CISSM co-develops online nuclear weapons decision-making game

May 23, 2018

This past Sunday, fans of the CBS political drama Madam Secretary watched as a nuclear crisis between Russia and the United States played out to a peaceful conclusion. The moments when U.S. officials were deciding whether to launch a nuclear counterattack were harrowing—and relatively true to life. 

To give viewers and the public at large greater insight into the factors that real decision makers confront as they make critical decisions about nuclear weapons, the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM) partnered with online game designer Playmatics, Public Radio International and the N-Square Collaborative to produce a role-playing online game, “Nuclear Decisions,” which was released in coordination with the Madam Secretary episode.  (Visit to see how you would handle an attack warning and other nuclear dilemmas.)

The game places users into the positions of officials and citizens who must make specific nuclear decisions under real-world conditions, such as time pressures, conflicting information, and uncertainty. In the first episode of the game, players assume the role of a military officer covering the NORAD night shift at the North American Aerospace Defense Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. They must evaluate data received from various sources to determine if the country is under attack this time, or if it is a false alarm. Making a mistake in either direction could be catastrophic.

The game will include additional nuclear decision-making scenarios that will be released throughout summer 2018. Players who sign up to get newly released modules may find themselves in the shoes of the president of the United States, a member of Congress, an average voter, or others weighing dilemmas and making decisions that raise or lower the risks of nuclear war.