The following piece was submitted to PAXsims by an anonymous contributor.
Rep Mike Gallagher claims in a recent War on the Rocks piece (with commentary by Rex Brynen and others here), that the US Congress needs to take a trip to the Naval War College to participate in a wargame showcasing Battle Force 2045, the Department of Defense’s recently announced plan for a 500 ship Navy. In order for “Naval advocates in the executive branch … to sell a simplified vision of integrated American seapower to the legislative branch”, he claims, they should participate in a wargame to understand the “assumptions, vulnerabilities, unknowns, and risks being assumed in the absence of change.” But selling concepts is a dangerous place for wargames to tread.
Rep Gallagher acknowledges this, saying that “wargames could be rigged to put a positive outcome in front of lawmakers.” He’s very right. A skilled interpretation of wargames takes experience and understanding its craft. You don’t need to have been in the Wargaming profession very long to see, or at the very least hear, a story of DoD leaders misinterpreting or over-interpreting the results of a wargame in support of their preferred concept or program. But wargames provide valuable insights for those willing to put in the effort. Congress should be wargaming – but at the strategic level, and with representatives from the entire interagency, to understand how best they can legislate, provide oversight, declare war, and wield the power of the purse for the benefit of our nation and its citizens.
Battle Force 2045, like all military plans, concepts, or proposed force structures, should be wargamed (and I’m sure it has been). Wargames, together with the rest of the cycle of research, give the planners, concept builders, and force structure assessors the information that they need to build a better plan, concept, or force structure. But that’s the job of the Department of Defense, not Congress.
Congress needs to be informed about the threats, the risks, and the opportunities afforded by everything that they legislate. When it comes to the military, it’s the DoD’s job to provide them with a clear and accurate articulation of the problem. When I brief the results of a wargame to leaders in the military, I don’t run a wargame for them. I use the insights that we learned in the wargame to provide actionable information relevant to the decisions that those leaders need to make. I don’t run a wargame for them to watch; I run a wargame to help me (and my analysis team) understand the problem, which helps me articulate the situation to those decision makers. If the DoD cannot articulate the situation to Congress and the White House, then the perhaps it is they who need to go back to the wargaming table (and the analytic reports, and the exercise schedule).
What are the problems that Congress needs to understand?
Rep Gallagher and the bipartisan colleagues he references are right in saying that Congress should spend some time wargaming. There are many problems that wargames can and should help understand, not the least of which is the U.S.’s current relationship with China. But my experience via many wargames in recent years, from tactical to operational to strategic, have made one thing very clear: competition and conflict with China will rely on much more than Battle Force 2045 or any other force structure that the U.S. military will propose.
International conflict with peer competitors like China will require a robust response from all the pieces of the federal government. The Department of Defense must clearly be ready to deter, and if necessary defeat, aggression against the US or its interests abroad. The Department of State must be able to negotiate with China and come to a clear understanding about red lines, interests, national objectives, and international relationships. State must also be engaged with our allies and partners, exploring not only issues of access, basing, and overflight for our military, but also economic, social, and (dis)information issues that are critical to the US building a coalition of like-minded nations. The Department of Treasury must be engaged with our allies and partners to ensure our and their domestic security and quality of life, which is critical to supporting national will during a contest with one of our major trading partners. The Departments of Agriculture, Energy, Education, and even Transportation have an opportunity to be engaged in the escalating tensions with other global superpowers.
The DoD spends a good deal of money, and quite a lot of time, Wargaming a conflict with competitors across the globe. But rarely do those wargames include representatives from the interagency for a very good reason: that’s not the DoD’s job. Congress, on the other hand, has the ability to legislate issues surrounding all of these Departments. However, a myopic exploration of any one is likely to give a skewed perception of the importance of that line of effort when. If Congress were to declare war against a global superpower, then they must have a holistic view of the interagency problem and understand the broad ramifications – or at least that there are broad ramifications – of that act. Wargaming is a very effective way to do that.
At War on the Rocks today, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI8) of the House Armed Services Committee argues that the US Navy and Department of Defense need to to a better job of of selling their proposed naval force structure (Battle Force 2045) to members of Congress. The way this could be done, he suggests, is through a wargame:
Naval advocates in the executive branch need to sell a simple vision of integrated American seapower to the legislative branch in order to get budgetary buy-in. This will require the Pentagon to step out of its comfort zone.
This should start with a three-day trip, a short congressional delegation. Regardless of who is president and secretary of defense in 2021, this delegation should occur as soon as possible next year, as it may well be the most important government trip that will occur in the next decade. Pentagon leadership should gather congressional defense leaders, interested members, authorizers, and appropriators in the Mecca of seapower and wargaming at the Naval War College in Newport, RI. Over the course of 72 hours the department should walk Congress through a wargame that demonstrates the forces it needs, and how Battle Force 2045 will deny Chinese objectives in the Indo-Pacific generally and the first island chain specifically. The Pentagon needs to put it all out there: assumptions, vulnerabilities, unknowns, and risks being assumed in the absence of change, for legislators to understand and debate.
This idea of wargaming with Congress should have bipartisan support, if for no other reason than I stole it from Democrats. In an op-ed earlier this year with Gabrielle Chefitz, Flournoy argued that the Pentagon should invite members of Congress to observe its wargames in order to provide them with the context behind its budgetary proposals. This makes a lot of sense to me as a defense authorizer. The standard congressional hearings with the department are important, but are suboptimal forums for candid conversations, as neither members of Congress nor defense officials want to embarrass themselves on television and even classified discussions are frequently limited by time. A three-day wargame at Newport, on the other hand, would give members of Congress a rare glimpse behind the curtain of defense planning, allow members to ask stupid questions without generating negative press, and allow defense leaders to admit their intellectual or doctrinal blind spots without getting fired.
This does not need to be fancy. Congress just needs a map of the Indo-Pacific and a secure room filled with the Pentagon’s smartest people who can explain to members in simple terms the Chinese military threat, the blue force structure and capabilities needed to deter the People’s Liberation Army or defeat it in war should deterrence fail, and a clear understanding of what American allies bring to the fight. Defense officials should walk congressional leaders through how the current force structure in the Indo-Pacific is inadequate and how Battle Force 2045, in concert with the rest of the joint force, will turn an unfavorable military balance around and lead to victory. Armed with the analytical and tactical context behind the Future Naval Force Structure and the 30-Year Shipbuilding Plan, congressional leaders would then be in a position, despite budgetary headwinds, to make tough choices and convince their colleagues and the public to go along with them.
