Friday, September 29, 2017

Why Wargaming Works

by Matthew Haines

       Dr. Perla and Dr. McGrady outline what wargaming is and how it can be both successful and unsuccessful in its attempt to inform and instruct its players. They both agree that wargaming has a significant impact on its players’ decisions outside of the simulation and they propose a combination of reasons for this. They begin by comparing a games narrative to that of literature and the effect it has on a reader. That while reading prose the reader builds an imaginary space, that encompasses the work of fiction, but is perceived as real in the moment. This literary term is called the l’entre deux, or the “between place”. This phenomenon is what ties the emotional response a reader has towards problems that a fictional narrative is proposing. The author’s use President Clinton’s fear of the repercussions of biological terrorism.
Dr. Perla and Dr. McGrady then outline the neuroscience behind this idea. That when reading a fictional work that applies suspense and emotion to otherwise historical facts, a person must pause and remember what is factual and what is not. They site a study done on participants who were given a factual “cut and dry” recounting of President George Washington’s campaign, and a narrative that painted a scenario that the race was down to the wire. After the study participants were asked if George Washington became the first president of the United States, and the participants that read the “cut and dry” piece answered significantly quicker than those that read the other piece. The authors state that this place between is heightened even further in wargaming.
They state that wargaming does not only create a narrative designed to build emotion and suspense, but it is also influenced by the players’ actions. Therefore, wargaming is the closest place that a person can get to the “between space”, thus intensifying the effects it has on the players. The author’s state that these effects can be both good or bad depending on the design of the game. A well designed game can be used to
        help players learn how better to balance the equation between the cost of preparing for the
        uncertain future and the risk of not doing so; can help enlighten players about the fact that
        unexpected and unpredictable events, including embarrassing ones, do happen and that there are
        real consequences when they do.

However, a poorly designed game can under or over estimate the effects variables have on an outcome, and create a false sense of reality for the player. Wargaming is also hindered by its inability to account for unknown unknowns. This can make it extremely ineffective when dealing with problems that are outside the scope of a game designer’s cognitive biases.


        What this article shows is that if wargaming can even be described as an analytical/forecasting tool it is a very poor and dangerous one. The authors were able to show that wargaming and simulation are one of the best ways to make the problems simulated a top priority for participants. This is just another way of creating a bias. To use these simulations, as described above, for intelligence purposes is a bad idea. More biases do not allow for best possible intelligence products. That said the article does highlight some good points for using wargaming as a teaching tool. If wargaming is used in conjunction with brainstorming processes, decision trees, and unique factors then it could be used in a more effective way.



  1. Matt, I agree with your point regarding the creation of bias. More perspectives, especially when emotions become involved, do not guarantee a better intelligence product at the end game. I believe the authors push blame off of themselves for defending the theory entirely to designing a good or bad war game.

  2. I also agree with the creation of bias, as much as wargaming gives the opportunity to see the full picture, the process of reaching a desired outcome can be tainted. One good thing about it is the opportunity to see things from various angles and be proactive about mitigation, if necessary.

  3. Matt, I agree with the assessment of wargaming as a teaching tool. I think it can be looked at and evaluated post-test to evaluate participants' decision-making ability and be used as a teaching tool to aid participants in becoming more aware of their own biases. More biases may not necessarily be bad if participants become effective at identifying and overcoming their biases. The application of wargaming allows for success and failures without devastating real-world consequences due to intelligence gaps and failures.