On 22 July, the US Army War College hosted a panel discussion on “Wargaming in the Classroom”. It was a terrific event which packed a lot of info and insight into 2 ½ hours.
In his introductory remarks, Samuel White, Deputy Director of the Center for Strategic Leadership at the AWC noted that the mission of the AWC is to “to develop leaders and ideas.” In his view, and that of the panelists, wargaming is a tool that can do both.
I. "Innovative Employment of of Wargames in PME”
The first speaker was Dr. James Lacey of the Marine War College.
His talk can be seen as an update of this article from 2016:
The benefits he saw from using wargames:
1. “Games are remembered nearly forever.” (The audience of experienced gamers heartily agreed with this point.) Students keep thinking about the issues and decisions for days and weeks after they play.II “Wargames and International Relations”
2. Games generate a large volume of decisions to make and ponder. “Every turn creates new strategic problems to solve.”
3. War college students now think and write in Powerpoint. Traditional writing assignments no longer are the best method to build understanding through in-depth analysis.
Wargames are a way to fill that gap.
4. “Wargames provide mental models” which students can use in the future to interpret new information, problems, and challenges. For example, The Civil War battle of Chancellorsville shares many characteristics with maneuver warfare battles in Iraq or hypothetical battles against Russia in Estonia or Poland.
Dr. David Lai, AWC Strategic Studies Institute.
He brought an intriguing perspective to the proceedings. His cross-cultural survey and “meta” approach gave me a lot to think about.
A. “All games have their origins in human conflict”
Not just wargames. Sports and “entertainment” games (poker, bridge) share the same starting point.
B. “Games become part of culture and culture effects thinking.”
For example, Americans play poker, and US diplomacy reflects aspects of that game. “Bluffing” (intimidation), playing the cards you are dealt in each crisis, etc..
C. “Nations play games, but different nations play different games.”
1. Thus, while the US may think of poker when dealing with China, the Chinese play Go, not poker.
2. Go is a game requiring long-range, subtle strategies.
3. The “playing board” looks completely different for each player because different games/ different strategic culture.
III “Wargaming in the classroom”
Dr. Peter Perla CNA. Author of The Art of the Wargame.
A. For military organizations the key leadership challenge is “how to develop mental ‘muscle memory’” before officers go to war.
B. How wargames work:
1. It is only through such “muscle memory” that leaders can make better decisions faster under the strain of battle
C. Why wargames work:
1. They entertain
2. They engage
3. They enlighten
4. Wargames present a special type of narrative. Players “live the stories” while playing. Higher engagement than reading history or listening to a lecture.
1. Players engage, not just observe. Active, not passive learning.
2. They must act and then live with the consequences of their actions.
3. It is a game yet when playing it becomes ‘real’ on some mental level.
D. One of the most important things to learn for wargames: “What we ‘know’ that just ‘ain’t’ so.”
Wargames can strip away illusions and false assumptions.
E. For the US Navy in the interwar period (1919-1941) wargaming was the main driver for innovation.
F. Done right, wargaming helps both students and organizations learn.
1. It also promoted tighter integration between the various functions in the service.
2. The navy also benefitted because students learned three critical skills from wargaming:
a. How to self-critique
b. How to offer honest and useful criticism to others.
c. How to accept honest criticism.
He closed emphatically: “Wargaming saves lives.” Therefore gaming needs to start early in an officers professional career.
IV “Teaching wargame design at the Army Command and General Staff College”
Dr. James Sterrett, USA CGSC
A. Wargame design is both an art and a science.
B. He warned against perfectionism in the design stage by quoting French poet Paul Vallery: “A poem is never finished, it is only abandoned.”
C. What is critical is not the initial design, but testing. At the classes on game design at CGSC, half the course time is now devoted to testing.
D. Dr. Sterrett agreed with Dr. Perla that officers should be introduced to wargaming as early as possible, preferably when they are still cadets.