The idea has already received some pushback from those who fear that wargames can overemphasize military solutions to diplomatic problems.
This is a legitimate concern, although it is possible to run policy games on South and East Asia issues that don’t presume military solutions—as we did for Global Affairs canada in our South China Sea game.
A bigger concern, I think, is that of “gamewashing”—that is, designing and running a game designed to reach a preconceived conclusion. This is the issue that Jacquelyn Schneider raises:
Moreover, methodologically, it is simply impossible for a single wargame to “prove” the superiority of a particular force structure or set of defence investments, both because game outcomes depend (or should depend) on decisions made in the game and because you also need to test out alternatives. Did the US Navy emerge victorious in the wargame because of Battle Force 2045, or because of brilliant US game play (regardless of the asset mix), or because the Chinese side played poorly? Did eight nuclear aircraft carriers and six light carriers prove to be the key to victory, or would the US have done even better with fewer aircraft carriers and more investment in submarines, UAVs, or something else? How much advantage is gained from investing in Navy versus Air Force capabilities? Would the asset mix that proves most effective in defending Taiwan also be the most effective in other scenarios? And so on.
What you risk ending up with is wargame theatre—slickly-produced to engage and convince the audience, but telling only one possible story.
All that being said, I do think there is value in engaging legislators (and legislative staff) in games—largely to educate, to build the foundations for cooperation in times of crisis, and to seek their input into the political dimensions of policy analysis.
Washington, October 14, 2020—The Center for a New American Security today launched The Gaming Lab at CNAS, a new major initiative led by the CNAS Defense Program. CNAS experts and adjuncts at The Gaming Lab will lead innovative, unclassified games and exercises to help policymakers and military strategists gain critical insights into key national security problems. …
In addition to her work on the Derby House Principles, Sally has been tireless in highlighting the historical and ongoing contributions of women, visible minorities, LGBTQ persons, and others in the defence and national security. She has also encouraged an organization-wide discussion of how to make Dstl more inclusive, welcoming, and effective.
The winners of the 2020 UK Civil Service D&I Awards will be announced on December 4.
This is an Open Continuous job opportunity announcement, which is used to fill vacancies as they become available.
Note the separate announcements and details for US Government employee applicants and general public applicants. US citizenship or Nationality required. First cut off date is 20 Oct, final cut off date is 17th Nov.
The Climate Change Megagame is a research project based at Linköping University that investigates how a megagame can be used to convey knowledge about climate change. The Megagame will take place on 21 November 2020, both in-person (in Linköping, Sweden) and online. You can register to participate here (priority will be given to local participants). The closing date for applications is 21 October.
“The digital version of the game that we have created will give the participants a better overview of what’s happening”, Magnus Persson and Ola Leifler, who are responsible for the project, tell us.
A megagame is a large-scale game with elements of board gaming, role playing and conflict gaming, with a number of players from around 10 up to a hundred. The scenario of the game is placed in eastern Sweden and the participants play various local, regional and national roles, such as political decision-makers and representatives for business. Many of the participants will play the role of local inhabitants.
One aim of the game is to create a meeting place in which different groups in society can come together and discuss.
During the game, climate change will be simulated for the period 2020 to 2100, based on forecasts from the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute (SMHI). The consequences of the changed climate will present the participants with difficult choices. The goals of the players may conflict with political decisions taken in Stockholm and in Brussels.
Representatives for regional businesses, municipalities and Region Östergötland will participate in the game.
The Climate Change Megagame will collaborate with SMHI, the Swedish National Council for Climate Adaptation, and researchers at McGill University in Canada.
The objectives of the Climate Change Megagame research project are:
• to develop a game that creates awareness of how serious climate change is, and how it affects us
•to develop a university course in which students develop, organise and participate in a megagame
• to study the behaviour of those playing the game with respect to communication, decision-making and conflict management.
Everybody’s favourite WW2 Naval war correspondant, AJ McWhinnie, author of many marvellous articles on the Western Approaches Tactical Unit, dropped this tantalising detail in an article for the Liverpool Herald:
And then, would you beleive it, I found photographs, while hunting-up evidence of the Bombay Tactical Unit.
Just as the WRINS have fitted into the life and routine of other Naval Specialist Schools, they have also become an integral part of the Naval Gunnery Training Establishment, HMIS Himalaya.
Secretarial duties, assisting Instructors in preparing syllabae, arranging courses, and correcting confidential books and publications of modern theories of Gunnery were taken over by the WRINS when men of the RIN were urgently required for War Service afloat.
Besides doing office work they also assisted in the actual training of officers and ratings in Gunnery tactics. Theoretical lectures on Aircraft Recognition, High Angle Firing, Ship Recognition, etc were taught with the aid of cinema strips and some of the girls worked the projectors as qualified cinema operators. This was a highly specialised job needing a background knowledge of Electricity and Sound but they soon studied and mastered the technicalities and became proficient in their duties.
Gunnery in its practical aspects was taught at the High-Angle or Anti-Aircraft School which is also a part of the Training Establishment. This is India’s most modern naval school of anti-aircraft training.
Here potential Gunners practised firing at target-towing aircraft and WRINS were employed on Radio Telephones, passing messages to aircraft from control positions and passing orders to gun crews to carry out different forms of drill.
Apart from these jobs WRINS of HMIS Himalaya carried out ordinance duties. They stripped complicated close range weapons and assembled them again after cleaning and maintenance, thus keeping the condition of the arms at the high level of efficiency which is essential for accurate firing and good results.
WRINS and How They Served
This passage in particular delighted me:
They worked the complex precision machines which calculate the speed, range, angle of sight and height of ‘enemy’ aircraft and predict their future movements. This information is transmitted down to the guns by means of electrical transmission units and pointers. When the practices were over the errors in ‘time lag’ and ‘aim-off’ were analysed by the WRIN assistants and later explained to the classes.
This was the apparatus the charming McWhinnie paragraph described, and I thought I’d go a-hunting for this RCNVR Lt. For about two-and-a-half seconds I was disappointed to find McWhinnie fallible; the Lt was not Canadian, nor had any RCN connections I could find. But frankly who cares WHEN NOW I HAVE VIDEO !!?
PAXsims is delighted to present some recent developments in the WATU story. If proof were ever needed that the Derby House Principles were well-named—over and above the queer Wrens, the RN officers unfit for duty at sea through illness and injury, and Wrens standing watch as Midshipmen on a Destroyer in the Med in 1943, whose diversity is what made WATU great—enter stage right, the Bombay Tactical Unit:
Pre-1944 RIN officers took their tactical training at Liverpool.
