This week’s WPR column is about wargaming and simulation, with a focus on last week’s Patterson School crisis sim:
War games have played a role in operational and strategic training for a very long time. The purpose of a war game is twofold. On the one hand, it produces data on a proposed course of action, with the quality of data dependent on the expertise of the players and the verisimilitude of the simulation. War gaming may reveal, for instance, that an invasion or offensive makes little sense given the options and resources available to both sides. On the other hand, war gaming provides training in strategic and operational thought under relatively safe and controlled conditions. A war game cannot replace the tension of battle or the responsibility of genuine decision-making, but it can help remedy certain kinds of common errors. Consequently, war games have been part of military training since at least the Napoleonic Wars. In a recent Naval War College Review article, Peter Perla and Ed McGrady argued that the power of war games stem from their association with narrative and storytelling. In a good war game, victory, defeat, gain and loss carry psychological weight that gives the players a stake in outcomes and makes their decision-making more realistic.
What goes for war goes for policy other than war. Public and foreign policy programs have increasingly used simulations as training and teaching tools. Policy initiatives, whether foreign or domestic, generate strategic dynamics; players respond to how other players have changed the game environment. Consequently, playing games can help students develop expertise regarding how to manage strategic dynamics, as well as more specific skills such as crisis negotiation.