Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 12/07/2022

Review: Forging Wargamers

Sebastian Bae, ed., Forging Wargamers: A Framework for Wargaming Education (Marine Corps University Press, 2022). Free online.

Over the past decade or so there has been growing attention the value of wargaming in professional military education (for example, here and here and here and here and here and here, among many others). Sebastian Bae has already contributed a great deal to these debates, including as Chair for the Connections US 2021 “Wargaming for education” working group. This edited volume further advances the discussion. What’s more, it is available for free online.

Forging Wargamers consists of an introduction and conclusion by the editor, plus nine chapters by various professional wargamers. The core challenge is highlighted at the outset by Bae:

…wargames have proliferated and evolved into the robust commercial game industry and a vibrant professional wargaming field focused on analysis and education.7

But this begs the question: How does one become a wargamer, whether as a player, sponsor, analyst, or designer?

When most professional wargamers are asked how they enter the field of designing or using wargames for the study of conflict, most if not all will sheepishly offer some form of, “I stumbled into it.” This author counts themselves among the ranks who serendipitously wandered onto the path of the war- gamer. Unfortunately, the prevalence of wargamers produced by convenient accidents is not a rarity but a consequence of there being no formal system to produce them. The absence of an established talent pipeline for wargaming—whether as participants, sponsors, analysts, or designers—risks making the wargaming field increasingly small and insular. Within the military, wargaming experience among officers is principally constrained to resident professional military education (PME) and select assignments directly engaged with wargaming as part of the analytical cycle. For the enlisted force, wargaming is tragically a rare commodity largely constrained to enterprising individuals’ use of commercial wargames and tactical decision games (TDGs) for unit-based training.8 The current wargaming enterprise remains piecemeal and disjointed at best; small islands of excellence tangentially connected to one another.

Each of the authors addresses one or more of three major themes: cultivating wargamers, applying wargaming for education, and educating external stakeholders on the value of wargaming. Some provide case studies of how wargames have been used in PME. Others address the challenge of developing the next generation of military wargamers, the skills required, and the synergies between professional wargaming and commercial/hobby game designers. Several authors address how best to institutionalize an expanded role for educational wargaming, building a constituency that will sustain it on an ongoing basis. The various contributions are thoughtful and well-informed.

In the conclusion, Bae highlights the urgency of all this:

The question of developing wargaming expertise is not a sterile academic inquiry, but a pressing imperative with potentially dire consequences. The wargaming community is rapidly approaching an inflection point, where titans of the field are steadily retiring, and the subsequent generation is struggling to fill the void. Meanwhile, even within the Department of Defense (DOD), wargaming remains hampered by misconceptions, prejudices, and a lack of understanding of wargaming’s utility and limitations.

As he notes, there is much to be done. However, Forging Wargamers is undoubtedly an important step in the right direction.

Henåker: Decision-making style and victory in battle

Comparative Strategy has just published a piece by Lars Henåker (Swedish Defence University) entitled “Decision-making style and victory in battle—Is there a relation?” In it he reports on a series of experimental wargames which examined the relationship between general decision-making styles and tactical victory:

Can decision-making styles impact victory and defeat in armed conflicts? To answer the question of whether decision-making styles are linked to the victories and defeats of individual tacticians, this study utilizes five general decision-making styles: Rational, Intuitive, Dependent, Avoidant and Spontaneous. The aim of this study is to examine whether one or several of the general decision-making styles (GDMS) have an impact on tactical outcomes in wargames. A total of 104 officers and academics participated in the study. The study’s foremost conclusion is that the Dependent style is significantly connected to defeat in the wargame’s dueling set up.

The participants were 104 officers from the Swedish Defence University in Stockholm and in the Swedish Armed Forces (Skövde Garrison), ranging in rank from Lieutenant to Colonel. The study found little relationship between decision-making styles and wargame outcomes except in the case of the “dependent” style.

The Dependent decision-making style is typified by individuals who seek advice and guidance from others prior to making important decisions. This style adversely impacts the capacity for innovative behavior and creativity for the same reason as the Rational decision-making style. The Dependent decision style is also affiliated with a reduced ability to complete a thought process (e.g., a decision-making process) without being distracted by irrelevant thoughts. Individuals with a Dependent decision style tend to desire to solve quandaries rather than avoid them, although they also have a tendency to doubt their own ability to find a solution.10 A study by Alacreu-Crespo et al. pos- ited that the Dependent decision style is strongly associated with the need for emo- tional and instrumental support. The Dependent decision style encompasses individuals with socially open and constructive natures, as well as passive and anxious individuals.11

The author goes on to conclude:

One reasonable interpretation is that an individual with a Dependent decision-making style requires more tactics at their disposal and more time to make good decisions. If the individual’s decision-making style is regarded partly as acquired and habitual behavior, and identified when an individual is confronted with a decision situation, we can assume that practical training would reduce a tactician’s need for time and external support. Furthermore, studies should be conducted on how a group of tacticians would manage against another group of tacticians in the corresponding circumstances. It seems reasonable to suggest that decision-style tests be used as a tool for increased self-awareness among military officers, although it is probably too soon to use decision-style tests as a recruit- ment tool.

Finally, we can now pose the question: what practical benefits can we derive from the insight that the Dependent decision-making style adversely impacts the outcome of a dynamic, complex and high-pace environment? The simple answer is that tacticians with a Dependent decision-making style should not have first-call responsibility for making quick decisions during battle, or there would be a risk that decisions are made too slowly in relation to an opponent. However, the study does not indicate whether tacticians with a Dependent decision-making style will function positively or negatively as a member of the group, e.g., staff member, under extreme stress with incomplete decision data.

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