This is Pritam “Peter” Singh Mahindroo:
He joined the Merchant Navy at 16, and on the outbreak of war he tried to transfer to the Royal Indian Navy but was denied entry because, being Sikh, he refused to cut his hair. By 1940 he was in, with his turban on, and in 1942 he took the WATU course before escorting ships to the Atlantic Ocean as a Lt on INS Godvari.
A Victory parade was held in London on June 8,1946 in which representatives of the three Indian Armed Forces participated. The senior Indian Naval officer was Commander (later Rear Admiral) A. Chakravarti and the Naval Contingent was led by Lieutenant (later Rear Admiral) P.S. Mahindroo. In keeping with the inter-service seniority in which the Navy was the senior service, the parade was led by the Naval Contingent.
Rear Admiral Mahindroo, who later commanded our first aircraft carrier Vikrant, reminisces on the occasion, “Needless to say, that as a turbaned officer leading the Naval Contingent, I was most prominent and I must have given hundreds of autographs amongst thousands of spectators who probably slept on the pavement for one or two nights to witness this historic parade.
Fearing imminent Japanese invasion in 1942, the Women’s Auxilliary Corps (India) formed to free every available shore-man for active duty. In January 1944 the WRINS formally stood up as its naval branch, as the focus of the war turned towards Asia.
43% of the officers and 77% of the WRINS were Indian, and among the junior officers 80% were Indian. The rest were Anglo-Indians (born in India of British descent; the white ruling class of Empire) and Brits—a combination of women stranded in the Empire by wartime travel restrictions, and women from Britain who signed up to the WRINS instead of the WRNS (applicants who didn’t quite make the cut for the RN were sometimes offered a more favourable position in the RIN, RCN, or other colonial navy…)
[Of course, Indians and Anglo-Indians were British Citizens; that’s how Empire worked. A fact conveniently forgotten by the hostile environment policy and Windrush scandal.]
The WRINS offered opportunities for “intelligent and well educated women and girls when they pass out of their schools and colleges … [for] cultured Indian girls and women … who have the interest and well-being of their country at heart.”
Chief Officer Cooper’s somewhat idyllic view of Empire certainly reflected attitudes of the time:
[Cooper’s spelling] Here Mohammedans, Hindoos, Parsees, Pathans, Anglo-Indians and British lived side by side in harmony, the only allowance made for difference in tase were the meals, two sets being provided.
For the Indian girls it was the experience of a life-time, broadening their outlook, and helping towards emancipation—so important for their future role in India.
During the three-day Mutiny in February 1946 it was significant that the WRINS in all the ports stood fast, and showed no signs of disaffection.
Cooper, Women’s Royal Indian Naval Service
Given that the chief grievance of the mutineers was poor treatment of Indian ratings by white officers, it suggests a white leadership (and of course, it was all white at the top) somewhat out of touch with the recipients of their colonial benificence.
Roshan Horabin, who was turned away from the WAC(I) because pre-1944 “they did not employ native girls,” talks about the class and race tensions at play:
I was educated at the Cathederal. And in those days there were only 10% Indians and we paid double fees. And although [an Indian] could be a prefect, you couldn’t be a head girl.
Roshan came from the upper-crust of Indian families, and socialised with Baronettes. Even so, she was once challenged by a police officer for using the “European” latrine instead of the “Indian” one.
He said, “These are the rules of the Empire and Indians do not go into British latrines.” People are shocked to hear this, and think Appartheit was only in South Africa. And I say no, in fact it was the whole of the Empire.
In 1942 she joined the Intelligence Division.
We had English people, Germans, French, and Mrs Smith who was a Colonel’s wife, in charge of my section. I think we had four Anglo-Indian ladies but they didn’t talk to Bina [the Honourable Bina Sina] and myself, they just spoke to the European lot. But the English lot talked to Bina and me.
Later when the WRINS began accepting Indian applicants, the Intelligence Division wouldn’t let her go. You can hear the whole of her oral history interview here.
The WRINS were immensley proud of their Tactical Unit contribution. In WRINS and How They Served, a two-page spread is devoted to explaining the purpose and details of the Royal Indian Naval Tactical Unit, while the rest of the book has photographs and only brief captions at-best, glossing over the rest of the WRINS technical duties. (My particular favourite: Cypherettes at work. Because intelligence officers and backing vocalists are so very hard to tell apart…)
The Royal Indian Naval Tactical Unit in Bombay trained officers of the RIN in one of the most thrilling and vital phases of sea warfare—the “Killer Group” tactics that played so large a part in the winning of the Battle of the Atlantic. Modelled on the lines of the Royal Navy’s famous Western Approaches Tactical Unit, this well-equipped establishment had WRINS assisting in the training of future commanding officers of HMI escort vessels.
WRINS and How They Served
Founding the Bombay Tactical Unit.
This is Cdr Arthur King:
The Tactical Unit was established in Bombay in 1944 and was disbanded shortly after the capitulation of Japan. As I was in charge of this unit it is of some historical interest that my thoughts on it should be recorded.
At the outset I should say that I do not have any clear idea as to why I was given this job. Certainly I never asked for it. But I have, nevertheless, for as long as I can remember, had an interest in naval tactics. This started when at school I read of Nelson’s conduct of his fleet. The positioning of ships to gain maximum advantage over the enemy was only achieved by a clear understanding of what was needed and how to use the elements—sea, wind, sun and moon—to gain the upper hand. A total understanding between the ships’ Captains was essential. Nelson developed this to the full, calling his Captains his “band of brothers”, and fostered this espirit de corps to a fine degree of understanding by calling them all together at every possible moment he could create.
In 1942, standing by HMIS Jumna building on the Clyde, a notice was circulated to COs of all escort vessels that they and their executive officers should attend as convenient at the A/S Tactical School located in Derby House, Liverpool, headquarters of Admiral Sir Max Horton, C-in-C Western Approaches.
