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Let’s start with a thorny concept most of us have heard of: cybercrime. It’s a mature industry with an extensive professionally run underground economy. As you might know, the cybercrime economy is based on the development and distribution of sophisticated tools to carry out large-scale fraud attacks, consumer-data breaches and politically motivated distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. These attacks on financial institutions, retailers and governmental agencies result in the loss of billions of dollars every year.

Now, imagine that you’re a managing director at a large corporation. You’re going about your normal business day when… BAM! The corporate website goes down; you learn that the call center is being flooded by panicked customers; and members of the media are calling you to comment on the surge of negative comments on your Twitter page. What should you do first? How are you going to respond to this crisis and return your business’ functions to their normal state?

These and other questions were running through my clients’ minds. They wanted to investigate how they might be affected by a hypothetical cybercrime, and they were asking questions. “What if we lost electricity?” “What if we lost control of the website or our mobile apps?” “What if sensitive customer data were stolen?” “What would we do?” Instead of waiting for a crisis to occur so that they could learn from the school of hard knocks, they decided to simulate a handful of devastating “What ifs” ahead of time in the form of a game.

Fortunately for my client, games that simulate business processes have been around for a while — since the 1950s, in fact. Business-simulation games enable facilities managers, operations directors, IT managers and even business students to explore a potential crisis, test their response, identify intelligence gaps and try out recovery plans before facing the crisis — whatever it might be — in real life.

While these games tackle serious problems, they are fun and thought-provoking and can generate a great deal of insight in just a few hours of play. Let’s look at a few games that enable organizations to enter and play inside possible futures.

Table-talk role-playing games are a form of role-playing game. Each player takes on the role of a character whose choices shape the direction and outcome of the game. Players determine the actions of their characters, describe their characters’ actions through speech and have the freedom to improvise as the game progresses.
Business war games simulate the moves and counter-moves in a commercial setting. Unlike military war games or fantasy war games, which can take place hundreds of years in the past, business war games are usually set in the present.

Crisis-management drills have teams and participants practice aspects of an emergency response plan and prepare them for more extensive exercises — or the real event. Schools, hospitals and businesses generally conduct evacuation, shelter-in-place and lockdown drills with a large number of participants (including employees, students, staff, healthcare providers, firefighters and law enforcers) to demonstrate the steps they should take in an emergency.

Scenario-based planning games allow organizations to test out and make flexible long-term plans. A game requires participants to act out possible yet very uncomfortable scenarios in today’s world. The plausible outcomes challenge assumptions, uncover blind spots and align people around common goals. A scenario-based planning game was used by my client to explore a hypothetical cybercrime event.

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