Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 31/10/2019

The Future of Wargaming: Brain Probes, Crocodile Clips and Drugs

I was recently asked by Ed McGrady to create an outline for a story about the future of wargaming (not to be confused with wargaming the future) as part of his working group on the subject. So, here is my outline for a science fiction story about the future of wargaming. I believe there is much to be gained from expanding the boundaries of wargame player manipulation, specifically the effects that directly manipulating players’ brains using electrical stimulation and drugs can have on game play and analysis.

The term “science fiction story” has three parts; “science”, “fiction” and “story”. In this short outline the fiction is underpinned by credible modern science. It remains to be seen if the “fiction” becomes fact. Given that my proposed future science of brain manipulation for game purposes is a credible forecast from current research, I suspect it will. I have not added references to current research results to this short piece, you can find those in my other writings.

The Motive

People playing a game know the game is not real life, and we know from psychology and social science research that decisions they make during the game are influenced by this knowledge. We also know from psychology and social science research that a risky shift and dishonesty shift occur during group discussions that take place during both games and real-life decision making. Players’ critical faculties generated by their frontal lobes take into account the conscious knowledge “this is a game” and are influenced subconsciously by the two shifts. Therefore we have a problem using decisions made during a game as proxies or predictors for decisions the same players would make during the real-world situation the game is exploring.

The “science” part of the “science fiction story”

When dreaming (during REM sleep) blood flows to the cortex (which provides content) and the limbic system (which processes emotions) both of which light up. However the frontal lobes (which direct our critical faculties) remains quiet. The result is that we usually accept the content and emotions of a dream (during it) no matter how weird.

Anesthesia research shows that anesthetics make us “unconscious” by disconnecting different parts of the brain’s macro-systems from each other, thus breaking the brain-wide integration that current research claims leads to self-awareness. Some anesthetics leave the person aware of the pain but experiencing a rolling amnesia – they feel the pain of the surgery but forget that fact from moment to moment.

Medical research shows that people with damage to their emotional response system, of the kind that results in them not experiencing emotions, have difficulty making decisions even when they are smart enough to know the answer and they know it is important for them to do so. They lack the motive to make the decision. Star Trek and Conan Doyle got it wrong with Spock and Sherlock.

Herodotus tells us that the ancient Persians made important decisions after they had discussed the situation twice, once sober and once drunk, presumably in an attempt to analyse situations both critically (while sober) and emotionally (while drunk). I don’t know for sure, but I would assume the order of the two sessions might have an effect. I will have to experiment on myself and report back to you later.

The “fiction” part of the “science fiction story”

We will develop techniques using anesthetics and electrical stimulation to selectively suppress the limbic system and frontal lobes in wakeful subjects, and using drugs to suppress or boost the body’s production of hormones related to stress and emotion.

From credible science and realistic projection we can now propose the likely impact on wargame techniques in the future. We will game a topic with different parts of the players brains “switched off” or “switched on” depending on the phase of the game’s move. During those phases of each move that require the players to analyse the situation we will suppress the entire limbic system (brain and body). We can then explore totally rational analysis driven by the frontal lobe generated critical faculties of the players and in the absence of any emotional processing.

The problem here is the likely difficulty of getting emotionless people to make decisions when it is “decision time” in the game – for example when it is time to select a move or COA from a set that has been discussed and explored during the planning phases of the game’s moves. So, during the phases when the players are called on to make decisions, we will boost the limbic system to turn decision-making motivation back on. In other words we pulse the limbic systems of the players in phase with the tasks required during the game; suppress for analysis, boost for decision making.

Alternatively, taking a leaf out of the ancient Persians’ playbook, by simultaneously boosting the limbic system and suppressing the frontal lobes we can explore wildly off the wall ideas while completely suspending disbelief. We can also, by incrementally turning the limbic system up or down, explore decision making under different levels of emotion.

The “story” part of “science fiction story

How will such a world play out? When proven successful by the Military (and it will be), this technique will move into the mainstream and be used by any profession that involves both analysis and decision making by the same people about extremely important situations. For example by judges, doctors and surgeons, airline pilots, nuclear power plant operators, senior military officers in charge of our nuclear triad (this latter is exciting, you can see where this is going!) etc. Given humanity’s desire for silver bullets, the techniques develop and proliferate rapidly and are embedded in all critical areas of the global system before the downsides are discovered (of course, why change the habits of many lifetimes?) The intellectual elites of society who combine analysis and decision-making powers over the rest of us start suffering debilitating psychoses and hallucinations caused by the technique’s interference in their brains and sleep patterns. The world descends into chaos as the senior leaders, decision makers and analysts in our legislature, judiciary, medical facilities, military etc. cycle between manic depression and emotionless psychopaths.


Given the history of using drugs and electrodes to experiment on people’s minds I suspect the above outline is a realistic projection of implementation by governments, business and academia. The possible benefits that result from widespread successful implementation are so great that such implementation will certainly occur despite the possible downsides explored by the story.

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KWN: Building the future of wargaming

The Wargaming Network at King’s College London has a series of events planned for November. Details below.

Future of WG Schedule 2019-09-31.png

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