There I met Commander Duncan
And this is the true joy of King’s account for me as a woman: to see the karma of the Williams’ biography of Captain Roberts, which mis-spelled the names of every single WATU Wren, repaid in kind by King persistently mis-remembering Roberts’ name as “Duncan”, and confusing him with his then-XO Lt Cdr Walter Higham, ex-submariner and ranking survivor of HMS Audacity:
There I met Commander DuncanRoberts, a dug out submariner who had been invalided out of the service in 1939 and recalled to set up a school to aquaint the Captains of the many escort vessels—sloops, frigates, corvettes—with the ways of the enemy they were going to face when they got out into the Atlantic, and how to deal with him. Technical schools had already instrcuted people in the mechanics of Asdic and final attack procedure, but they did not then have any experience of the tactics the enemy would use to get into the best position to get at the convoy. DuncanRoberts had made a study of such matters and had the added benefit of his Chief’s submariner’s mind.
The week-long course consisted of very few short lectures. Most of the time was spent playing games and analysing them. The “play area” was a gridded linoleum (has anyone ever seen lino of the quality provided to the Navy?) floor, with the pupils behind screens out of sight of the main plot, positioned at desks and fed with data—some relivant, some irrelivant—of contacts, signals, D/F bearings, etc, from which each had to decided his actions—signals to others, course and speed of his own ship, whether to move towards the convoy or to go to help some other ship in trouble, etc etc. All this was then transfered to the plot on the floor and success or failure resulted. Understanding of how best to achieve the objective of getting the convoy safely through was undoubtedly improved as the week went on. One was better informed of what the Germans were about and how they operated their “Wolf Pack” tactics. Confidence in how to counter-attack was gained. It was Nelson’s band of brothers again.
Then, in 1944,
I was somewhat mystified to recieve instructions to set up a Tactical Unit in Bombay on the lines of the Unit in Derby House Liverpool. The intention was that, as the war in Europe was approaching finality, Churchill and the War Cabinet directed that more effort had to be made against the enemy in the East.
And so, in July 1944, in company with Lieutenant Ahsan, DSC, and four WRINS—2nd Officers E. Donoghue, E. Staveley, J. West and E.A. Twynham—we set off in a York to fly to Liverpool. DuncanRoberts was still there—actually he spent the whole of the war in this appointment—and for six weeks we understudied him and his team.
In Bombay we set up shop. Our first location was above Mongini’s Restaurant in Hornby Road. This was all right for operation as it had the space and was properly fitted out, but it was hardly the place to keep confidential books. We were soon found a corner of the dockyard.
VE came and was celebrated. Then some months later Hiroshima and then Nagasaki were attacked by atomic bombs and the war was over.
In the weeks following, we in the Tactical Unit considered what we should do. There was obviously no enthusiasm for VR officers to spend time learning something they would never have to apply in practice. People all around us were just waiting for demoblilisation and getting bored. So we decided to set up demonstrations, using the facility of the large gridded linoleum floor as our stage. We read up on the confidential reports of the major Naval batles of the war and prepared our floor-show. “The Sinking of the Bismarck” and “The Battle of the River Plate” were presented by us in Bombay long before they were made into films! And we had large audiences, weighted from time to time by gold braid. Admirals Godfrey and Rattray both came along to see what we were up to, and made some complimentary remarks at the end of the shows.
Like this, I imagine, only with less YouTube and more pipe-smoking:
Was the Tactical Unit worthwhile? This is difficult to answer. Certinly if the war had developed into a long battle against the Japanese, who up to then had shown every sign of being difficult to move and fanatical in their resolve, then there would have been an enormous increase in military activity in this sphere with all important supplies coming by sea and therefore entirely dependent on Naval supremacy.
The Tactical Unit at Bombay would then have become, as was Liverpool to the Atlantic, the centre for updating intelligence of enemy tactics.
Show me the WRINS!
Oh, dear reader, I can do one better. Please be upstanding for 2nd Officer Staveley (now Puckridge), only the third first-hand account of WATU’s activities by a Wren (WRIN) in existance (Wren June Duncan’s memoire, and Lt Carol Hendry’s oral history being the other two).
Here are the founding WRINS of the Bombay Tactical Unit:
Pinch me. I am actually exchanging e-mails with a WATU Wren:
My father had just completed a 6-year Army posting to India when war broke out and we were unable to return to the UK because of the new travel restrictions. I enlisted in the WAC(I) in Bangalore in South India when the local women’s services commenced recruiting (had to back-date my date of birth by a year to qualify). After a few months in a Recruiting Office, I was asked if I would transfer to the Air Defence Unit, still in Bangalore. Later (sadly I did not keep a diary, so am imprecise about dates) I was asked to move to Cochin to work on Cyphers and from there was sent on an OTC and promoted to 2nd Officer, WR(I)NS. I was then sent to Liverpool Western Approaches Tactical Training Unit and, on completion of the course, was posted to Bombay to help with setting up a Tactical Unit there.
On arrival in Bombay from Liverpool I seem to recall working exclusively with the small group who attended the UK course, ie the four of us in the picture, the officer named King and another IAF officer [Lt Ahsan], and a lovely girl from India whose name I can’t recall.
When this was disbanded after VJ Day, I was posted as Personal Assistant to the Chief Staff Officer to the Flag Officer, Bombay, [Capt Nott] for a short while until I was demobbed in 1945.
2nd Officer Anne Puckridge (nee Staveley)
That lovely girl from India was 2nd Officer Kalyani Sen:
It was decided that four WRIN officers should be sent to the United Kingdom for a two months’ course at the Anti-Submarine Tactical Course at Liverpool. Those officers on completion of their training were appointed to act as “movers” at the Anti-Submarine Tactical School at Bombay. The Deputy Director WRINS, Chief Officer Cooper and two administrative officers also proceeded to the United Kingdom where they were attached to Women’s Royal Naval Service establishments and training centres for a period of two months to undergo a course of instruction in WRNS methods of administration and training.
The first Indian service woman who visited the United Kingdom was second officer Kalyani Sen, of the Women’s Royal Indian Naval Service. With Chief Officer Margaret Cooper and second Officer Phyllis Cunningham she went there at the invitation of the Admiralty to make a comparative study of training and administration in the Women’s Royal Naval Service.
There you have it. Women and minorities forging operational analysis. And casting gears for submarines, too (from Wrens in Camera by Lee Miller. Really stunning and unexpected photos of Wrens onboard ship and other non-clerical duties):
You can read more about the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming here.
One approach to deal with the constraint is open adjudication where the players participate with the adjudicators in determining the outcomes of interactions. The wargame becomes a structure within which the participants explore the novel scenario as they decide about novel warfighting concepts. The structure forces decision-making within a competitive environment followed by a cooperative exploration of possible outcomes, and this sequence is repeated as the game progresses.
