When a report is titled something to the effect of “Why X Works,” I take notice. Within the first few paragraphs, the authors state that wargaming’s power and success is derived from its ability to enable individual participants to transform themselves by making them more open to internalizing their experiences in a game. Through these “synthetic experiences,” the brain has a chance to utilize a story and the game itself to create a suspension of disbelief that allows the player to internalize the scenario and information.
Via a story, a suspension of disbelief occurs as readers/listeners experience the vicarious emotions and actions brought out by the narrative. This in turn allows the participants to enter the situation being described and, in effect, become one with it, provided they are willing to do so.
When suspension of disbelief occurs, the reader’s brain enters into a state where all of the information provided at the time of reading is believed. As the brain processes the information, two systems come online to process the information at two different levels. The “automatic” system processes the information and believes it. The secondary system, the “systematic” system, starts to parse out information that it believes and does not believe. In fiction, the suspension of disbelieve sedates the systematic system and the information is more readably believed and internalized.
When applied to a game, these effects of story and brain function allow the game to have real weight and impact on the player. It becomes “real” to them, or at least more real than just reading about it via a report could achieve. The base purpose of what the game is trying to convey or teach integrates itself into the player. This takes place via the venue, controls on the game, kinesthetic inputs, social cues, and personal cues. The combined effect is actually strong enough for the authors to point out that there are key issues that need to be controlled for, those being wrong information and a lack of important information.
Finally, Perla and McGrady state that wargaming needs to move beyond from what they perceive as an art form into a more scientifically controlled process. While wargaming should not give up its story telling ability, it needs to be better tooled into a more adaptable device.
I am hard pressed to find anything I dislike with this. The report is well sourced and from a reputable institution (The Navy War College). The authors look at everything from the fiction in a wargame to how the brain handles these inputs. They caveated their findings with how you can get a wargame wrong and what those are and how to avoid them. If there is one thing, and it’s ultimately minor, some more research into a success rate would have only helped their case. That aside, its well-reasoned and makes sense. In video gaming, immersion is what helps to draw a person into a game and keep them there for hours. If a game’s ability to immerse the player is strong enough, that can carry over into the real world. Messages, ideas, MacGuffins, or other parts of the game can stick with a player for a long time. Why can’t those be applied to a training event that helps a person or team understand a real world scenario? If you insure that the information being provide in the game is as accurate as possible (omissions, embellishments, or falsehoods) then that does strike me as a valid method.
Perla, P. P., & McGrady, E. D. (2011). Why wargaming works. Naval War College Review, 64(3), 111.