Home / Robert Farley / Simulating!



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 recentĀ 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 gamesĀ can help students develop expertise regarding how to manage strategic dynamics, as well as more specific skills such as crisis negotiation.

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  • rea

    In early 1942, Yamamoto’s staff wargamed an attack on Midway. An early attempt resulted in the Americans ambushing the Japanese carrier force and sending most of it to the bottom–the referees stepped in and ruled that such a result was too unrealistic. So, yeah, “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.”

    • Hogan

      You might call Yamamoto “the Japanese Van Riper.”

    • Njorl

      I can imagine someone saying, “That could only happen if the Americans had access to all of our encoded communications.”

  • One notes the continued existence of hobby table-top wargaming, also, although it’s much less visible than once-upon-a-time. When well-designed, they can provide good insight into why things happened and why the historic actors did what they did (or didn’t do obvious things).

    That, and they can also be fun and engaging.


  • Tracy Lightcap

    You might also look at the extended simulations in the Reacting to the Past program (reacting.barnard.edu). These simulations are extremely well thought out and engaging; I’ve used them in my classes for some time. If you want an overview, see the article I did on them in PS. Why more people don’t use extended simulations is beyond me. They work.

    They’re always looking for new games at Barnard. Try your hand at one.

  • Philip Sabin has created a course in simulation design (of the table top variety of sims). Information can be found at his website.


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