The requirement can be satisfied by many small games run in parallel where each game is repeated multiple times with game design between each iteration modified by insights generated by the previous iteration. The iterations spawn multiple trajectories and create breadth across the decision and outcome space. Both Matrix Game and map/board based Hobby Game techniques can satisfy these requirements.
Each small wargame has one player per side and one adjudicator who also acts as a data recorder. Each subgame is played many times with players rotating between sides and the adjudication position. Rotating roles is critical for games that explore novel situations, as it forces players and adjudicators to see the situation from different perspectives and be innovative about adjudication. Repetition forces the players to think harder about how to win as they face players who have seen their previous attempts. Whether players stay in the same groups for all the subgames or are shuffled between subgames is an open question. I call this “Swarm Gaming” (not wargaming swarms, that is a different topic).
For those of you who may have seen colleagues wearing Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming pins and wondering how to get your own, here’s your chance! We are now selling them in lots of ten for £20 (UK) or USD$30 (rest of world).
Since quantities are limited, email me for further details. Upon payment, they will be dispatched to you through our global network of PAXsims order fulfilment warehouses.
The Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional (war)gaming can be found here.
We are pleased to announce that Catherine Jones has joined PAXsims as an associate editor.
Catherine Jones is a lecturer at the University of St Andrews, Scotland (UK), where she teaches on East Asia’s International Relations. Previously she was the East Asia Research Fellow at the University of Warwick from 2012-2018. She received her PhD from the University of Reading. Her current research explores the nexus between security and development in East Asia; in particular, she attempts to explore new methods, concepts and approaches to investigating the region including using simulations and wargames. Her most recent publications include, an edited volume China and North Korea between Development and Security (Edward Elgar), Defining Taiwan Out (Contemporary Politics), Contesting within Order? China, socialisation and practice (Cambridge Review of International Affairs).
The Command and General Staff School’s (CGSS) resident elective A350, Decisive Action Tactical Application Course, transitioned to a distributed learning (DL) modality as part of the school’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the first time in its seven-year history, the A350 faculty delivered a course designed for in-person, student tactical staff and faculty collaboration in a DL model without sacrificing learning outcomes. The students and faculty encountered and overcame numerous challenges during planning, preparation, and execution of the elective. In the final analysis, students and faculty assessed that the course effectively delivered the curriculum while meeting the desired course objectives.
PAXsims is pleased to present a selection of recently-published items on simulation and serious gaming. Some of these may not address conflict, peacebuilding, or development issues at all, but have been included because of the broader perspective they offer on games-based education or analysis.
Articles may be gated/paywalled and not accessible without subscription access to the publication in which they appear.
Developing wargames to effectively model the information environment (IE), and information/influence operations (IO) therein, is challenging for two primary factors. First, conceptualizing the IE is typically difficult due to its complexity. Second, as a rule wargames must necessarily sacrifice some detail for the sake of economy and clarity so as not to overburden participants. This is problematic given that most military professionals have very little ingoing experience with and corresponding understanding of operations in the information environment. The IE wargame participant learning curve is steep.
Overcoming these hurdles and designing practical simulations is critical to improving familiarity of IO for policymakers and maneuver commanders alike. This paper summarizes the U.S. Army War College’s approach to wargaming and modeling information warfare (IW), which has been under my direction since 2018.1 I describe our efforts to effectively model the IE, briefly summarize the relevant scientific literatures underpinning our methods, and then provide the major findings of our wargames within the Joint, Army, and Marine Corps communities.
Existing literature on the use of games to support research on international relations is largely disconnected from the academic literature on research design generally, and multi-method research design in particular. The majority of gaming literature currently comes out of the interdisciplinary practitioner community, who have generally been focused on pragmatic considerations. Popular works on game design often come out of the commercial gaming industry, where research considerations are not a core driver of design choices. Finally, works from international relations tend to focus on games as a teaching tool or on games as they have contributed to specific avenues of research. It is only recently that the use of games as a tool for research is being addressed as a subject of study it its own right within contemporary political science. As I have previously argued, this turn towards integrating games into the frameworks and concepts applied to other tools for social science research is critical to ensuring that the insights drawn from games are sound, as well as for making gaming as a tool more accessible to new researchers. This paper expands on previous work conceptualizing games within social science research design to discuss how games can be integrated into broader studies by exploring three approaches: repeated games, serial games, and games in multi-methods studies.
This article considers the ethical tensions inherent in international human rights field documentation and proposes intensive, simulation model, pre-fieldwork training as a means of reducing the risk of insensitive encounters. The article evaluates the social, educational, class, racial, and other power imbalances between parties in the ordinary fact-finding process. After mapping pitfalls and challenges, it assesses the simulation training method and its potential to respond to the volatile dynamics of fact-finding. We conclude that the rigorous, three-day or week-long exercise, carried out in a controlled, supervised setting, holds potential to train future advocates to navigate power dynamics, challenges in intercultural engagement, and other communications barriers.
There are inherent difficulties in designing an effective Human–Machine Interface (HMI) for a first-of-its-kind system. Many leading cognitive research methods rely upon experts with prior experiences using the system and/or some type of existing mockups or working prototype of the HMI, and neither of these resources are available for such a new system. Further, these methods are time consuming and incompatible with more rapid and iterative systems development models (e.g., Agile/Scrum). To address these challenges, we developed a Wargame-Augmented Knowledge Elicitation (WAKE) method to identify information requirements and underlying assumptions in operator decision making concurrently with operational concepts. The developed WAKE method incorporates naturalistic observations of operator decision making in a wargaming scenario with freeze-probe queries and structured analytic techniques to identify and prioritize information requirements for a novel HMI. An overview of the method, required apparatus, and associated analytical techniques is provided. Outcomes, lessons learned, and topics for future research resulting from two different applications of the WAKE method are also discussed.
James Goodman, Sebastian Risi, Simon Lucas, AI and Wargaming (study for Dstl, nd, posted2020).
Recent progress in Game AI has demonstrated that given enough data from human gameplay, or experience gained via simulations, machines can rival or surpass even the most skilled human players in some of the most complex and tightly contested games. The question arises of how ready this AI is to be applied to wargames. This report provides a thorough answer to that question, summarised as follows.
Wargames come in a number of forms — to answer the question we first clarify which types we consider.
In order to relate types of wargames to the performance of AI agents on a number of well known games, such as Go and StarCraft, we provide the most comprehensive categorisation to date of the features of games that affect the difficulty for an AI (or human) player.
