Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Wallace: Wargaming needs new recruits


At How Do We Get to Next?, Mark Wallace discusses the importance of expanding the ranks of professional national security gaming, and developing greater professional competencies in the field:

Since the early 19th century, the loose collection of military thought experiments known as wargames has been informing commanders on the eve of battle and at the height of cold wars. Wargames have guided significant tactical and strategic decisions in conflicts including World War II, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and undoubtedly others we don’t even know about. Now, as part of a new emphasis at the Department of Defense on using innovation to sustain the United States’ military position in the world, wargaming is set to play a bigger role than it has in decades.

But as the province of a bunch of “middle-aged white men,” who for the most part came to wargames first as a hobby, the discipline is in sore need of younger and more diverse practitioners to fill out a roster that is increasingly “hair-pigment challenged,” as one person put it. So if wargames are to remain as useful as they’ve become, the question Wong wants to answer is, how do we train a new generation of these grognards?

The “Wong” being cited, of course, is none other than occasional PAXsims contributor Yuna Wong (RAND).

Also cited in the piece are (Connections wargaming conference guru) Matt Caffrey:

Caffrey also believes wargames can save civilian lives, as well as the lives of combatants. “The U.S. and our allies typically try to win our wars fast, with as few casualties overall and with the least destruction as we can,” he says. “This is because such victories produce a better state of peace. Wargames help us fight smarter, hence get closer to our ideal form of victory.”

“Two of the biggest problem with wargames are that outcomes are being taken too seriously, and that outcomes are not being taken seriously enough,” Caffrey says. “You can never prove what’s going to happen in the future. A wargame never proves anything. In fact, if a contractor says this wargame proves you should buy my product, run screaming.”

…(wargaming wise man) Peter Perla:

One of the reasons wargames work so well, according to Perla, is that the collaborative storytelling process gives players a “you are there” feeling that brings out their best thinking, and helps them internalize the experience and make it part of their problem-solving toolset for the future.

One of the most eminent of the craft’s eminences grises, Perla is also one of the grayest: “A lot of the really knowledgeable master wargamers, we’re getting up there in years,” he says. “I’m sort of semi-retired now, and I’d like to be more than semi soon. We’ve got to build the cadre of people who really understand what wargaming is, how to do it, and how to use it.”

…(PAXsims associate editor) Tom Mouat:

A more rigorous approach is clearly needed, and could also help address some questions that even the experts have. “Wargames create that environment in which people will start to think more broadly about a problem, think in an indirect manner, and generate original and unusual solutions,” says Mouat. “But there is the issue of whether manual wargaming begets original thought, or whether organizations that engage in original thought tend to have wargaming.”

…and yours truly too.

You can read the full article at the link above.

4 responses to “Wallace: Wargaming needs new recruits

  1. Robert A Mosher 26/11/2016 at 12:59 pm

    I’ve long thought that a related list-serve discussion group on the Humanities Net would help with recruitment and building and sustaining a community.

  2. Rex Brynen 26/11/2016 at 1:06 pm

    There is at least one academic wargaming email list (ProfGrog), but it’s not very active. Phil Sabin’s Simulating War Yahoo group has significantly more discussion, although relatively few of the participants are academics.

  3. dshlapak 26/11/2016 at 1:44 pm

    At RAND, we’ve taken the opportunity presented by DoD’s surge in interest in wargaming to develop a new generation of gaming professionals. Thanks in particular to the efforts of Stacie Pettyjohn, co-director of our Center for Gaming, we’ve been especially successful in recruiting and developing a cadre of exceptionally talented women (in addition to some terrific men) into our community. As one of the “old white men” of the business, I couldn’t be more excited to be part of this process and hope that other organizations are making similar efforts to tap into the skills and enthusiasm of folks who traditionally have not been engaged in wargaming. While academic programs are certainly desirable and it would be great to see them expanding, the old-fashioned “learn-by-doing” approach remains viable and valuable.

  4. gersonvmjr 26/11/2016 at 9:01 pm

    My sincere congratulations for this great article. Unfortunately, at many places the word ‘wargame’ still contains a lot of misunderstanding and preconceptions…

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