Marketplace program:

Unlike some budget sims that give you nearly line-item control over what’s in and what’s out, Budget Hero limits your options to options that sound like policy proposals—Cap & Limit Greenhouse Gases, Link Alternative Minimum Tax to Inflation, and so forth. You also start with three budget priority badges, reflecting the positions you take as a leader.

Cascio is less impressed with Immune Attack, a health-themed game designed for high school classrooms.


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  1. 0
    Aliasalpha says:

    I’m tempted to make an oil & water mixing joke… Personally I’d prefer a full on version, a game where you had to research to succeed would be cool. The winners would be the informed ones & the losers would watch faux news & think everything is flowers & chocolate.

  2. 0
    Anonymous says:

    Being homeschooled (conventional schooling doesn’t work for me, homework, warksheets, don’t need it. Give me the book and then the test and I’m good to go) Oil Shockwave would be graet, they should consider making a watered down version for general distribution.

  3. 0
    Aliasalpha says:

    Yeah, oil shockwave sounds interesting, it’d be a good large scale multiplayer game where you have to think about what you do or the entire world would be destroyed! 

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