Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

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.

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