In the last few years some amazing results have been demonstrated using Deep RL (and Monte Carlo Tree Search) on games such as Go, StarCraft and Dota 2. We review the main architectures and training algorithms used, the level of effort involved (both engineering and computational) and highlight those which are most likely to transfer to wargames.
All the most impressive results require the AI to learn from a large number of game simula- tions. Access to a fast and copyable game engine/simulator also enables statistical forward planning algorithms such as Monte Carlo Tree Search and Rolling Horizon Evolution to be applied. These should be considered as they provide intelligent behaviour “out of the box” i.e. with no training needed, and can be combined with learning methods such as Deep RL to provide even more intelligent play.
Explainable decision making can be achieved to some extent via the visualisation of simula- tions, and by analysing neural network activation patterns to help explain the operation of Deep RL systems. Explainability is best seen as desirable rather than essential.
There is a strong need for a software framework tailored towards wargame AI. There are many examples of successful game AI frameworks, and how they can provide a significant boost to a research area. Whilst no existing one provides adequate support for wargames, we make clear recommendations on what is needed.
This paper will argue that the CAF should revitalize its wargaming capability, specifically focusing on a ‘force on force’ training philosophy that increases the potential for ‘training to failure’. This paper will focus on three areas that support this position. First, it will explore the philosophy that conflict is non-linear, and that dynamic interaction is essential in creating thinking leaders, capable of critical reflection and growth. Second, this paper will explore the US revitalization of analytical wargames, including the United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) lessons learned as a possible case study. Finally, this paper will present potential CAF ‘force on force’ wargaming opportunities within live and simulated training. It must be noted that this paper should not be viewed as a criticism of the Canadian Army Doctrine and Training Centre (CADTC) or any other CAF training organization; it merely represents a training philosophy that could compliment CAF doctrine and current practices.
Capability-based planning as an approach to defense planning is an almost infinitely complex engineered system with countless nodes and layers of interdependency, influenced by state and non-state diplomatic activities, information, military and economic actions creating secondary and third order effects. The main output of capability-based planning is the set of capability requirements needed to achieve the expected end-state. One revitalized qualitative technique that allows us to gain insights into unstructured and fuzzy problems in the military is wargaming—in its simplest form this involves manual wargaming. At the same time, there has been a push to bring computer assistance to such wargaming, especially to support umpire adjudication and move more generally towards full automation of human elements in wargames. However, computer assistance in wargaming should not be pushed, regardless of cost, towards quantitative techniques. The objective complexity of a problem often does not allow us to replicate the operational environment with the required fidelity to get credible experimental results. This paper discusses a discovery experiment aiming to verify the concept of applying a qualitative expert system within computer assisted wargaming for developing capability requirements in order to reduce umpire bias and risk associated with their decisions. The innovation here lies in applying system dynamics modelling and simulation paradigms when designing the theoretical model of capability development, which forms the core of the expert system. This new approach enables qualitative comparisons between different sets of proposed capability requirements. Moreover, the expert system allows us to reveal the effects of budget cuts on proposed capability requirement solutions, which the umpire was previously unable to articulate when comparing individual solutions by relying solely on his own knowledge. Players in the wargame validated the proposed concept and suggested how the study might be developed going forward: namely, by enabling users to define their own capabilities and not being limited by a predefined set of capabilities.
Games are hypothesized to be an effective alternative for training than other methods. Prior research showed that learners often find training boring, and when they took training with games, they reported higher engagement, motivation, and a positive perception of the learning experience. The hypothesis for this study was that participants who take game-based information security awareness training would perform statistically significantly better than participants who took video-based training. One hundred participants were given a pretest and posttest with half of the participants using video-based information security awareness training, and the other participants using game-based information security awareness training. Conducting data analysis using IBM SPSS Statistics 24, it was discovered that the group receiving the video-based [games-based?] training performed significantly better on the posttest and had a higher mean score than the video-based training group.
The training of staff and regimental officers in common tactical doctrine (the ‘drills’) is essential to developing teamwork within formations, headquarters and units. But developing tactical thinking (the ‘skills’) is more difficult. A range of tools presented herein have been formulated by Western armies over two centuries to develop the skills and the drills separately and then merge them to create combat-ready formations.
Historical games need to be analyzed holistically as games rather than tasked to fulfill the functions of some other medium. The historical problem space (HPS) framework offers an approach to analyzing historical games more holistically as games rather than text, useful both for academic and educational historical analysis. It considers how all historical games present the past in terms of player agents with roles and goals that are contextualized within a virtual gameworld whose features enable and constrain player action. In response to this space, the player crafts strategies and makes choices. The purpose of this article is to provide a more detailed overview of the HPS framework and how it can be usefully employed to understand gamic histories. Ideally games scholars will be able to conduct their own analyses of historical games as historical problem spaces and educators use this framework to structure their classroom analyses of games.
Did the Cold War of the 1980s nearly turn hot? Much has been made of the November 1983 Able Archer 83 command-post exercise, which is often described as having nearly precipitated a nuclear war when paranoid Warsaw Pact policymakers suspected that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was using the exercise to launch a preemptive nuclear strike. This article challenges that narrative, using new evidence from the archives of the former Warsaw Pact countries. It shows that the much-touted intelligence effort to assess Western intentions and capabilities, Project RYaN, which supposedly triggered fears of a surprise attack, was nowhere near operational at the time of Able Archer 83. It also presents an account of the Pact’s sanguine observations of Able Archer 83. In doing so, it advances key debates in the historiography of the late Cold War pertaining to the stability and durability of the nuclear peace.
The rapid growth and widespread availability of technology has allowed enemies to dynamically develop countermeasures to military systems. Therefore, it is imperative that military systems be designed to account for these countermeasures. As such, technology roadmapping should be a critical activity in the acquisition of defense systems. Technology roadmaps provide a strategic vision for a system that accounts for the operational context, including evolving needs and technology changes. However, the operational context can be difficult to predict. This article suggests using wargaming coupled with combat simulation to better understand the operational context to allow for testing and refining technology roadmaps. Wargaming requires teams to roleplay friendly and enemy units to determine how each side adapts with the implementation of a new military system. Computer-based simulations can then convert the qualitative results from the wargame into quantitative metrics that further inform the roadmap. A case study is presented for a technology roadmap associated with an armored exoskeleton. Wargaming forecasted the countermeasures implemented by the enemy and the associated responses. The wargame results were coupled with models to quantitatively forecast the change in the warfighter’s survivability and lethality. The wargame was then used to inform the technology roadmap.
