In a blog post over at Play the Past, Matt Kirschenbaum asks the question what can be learned from wargaming? It is an excellent discussion, and I would urge everyone to go over there and read the whole thing.
For now, however, I wanted to pursue one small issue that he raises in his discussion, namely the absence of a “peer-reviewed journal to serve the professional wargame design community.” There was some discussion of this at Connections 2011, and I know a few folks think it would be a useful contribution both to refining the art and building a professional community of practice.
I’m not so sure—and, in the best traditions of red teaming, let me lay out the potential problems with that course of action:
- It is a hell of a lot of work. It really is—and if a journal is to continue to function year in and year out it requires a significant body of dedicated volunteers. Is there such a critical mass? And if there is, are their efforts best spent chasing down contributors/arranging peer reviews/editing poor English/looking for missing citations/dealing with publication deadlines/etc.—or ought those energies better spent on other possible professional initiatives?
- A serious peer-reviewed journal will need 1-2 dozen high quality manuscripts per year (which might well involve triple that number of submissions each year if it shows some editorial discrimination and only publishes that which deserves to be published). Is there that much professional output out there? I have my doubts.
- A professional wargames journal is likely to only be read by—well, let’s face it— professional wargamers, and a few others. My sense, however, is that the field needs to both “evangelize” more with new constituencies, and to build stronger linkages with a variety of overlapping research communities: technical M&S, serious games, the even larger (and rapidly growing) interdisciplinary field of ludology/games studies, and scholars working in a wide range of social science (and other) academic disciplines whose work is relevant to what professional wargamers do. I would worry that the energy spent on a journal would be too inwardly directed, when outward connections have a bigger potential pay-off.
- Finally, the vast majority of good quality analytical pieces on aspects of professional wargaming could already find somewhere to be published among the very many existing academic, policy, and professional military journals. Shorter pieces would fit well in several professional military publications, or can be blog-published online (including, possibly, here or at an expanded Connections website—plus we’re always interested in this kind of thing at PAXsims too.)
My own sense is that rather than setting sights too ambitiously, it makes more sense to work first on issues of professional networking, communication, information- and idea-sharing and so forth, probably in more informal and less-labour intensive ways. Sure, everyone would love to be the next Small Wars Journal—but they have a much larger potential audience (numbering, literally, in the tens of thousands), and people like Dave Dilegge, Bill Nagle, and Mike Few put in an insane amount of work there to make it all happen.