"There'll be contracts, there'll be money,
there'll be experiments, because there is the same kind of quest
for a persuasive wargaming capability as there is a quest for a
laser beam that will bounce off a small mirror in space."
Bloomfield as quoted in
B, Allen, Wargames (1987)
Professional wargames have existed for over a
century, and as Professor Bloomfield notes, will continue to
exist. In terms of their basic structure, professional wargames do not differ much from their hobby
counterparts. Board and miniature wargames, role-playing wargames, computer wargames and
physical wargames all appear in professional gaming.
Board & Miniature Wargames
Professional wargaming began (more or less) with Kriegsspiel, which is essentially a form of board game
modeling the army combat. Soon after the invention of Kriegsspiel, the game was widely distributed to the
German army, and shortly thereafter, all the European armies began to practice the game to some degree. An
American Kriegspiel was developed at the end of the nineteenth century, and its inventor taught for a time
at the Naval War College in Newport, Connecticut. At roughly the same time, the Naval War College
own naval wargaming tradition under Professor McCarty Little, who used lead ships and the
grid floors of a
large room to plan annual wargame problems involving world-scale naval warfare between the United States
and other major powers. The tradition started by McCarty Little has continued to the present day,
though the "global game" is no longer played using miniatures, but rather using high-powered computers.
The Army and Marines also adopted Kriegspiel for use in officer training, and its use continues to the
present day. As an example, during the 1980's the Command and General Staff College in Leavenworth,
Texas, housed a 1/285 scale board game covering of a portion of NATO's Eastern Front, complete with
Role-playing has been adopted as a technique for modeling
the analytical dynamics of wartime decision-making. Herbert
Goldhamer, a RAND analyst, is generally credited with inventing military-political wargames in
1956. Others, at RAND and MIT, refined and developed these models. Military-political games resemble (and
pre-date) role-playing games. Two or more teams of players are grouped together in a room and assigned
the role of a country (the United States, an enemy, or an allied state). Teams are presented with a
scenario, usually involving an international crisis taking place in the present day or near future. The scenario is described by a team of analysts and
designers called "control." After assessing the situation, the team decides on a number of "moves"
(e.g. troop mobilizations, press statements, demarches) which are transmitted to control. Control
then analyzes these moves and returns to the team a new scenario (often set a few days or months later)
with a new crisis situation that has resulted from the moves taken. Military-political wargames are often
played by high-ranking military and civilian officials, and used as data in reaching policy
decisions. The transcripts and results of the games, and the identities of participants, are almost always
classified as top secret. Though the designers and participants of these games stress that role-playing
is not a serious element of the games and that "this is not Dungeons & Dragons," the similarity between the
two genres is self-evident. There are also reports (and RAND studies) attempting to solve the classic
role-playing problem of attempting to "think" like someone else (i.e. the enemy).
As early as 1958, the Navy spent over $10 million on the Navy Electronic Warfare System, an early system
that allowed wargames to be played utilizing a computer mainframe to track movements and calculate
the results of combat. Although NEWS was very primitive by contemporary standards and replete with
problems, the impetus that created it led to numerous other colorful acronyms and computer-based wargames in
the various branches of the military. Often computers were used merely to handle the heavy analytical work
of resolving combat, but just as in hobby wargaming, constant advances in graphics and processor speeds led
to a greater variety of applications over time. In the 1980's and 1990's, the rapid pace of technological
change and the problems of government contracting led computer simulations and tactical wargames to often cross the line between private and military
uses. In some cases, mass-market computer games were based upon technological advances made in military
games. In other cases, military institutions borrowed or adapted mass-market games for training exercises.
Although the details of professional computer wargaming today are classified, it is clear that contemporary research is proceeding on multiple
fronts: including automating strategic planning, improving modeling accuracy, integrating computers
into traditional military-political wargaming, and developing superior
One side effect of the increasing use of
technology in warfare is the possible erosion of distinctions
between real and simulated war. When much of warfare is
dependent on remote sensing and automated systems, the consoles
used for wargames may be the same consoles used for war.
This idea is hardly new (see the movie 1983 movie Wargames),
yet the developments that prompted it continue to change the
nature of warfare.
Field wargames, also called exercises or maneuvers, have a much longer history than paintball or laser
tag. Military units today regularly engage in training exercises which are essentially
physical wargames. Outside of the confines of special forces units, physical wargaming generally seems to receive less attention in professional wargaming
circles. Perhaps this is due to a belief that physical wargaming, since it involves the physical
training of individual soldiers, is less important in war. War strategists often prefer to plan and analyze
on a grander scale. There also may be some degree of skepticism over whether the technology of ground unit
training can actually be meaningfully enhanced. Much of physical wargaming seems to be dependent upon
developing and perfecting sets of fairly well-known skills, which
may not lend themselves to theoretical improvement. This tendency to downplay
the importance of individual soldiers in combat seems to be a flaw in current military modeling.
How Do Professional Games Differ?
Professional wargaming, or the wargaming practiced by the military, is an institutional exercise. This,
more than any other factor, makes professional wargaming substantially different than hobby gaming.
Professional wargames are generally less subject to market controls
for entertainment or educational value. Those who play the games
are usually obligated to participate regardless of their assessment of the value of the game, and those who design the games sometimes express skepticism about
the design objectives and methodologies of professional gaming. Due to the
professional nature of military institutions, strong criticism and radical revision of games is generally
not likely. Since professional wargames are often designed by large teams, institutional "groupthink"
and compliance with hierarchical mandates tend to suppress novelty and creative design.
Yet despite these drawbacks, professional wargames are in some ways superior to hobby games. Generally
speaking, professional game designers have greater access to financial and factual resources. Whereas
hobby game designers are unconstrained in theory, they are often constrained by the need to design popular
games quickly. Professional wargame designers can dedicate a
large staff and budget to the creation of
complex games that would never be popular successes. Also, professional wargames in theory can make use of
more accurate and current information, since military institutions will be likely maintain data on military
subjects and provide access to internal personnel. Professional game designers also may be professional
military analysts with extensive budgets for non-wargame research and development exercises.
Finally, professional wargames, being less responsive to market demands, may in fact be more "realistic" than hobby wargames. Actual warfare is not
entertainment. Though entertaining wargames "make learning fun" and "fire the imagination," they may
also jettison those aspects of war strategy that make games more tedious than enjoyable.
The differences between hobby and professional gaming should not be overdrawn. Some designers
participate in both the professional and hobby markets, and many professional
wargamers and game
designers are also hobby wargamers as well.
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See Peter P. Perla, The Art of Wargaming 26-33 (1990).
Id. at 55.
Id at 63-69.