Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Archipelago Annie on gaming definitions, bosses and game development, and professional gaming careers for women



Archipelago Annie is PAXsims’ very own advice columnist, offering words of wisdom on serious gaming in the national security community. Have a question for her? Email us, and we’ll pass it on!


Dear Annie: Can you explain the difference between gaming, wargaming, war gaming, peace gaming, serious games, exercises, seminars, table top games, and simulations? –DAZED AND CONFUSED

Dear DAC: Unfortunately, probably not. Just like finches differentiated in the Galapagos, terminology has morphed at the different islands of the gaming archipelago. Many of the terms you mention do have very specific definitions, but those definitions are different in different places.

The short version is that all the terms you mention can be used to describe a type of educational tool or analysis in which players are asked to make decisions based on an environment based on a particular set of rules. Folks will use different terms based on the purpose, institutional norms, personal preference, or house definitions. So for example, development agencies don’t like the term wargame (because they are talking about something other than combat) while academia uses the term “simulation” to refer to this tool, but “simulation” means a mathematical model run over time that does not require human input in DoD terminology. Furthermore, lots of folks also don’t like “game” because its strikes them as unserious.

The majority of practitioners have given up having a unified set of terms, and just work with the house style, and make sure to include a definition of what they mean when talking to folks from other shops. I recommend you save your energy and do the same.


Dear Annie: My boss is making me crazy changing my game! What can I do to make him stop? –DON’T GO CHANGING

Dear DGC: First, know you are not alone! Any time you get to gamers together, stories of the way their perfectly designed game has been ruined by the interference of others. In fact, a favorite paper of mine discusses how your boss can be one of the “Witches” of wargaming.

The first thing is to think really objectively about whether the changes your boss wants actually put the objectives of the exercise at risk. There is some existing work on how to do this. While other changes may be irritating, they are not going to have the same magnitude of effect, and it’s worth learning to pick your battles.

If it is really a situation where analytic or educational conclusions of the game will be compromised, then I would suggest trying hard to explain the specific ways that the outcomes of the game will be comprised. If the game goes on ahead, try to note in your post-game analysis where findings should be treated with caution as a result.


Dear Annie: I think wargaming sounds like an awesome career! How can I get a job in it after college? –BRIGHT YOUNG THING

Dear BYT: How exciting! I obviously love my place in this particular archipelago, and I’m glad you are interested!

However, a word of caution: gaming—like most other national security jobs—tend to have more applicants then positions. Many people competing for “entry level” slots will have master degrees, and/or will have works in unpaid internships. This does not mean that qualified folks who can’t afford these expensive signaling mechanisms can’t make it in the door, but it is really important to have reasonable expectations going in.

There are also relatively few jobs that exclusively involve gaming, and few people manage to do only gaming for their entire career. Attending games when you can, volunteering to help if other parts of your organization run games, and staying up to date with the field can all help you move back and forth between gaming- and non-gaming-centric positions. Building up regional and other analytical expertise will also make you more attractive

I’d also recommend you read up a little bit. Peter Perla’s book is a canonical text. The Naval War College has made its war gaming handbook accessible, and CASL, the gaming center at the National Defense University, has a bibliography that includes a list of good foundational texts. Commercial gaming (particularly old school hex and counter/table-top wargames) is still a major cultural touchstone in the field. If you didn’t grow up gaming I’d recommend beefing up a bit on the basics. Jim Dunnigan’s book is a standby.

Finally, recognize that much of gaming is taught through a master-apprentice system. When you are interviewing for a position, you want to make sure that the gamers you will work for are interested in teaching you the types of skill you want to develop. However, it is also important to be aware that a major part of the junior member’s job on a gaming team is to manage the “party planning” so don’t be surprised or offended when someone asks you to make coffee. I promise, it can be critical to the success of the game!


Dear Annie: I’m interested in wargaming, but I hear so much about gamer culture and DoD culture not being friendly towards women that I’m hesitant about my chances as a women in the field. How worried should I be? –Worried Woman

Dear WW-:Much like other DoD analytic fields, wargaming has traditionally had more men than women involved. There may also be a gender imbalance because of the role of hobby gaming in bringing people into the field. That said, there are women publishing and presenting actively in the community. I personally have seen established (male and female) gamers go out of their way to mentor and encourage young women in the field. I have also heard more than one discussion about how to encourage better gender representation.

Interestingly (and again completely anecdotally) the majority of female gamers tend to be focused on more strategic level (as opposed to tactical) analysis. There is also currently a bit of a concentration of women interested in social science methods. That said, it’s more likely that’s due to personal preference and distorted sample sizes then anything systematic.

All that said, gaming isn’t all done at conference, and office cultures can differ considerably. Based on my non-representative sampling of wargamers, treatment of women varies a lot office to office. My sense is that looking at the general advice for DoD civilian women will give you a better sense of day to day life than focusing too much on wargamers as a specific niche.

One response to “Archipelago Annie on gaming definitions, bosses and game development, and professional gaming careers for women

  1. Swen 05/08/2014 at 5:03 am

    I really like Archipelago Annie. :-))

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