Only two distinct board games (and their variants) are firmly attested among Greeks in the Classical period (fifth to fourth centuries bc). The first, eventually known as “Ship-Battle” (ναυμαχία), is first attested in the seventh century bc and was played (ordinarily) with ten counters and a die on a board with five parallel lines or a circle of ten spots. The second, known usually as “City-State” (πόλις), is first attested in the fifth century bc and was played with sixty counters (and possibly a die) on a board with a grid of lines. These two games were the first war games in the West (if not the world), preceding Chess by a millennium.
The key aim of Open Strategy is to open up the process of strategy development to larger groups within and even outside an organization. Furthermore, Open Strategy aims to include broad groups of stakeholders in the various steps of the strategy process. The question at hand is how can Open Strategy be achieved? What approaches can be used? Scenario planning and business wargaming are approaches perceived as relevant tools in the field of strategy and strategic foresight and in the context of Open Strategy because of their participative nature. The aim of this article is to assess to what degree scenario planning and business wargaming can be used in the context of Open Strategy. While these approaches are suitable, their current application limits the number of potential participants. Further research and experimentation in practice with larger groups and/or online approaches, or a combination of both, are needed to explore the potential of scenario planning and business wargaming as tools for Open Strategy.
Games are widely used to better understand and prepare for a diverse set of challenges. Gaming is a generic term for a suite of structured methodological approaches that can qualitatively (and occasionally reinforced using quantitative data) support decisionmaking in many contexts. What makes a game a game is interactive, rule-based problem solving that includes adjudication of outcomes. Games can be played in formal or more relaxed settings and be supported by different communication tools, such as printed media, whiteboards, digital devices, and applications. Gaming is often associated with the U.S. Department of Defense, but many types of organizations outside of defense—governmental, commercial, nonprofit, and academic—develop and use gaming to support decisionmaking or other functions. The U.S. Coast Guard employs some approaches—largely informally—that fall under the umbrella of gaming. Conducting gaming more formally could help the service expand its analytic, training, and engagement tool kits. In this Perspective, the authors discuss what more the service might do to employ gaming, and why. In particular, the authors highlight the idea of deployable gaming: a low-cost, scalable, structured scenario-based approach that can help gather information, aid decisionmaking, and promote learning at different echelons within the service.
Gaming industry in its short span of around forty years has evolved from a hobby to a huge economic industry. However, undeniably, incredible advancement in video game graphics has allowed this virtual world to manipulate and escalate its consumer’s behavior. Violent video games, according to Professor Robert Sparrow, have long been used for political contestation and social unrest. The study serves to analyze behavioral escalation through video games. This study has used Ian Bogust’s Procedural Rhetoric as a methodology to analyze video games. The results showed that video games are persuasive interactive medium that escalate behavior and have great potential to be used as a tool of hybrid warfare. Louis Jones stated that propaganda and unconventional warfare is not a new thing, it dates back to Greeks when they left wooden horse at Troy. Colin Gray, military strategist, described the future warfare as similar to the historical one but with modern means of technology. The new virtual means of warfare have not altered the nature of warfare but have developed its new ways. Combat games are more realistic in sense of its enhanced graphics and presentation. This study points towards the great potential in video games to work as a tool for Hybrid war
Jorit Wintjes, “Analogue wargames in the time of social distancing: The ‘Long-Distance Kriefsspiel’,” Mars & Clio, 31 July 2020.
[Excerpt] Now, after our last wargame had ended before anything meaningful had happened (the French, who in an 1883-invasion-scare scenario had to push towards the east, having captured Liverpool, had barely managed to get their army corps out of the city), there was little in the way of post-mortem to prepare. We therefore decided to explore ways of running a traditional wargame in a “virtual”, if you want, way. I should stress that we did not try to develop a computer game; our research work is focussed on the history of the Prussian Kriegsspiel, and what we wanted was basically a long-distance Kriegsspiel.
We eventually adapted Prussian rules from the mid-1870s, a time when the original Kriegsspiel rules were expanded to care for larger operations – for an operational Kriegsspiel and organized a real-time simulation running for 12 days, in which each day would represent one day of fighting on the ground. The participants formed two army HQs and gave out orders each night at around 00:00 via email to the umpires; the umpires then moved forces and decided over combat, reporting combat results, reconnaissance information etc back to the participants by 18:00 the following day via email. This allowed the participants – we ran the simulation with two teams of young Bundeswehr officers – to carry on with their real- worldly tasks during the day and to meet in the evening to discuss the events of the simulation. In order to add period flavour, to increase immersion and to create the need for the participants to gather information from different sources the events were accompanied by faux newspaper articles which we published on a website accompanying the simulation.
In a tactical wargame, the decisions of the artificial intelligence (AI) commander are critical to the final combat result. Due to the existence of fog-of-war, AI commanders are faced with unknown and invisible information on the battlefield and lack of understanding of the situation, and it is difficult to make appropriate tactical strategies. The traditional knowledge rule-based decision-making method lacks flexibility and autonomy. How to make flexible and autonomous decision-making when facing complex battlefield situations is a difficult problem. This paper aims to solve the decision-making problem of the AI commander by using the deep reinforcement learning (DRL) method. We develop a tactical wargame as the research environment, which contains built-in script AI and supports the machine–machine combat mode. On this basis, an end-to-end actor–critic framework for commander decision making based on the convolutional neural network is designed to represent the battlefield situation and the reinforcement learning method is used to try different tactical strategies. Finally, we carry out a combat experiment between a DRL-based agent and a rule-based agent in a jungle terrain scenario. The result shows that the AI commander who adopts the actor–critic method successfully learns how to get a higher score in the tactical wargame, and the DRL-based agent has a higher winning ratio than the rule-based agent.
Ben Stevens is an expert in group facilitation and educationvia non-traditional media, with a growing portfolio in learning game development. He joined LLST as a Project Assistant in September 2020.
Like the rest of society, over the past six months serious gamers have scrambled to move our profession online. New methods have proliferated to adapt our favourite mechanics to online platforms, and even those designers most reluctant to leave behind face-to-face gaming (myself included) have been forced to experiment with this new digital medium.
Shortly before COVID-19 changed the way we work, Imaginetic and Lessons Learned carried out research for Save the Children UK in Kenya, Jordan, and Canada on the potential uses and effectiveness of learning games in humanitarian training. That work feels especially timely now, as our study included an examination of the differences between digital games and face-to-face exercises. The main thrust of the findings will cause many long-time serious gamers to nod in agreement: face-to-face learning games were much more engaging, enjoyable, and effective than their digital counterparts.
