Niall Ferguson’s How to Win a War made an interesting case for wargaming strategic alternatives in war. My reaction is that it sounds like fun, but it isn’t history
George Box once said “All models are wrong, some are useful.” This seems to be a wise caution about using wargames as historical tools. Ferguson quickly dismisses first person shooter games like Call to Duty and Axis and Allies, noting their easily detected flaws, and limited utility (learning about WWII weapons, for example).
The Calm & the Storm is apparently more sophisticated and its flaws are less apparent, suggesting that possible strategic results are more accurate and useful.
Red Alert! War is the volatile mixture of violence, chance and reason. Chance delivers results way outside expectations, uncertainty and fog result in actions that seem irrational, and the interplay of human emotion invoked by use of violence makes results inestimable.
Ferguson appears to have fallen victim to a convincing set of variables and a good-looking interface, suggesting the results are more “realistic.” This is similar to Fogg’s concern that people are more easily convinced by websites that look good in “How People Evaluate A Web Site‘s Credibility.”
It follows that the inevitably wrong results are more menacing since convincing data that looks good is seductively misleading
So where is Box’s “usefulness”? Perhaps it is best limited to better perceiving starategic dilemmas faced by each power rather than outcomes of alternate strategic choices.
James Gee’s Learning by Design: good video games as learning machines is an interesting look at human behavior, but he’s dead wrong about the base assumption that videogames are about learning. According to Gee:
the question is: How do good game designers manage to get new players to learn long, complex, and difficult games? The answer, I believe, is this: the designers of many good games have hit on profoundly good methods of getting people to learn and to enjoy learning.
Gamers have to suffer through the learning to get to the interesting part. I think the payoff isn’t enjoying learning, it’s living a fantasy (experiencing the past or future, or other worlds), exercising extraordinary powers (space flight, magic, generalship, kingship), taking risks (going in harms way, confronting extraordinary dangers) outside normal existence. The learning part is the up front cost of doing business. Good, bad, or ugly: if the payoff after the learning is done, the game will be a success.