Understanding how to effectively and efficiently reduce fishing effort is a marine conservation imperative, given falling catches, degrading coastal systems and burgeoning human populations. Globally, studies into understanding who may leave a fishery, and why, have tended to be survey based, offering important but limited insights into exit behavior. At the same time attempts to introduce alternative livelihoods to fishing communities in developing countries often fail, and fishers are hostile to efforts to implement regulatory restrictions on their fishing activities. This paper argues exploring shifting behaviors through quasi-experimental field games offers inroads to this dilemma. Firstly, such games can triangulate with both observational and survey-based data to deepen understanding of how and why fishers may exit the fishery. Secondly, face-to-face interaction and stakeholder participation are important for improving natural resource management, and are facilitated by games. I illustrate these points using the example of ReefGame, played in multi-stakeholder workshops with small-scale fishers across the Philippines. Characterizing players as 'shifters', 'intermittent shifters' and 'non-shifters' highlights how non-economic considerations, meso-economic contexts and desires for the next generation to have 'a better life' can inform more responsive and effective fisheries management. At the same time, the game offers structured opportunities for scientists, managers and fishers to interact, building trust and understanding between them.