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As economic games have spread from experimental economics to other social sciences, so too have critiques of their usefulness for drawing inferences about the “real world.” What these criticisms often miss is that games can be used to reveal individuals’ private preferences in ways that observational and interview data cannot; further, economic games can be designed such that they do provide insights into real-world behavior. Here, we draw on our collective experience using economic games in field contexts to illustrate how researchers can strategically alter the framing or design of economic games to draw inferences about private-world or real-world preferences. A detailed case study from coastal Colombia provides an example of the subtleties of game design and how games can be combined fruitfully with self-report data. We close with a list of concrete recommendations for how to modify economic games to better match particular research questions and research contexts.
This manuscript was substantially restructured and expanded from its previous version. It is now under submission to Royal Society Open Science.