But hold on: the reality might be more complicated. In the early days of the lockdown, the Lessons Learned team spent some time gaming out pathways to a best-case digital future. Here are some of the key takeaways we identified.
What Makes a Good Digital Game?
A key recommendation from our pre-COVID-19 research was that, for a learning game to be successful, the form of the game should be dictated by the learning goals. Genre, mechanics, and theme should all mirror function. A game about information flow, micro-frictions within teams, or inter-agency coordination should require players with different perspectives to discuss their actions face-to-face. If we want players to learn empathy for others, they should be emulating the decision-making processes and emotional states of others with as much accuracy as possible. Conversely, an action side-scroller makes for a poor tool to teach about a crisis case study if players are paying more attention to the nuances of the controls and the gaps they have to leap over than to the artificially injected learning moments—assuming they have the skill to pass the obstacles at all.
One corollary of our findings is that digital and tabletop games are fundamentally different learning tools. They do different things well and, similarly, are limited in different ways. As experienced tabletop game designers, we are experts in designing with the strengths and limitations of our medium in mind. We know that fog of war is hard, so if it’s needed we make that a central design feature. We know that buy-in is difficult, and so our games should be quick to set up, quick to learn, and quick to start. In particular, we know that our games should involve people with different points of view collaborating on a plan around a table because that is something our medium does exceptionally well.
But are we keeping these principles in mind as we pivot to the digital environment? For many of us (myself included!), pivoting to digital has simply meant running our tabletop learning games over Zoom. After examining my own experiences, hearing about the experiences of others, and playing a lot of games, I think that to succeed in a digital future we need to get back to basics.
Accepting and Avoiding Digital Limitations
Try playing your favourite board game online, and you’ll quickly notice that the components we use just don’t work as well in the digital space. Moving digital pieces on a digital board feels disconnected. Virtual decks of cards can be confusing. Where can I put my tokens and why? How tall is this stack of cards? Did we shuffle or not? What deck did this draw come from?
This isn’t to say that the same mechanics can’t be used, but we should not assume that the tactile user interface we employ via units, tokens, decks of cards, and dice in a tabletop exercise will translate directly to a computer screen.
Digital games do not allow for the type of fluid, dynamic conversation that we rely on in tabletop learning games. After six months of remote work, we are well aware that Zoom calls and forum threads are less efficient than face-to-face meetings. Of course, that principle is equally true when we are engaged in a serious game. Conversation, debate, coordination, and group goal setting—the bread and butter of our tabletop designs—are all bottlenecked by the limitations of online meetings.
If these classic tabletop features don’t adapt well to the digital environment, is that the fault of the medium itself? Or should we as designers be changing our approach?
Embracing the Digital Environment
Even before COVID-19 curtailed our ability to meet face-to-face, we used the digital medium to communicate in a bewildering assortment of ways: emails, WhatsApp messages, Slack groups, social media, shared documents, video calls, SMS—the list goes on and on. Instead of using these tools as imperfect facsimiles of in-person interactions, why not build our digital game designs around digital communication itself?
What many of these tools have in common is that they are asynchronous. Digital conversations don’t happen all at once. Even an urgent email takes time to draft and revise. The slow pace of digital conversations has a serious impact on one of the most ubiquitous game structures: turns. If each turn requires communication between players, we can expect those turns to play out like an uphill slog through mud. It is becoming clear that our digital game designs might be more effective if we made clever use of asynchronicity instead of struggling against it.
I’ll go one step further: that list of digital communications software gives us an opportunity to exploit as digital designers. We already have a magnificent suite of tools at our disposal that our participants use every day. If we are deliberate about the tools we use to host our designs, we will not have to teach participants the mechanics from scratch. They already know how to send emails, manipulate spreadsheets, and participate in Slack threads. With well-fitted digital designs, we can offload the unfamiliar elements of running the game onto the control team, leaving participants to work in ways which already feel natural to them. Since we know that cards and small components often do not translate to digital space, where we can’t pick them up and look at them, it becomes much easier to present information via email, chat, spreadsheet, PDF, image, webpage, or any of the other myriad digital options. These tools also make digital games fantastic for concealing information. As designers, we have much more control over what players see and do not see in digital space.
Another great opportunity presented by the digital environment is that digital games do not require a physical space. We don’t have to book a meeting room to set up the board. Participants don’t have to meet to debate their strategy or submit their actions. When combined with asynchronous methods of communication, this flexibility gives us the opportunity to build games which run over longer periods of time but require less frequent input: fifteen minutes a day over the course of a week or five minutes out of every hour spread across a three-day conference, all largely run over familiar digital office tools (the archetype of this structure is, of course, PAXsims’ own Brynania civil war simulation).
Digital games are much more easily automated, allowing for much more complicated rules and mathematics. This automation could be as simple as a facilitator copy-and-pasting data into spreadsheets and emailing participants the results at the end of every round. Or it could be as complex as scripting fully automated solo experiences in powerful digital game design tools such as Unity. However, in these cases, we have to be cognizant of the drawbacks of offloading the processes from the player. If a player does not understand what is happening or why, they will struggle to connect with the learning objective. If players do disconnect, the more automated a game, the less opportunity a facilitator has to intervene in order to keep it on track.
Because digital games can be automated, played in shorter chunks of time, and do not take up physical space, they can be much more easily repeated than their tabletop counterparts. The potential for repetition is a major opportunity for all kinds of reasons. We know that repetition is a powerful tool for learning—and how often have we railed against the “n=1 problem” in analytical games?
Back to Basics
Of course, we should not consider this an exhaustive list of the strengths and weaknesses of the digital design environment (nor should we think of that environment as being homogeneous). But I think it’s safe to say that, in making the move from tabletop to digital learning games, we will need to go back to basics in our designs. We need to return to the desired outcomes of the project, and we need to search for new game mechanics that maximize the opportunities of the medium while avoiding its pitfalls. For many of us (again, myself included!), this process is going to seem frustrating and limiting as we grapple with basic problems in ways we have not experienced since early in our careers. In some cases, we may have to completely re-examine our assumptions about what a learning game can do.
It’s clear that, as responsible designers, we can’t just force what we’ve been doing into a new shape. If we want our learning game designs to make the transition online, we need to treat digital learning game design as a new art and invest time in learning how to do it well.