PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

MWI: Why gamers will win the next war

At the Modern War Institute, Nick Moran and Arnel P. David argue that gamers will win the next war.

A storm is brewing. Thousands of gamers are working to upend traditional models of training, education, and analysis in government and defense. This grassroots movement has developed across several countries, under a joint venture—Fight Club International—within which civilian and military gamers are experimenting with commercial technologies to demonstrate what they can do for national security challenges. But while technology is at the core of this initiative, its more fundamental purpose is to change culture—no easy feat in military organizations, with their characteristic deep sense of history and layers of entrenched bureaucracy.

A common obstacle to introducing transformational technology is the imagination of the user—or, put differently, the willingness of the user to be genuinely imaginative. Early testing with Fight Club, in a constructive simulation called Combat Missionshowed that civilian gamers with no military training outperformed military officers with years of experience. The military gamers were constrained in their thinking and clung dogmatically to doctrine. They discovered, to their frustration, that their speed of decision-making was lacking against gamers with greater intuition and skill.

The piece is an enthusiastic care for greater inclusion of wargames in professional military education—a point with which all of us at PAXsims would agree.

On a methodological note, however, one needs to be careful not to put excessive emphasis on civilian gamers beating non-gaming officers in wargames. Certainly, games test tactical analysis and insight. However, they also test familiarity with interface, rules/algorithms, and other quirks of the simulation. No matter how engaging the graphics, they’re usually quite different from actual command. Indeed, as Sherry Turkle and her colleagues pointed out more than a decade ago, as simulations become more realistic-looking there’s a risk we overlook the important ways in which they depart from reality. I know that some recent experimental work has been done on diversity in wargaming, which among other things assessed the strategic performance of “gamers” as opposed to neophytes and subject matter experts—as soon as that report is available, we’ll share it here at PAXsims.

2 responses to “MWI: Why gamers will win the next war

  1. Tracy Johnson 05/07/2022 at 2:56 pm

    Foregone conclusion.

    Both sides will have wargamers. So the winning side no matter who it is, can win this argument.

  2. brtrain 05/07/2022 at 1:14 pm

    Another caution is “gamer mode” behaviour – see this interesting 2014 thesis by Anders Frank on the problem. His research was done on a group of Swedish officer cadets using tactical training software.

    Click to access FULLTEXT01.pdf

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