This article written by Kenneth Watman, the Chairman of the War Gaming Department for the Naval War College espouses his beliefs in the effectiveness of war gaming as an analytic methodology. Surprisingly, his opinion is that war gaming by itself is not an effective method for predictive analytics. He begins his article by comparing war gaming to producing a theatrical play. A play, Watman says, is only a representation of specific aspects of life. When creating a play, the author must first decide what to focus the extent of the details on to get his/her point across to the audience. It is impossible to show everything in as great of detail as real life given the constrictions of time and space. Therefore, a play is a form of model which seeks to represent something in real life of interest to the creator. In war gaming, the creator must similarly choose what to portray in detail, what to represent in a more thematic practice, and what to omit. He furthers this analogy by cautioning any war gaming participants of the importance of understanding that a war game is only a depiction of specifically chosen details intended to analyze certain outcomes. For those actors in the war game scenario who complain of not being able to smell gunpowder or see real explosions, they are missing the point and ultimately detracting from the exercise. Watman continues with the notion that the iterative relationship between the “red teams” and “blue teams” which make up traditional war game scenarios are the features that distinguish war gaming from simply being an organized discussion, seminar, or workshop.
The primary benefit of war gaming as identified by Watman is that it allows participants and decision makers to develop a familiarity with problems and the choices they contain so that when the real thing happens, they have a knowledge bank of experience from which to draw. These types of exercises, regardless of the domain (i.e. military, law enforcement, business, etc.) allow participants to predict the behavior of adversarial forces, even if only slightly. This ability is extremely important in terms of utilizing ones staffing and resources to counter this threat. Watman writes that war games are effective means of predicting potential outcomes, but suggests they are most useful for suggesting questions, issues, and providing insights that must be analyzed more thoroughly with other methods. War gaming alone is inefficient for effective predicative analysis.
In order for a scientific experiment to be deemed acceptable to the academic community, repetition and control over the variables are necessary. In war gaming, this is not possible. Even if the same individuals were chosen to complete the exercises multiple times (almost impossible to do by the way), their experiences, behaviors, and moods would always be different resulting in various outcomes. Not to mention that war gaming exercises typically require large time and monetary commitments from creators and participants. Watman warns of the dangers of participants falling under the impressions that they are now more informed about what will happen because they participated in a war gaming exercise. These exercises are designed to give participants experience in potential outcomes to allow them to practice their responses. Simply participating does not make one “all-knowing” as to the number of scenarios that can play out in the future. Also, war gaming can lead to participants building up incorrect preconceived notions about an opponent based on war gaming exercises. The results of which can lead to underestimation of an opponent’s abilities or an overestimation in one’s own abilities to counter.
Watman concludes by agreeing that war gaming is a useful tool for saving the time and money of the experimentation program. He believes that constituted correctly, war games can replace much of the need for experiments themselves. But in order for this to happen, these games must be carefully conceived and coupled to the actual field experiments. These games, like their accompanying experiments, must be detail oriented from the lowest level up. Only then can war game scenarios be compared to experiments to reveal their accuracy at predicting outcomes.
Although Watman’s article did slant toward the military side in terms of some of the analogies and terms used throughout, I found this article particularly interesting and useful for other domains. Most notably, that as the Chairman for the War Gaming Naval College, Watman is not afraid to profess his worries of people utilizing war gaming as their singular means of predictive analysis. He comes right out and says it is basically a modifier to generate new ways of thinking which other methods would be better suited to answer. This understanding of how war gaming was used in the past and how it should be used in the future speaks to all disciplines interested in conducting war gaming exercises, not just the military. This article very clearly laid out the authors opinions on the benefits and drawbacks of war gaming in an easy to comprehend manner which personally expanded my understanding of the subject. Through my own limited experiences with military experiments (field exercises) and war games (computer simulations), I agree with Watman’s assessment that the war games must be as closely tied in detail to the experiments as possible in order for them to be anywhere near accurate at predicting outcomes. I also agree with his assessment that war gaming is primarily beneficial to participants by allowing them to practice their “battle drills” so if/when a similar scenario plays out in the future, they have a reference to what they did in the exercise and if it worked and why.
Watman, K. (2003). War gaming and its role in examining the future. Brown J. World Aff., 10, 51.