Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

On choosing wargame participants


The  Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation: Applications, Methodology, Technology (gated) features a forthcoming article by Nathaniel D Bastian, Louis Boguchwal, Zachary Langhans, and Daniel Evans that proposes “A multi-criteria, network analytic approach to war game participant selection.”

A critical component of the military war game planning process is selecting who should participate, as these participants heavily influence war game outcomes. These outcomes directly impact both strategic and operational decision-making and defense planning, shaping both future defense policy and budget. In this paper, we propose a novel team selection algorithm and decision-support tool combining methods from multiple criteria decision analysis and network analytics to select and visualize a group of war game participants. This method accounts for the diverse requirements of the decision-maker. The results are not only applicable to war games, but also to any team selection domain, such as employee hiring and college admissions.

More specifically:

[W]e develop and implement a multi-criteria network analytic decision-support model for war game participant selection and visualization. The potential participants and ‘‘ideal participants’’ will be included in the network, but instead of examining social relationships between participants, we consider a person’s ties to their attributes. An attribute is a characteristic of an individual that can include areas of professional expertise, academic background, military experience, and languages spoken. In our network model, each person is connected to his or her own attributes, which helps define them for the purposes of team selection. This creates a bipartite network (two- mode matrix), which has two types of nodes: people and attributes. In addition, the ‘‘ideal participants’’ are constructed using a set of attributes based on the needs of the war game. With a complete set of potential participants and ‘‘ideal participants,’’ we create a network visualization that displays both the people and their attributes.

idealpersonfig1My concern with such an approach is that it views ideal wargame participants almost entirely through their nominal expertise in knowledge domains, and with little reference to other key factors that might shape their value and behaviour in a game context (rank/influence, social and professional network, style/personality, and even competence within their identified areas of expertise). In other words, not all experts in math, history, academia, and the military will be of equal value: you may also want individuals who are in a position to carry the lessons of the game to broader audiences, who are likely to be bold (or cautious) in their play, who are in a position to challenge established wisdom, or who collaborate well. Qualitative research in small game settings certainly highlights that such social engineering of participants can have substantial effects on game outcomes, and there is every reason to believe this can be true in much larger games too.

That being said, there seems to be inadequate attention in the field to how participants ought to be selected for a game. The Naval War College’s otherwise excellent War Gamers Handbook, for example, simply says: “Based on the game’s purpose and objectives, special expertise is often required to perform player roles. Game design provides the initial concept for the numbers, types, and years of experience for each player role, but this initial idea is confirmed or modified during the development phase. Some player roles may be added or reduced based on testing results.” (p.25). Peter Perla’s seminal The Art of Wargaming discusses player behaviour and engagement, but says little about optimal player selection. Stephen Downes-Martin has examined the impact that senior players can have on wargame directors and design, but who those players are is treated as largely exogenous to the process.

All in all, it seems to be a question to which more attention could be usefully devoted.

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