Game vs Simulation

The milgames list had one of those period explosions of activity after Michael Peck asked if professional gaming work affected the ability to enjoy playing them:

Do you find that your professional work with games has affected your enjoyment of gaming?

I’ve realized that after years of writing about games, I don’t look at them in the same way. So many games now seem frivolous, even pointless. I find myself more intrigued by analyzing and writing about games than playing them. I find myself looking at games and wondering…oh, the horror…wondering what requirement the game meets.

Am I a traitor to my hobby? Save me from myself!

This brought out the following response:

No, Mike, you are not a traitor to your hobby… unless I am too. I’ve been inventing games for 35+ years and I do it for the reasons you list. That said, I still enjoy a good game when I can find one but on a professional level I find that the world of M&S is more satisfying because games have no purpose. M&S on the other hand uses the same and even superior technology and very much has a purpose, many purposes as a matter of fact. Training, mission planning, mission rehearsal and after action analysis come to mind immediately. On a more subtle level M&S can be used to derive project requirements, expose new technology opportunities, suggest C2 and C4ISR improvements, enhance joint and coalition operations, and lots more. As I’ve said before, given the proper architecture the same tool(s) could be used for it all.

The author, later clarified his position as meaning ‘games’ in the context of Michael’s post i.e. ‘the bad ones’ – the ‘good ones’ having a solid M&S foundatation behind them and being – in his mind – more part of the goodness that is M&S. I have certainly stuck my foot in it with comments that came off sounding as arrogant, but I think the comment belies a bit of the attitude many in “M&S” have regarding the “lesser” discipline of “playing games” that contributes to the bias against gaming we have been fighting here. Just as my own mis-statements have belied my own biases, this one had a ring of truth to it, which my recent foray’s into “purposeless” Euro-games has led me to re-consider where my own definitions of “purposeful” got in the way of my own understanding.

The long way around to saying “I could have written that comeback myself fewer years ago than I care to admit.” Despite that, I could not resist throwing the B.S. flag on the “games have no purpose line” which led to a rather interesting discussion one can follow here

One of the interesting threads that of that discussion is the age-old “game vs simulation” debate. To some ‘games’are a subset of ‘simulation’ that involve people. To others Simulations and games are overlapping sets of a Venn Diagram with simulations that are not games, and games that are not simulations as well as games that employ simulations and simulations that employ gaming “agents” even without involving people. A number of interesting twists and turns and nuggets of wisdom.

My own, which I have found has done me well in my struggle to inculcate a group into gaming for work-related insights and as an analysis tool is to avoid dealing in nouns – looking at calling things simulations or games, but to employ the verbs – simulating and gaming. My own definition is that simulating is process-centric while gaming is decision-centric. It is not a question of whether a given thing is a simulation or a game, but the fact that one has to deal with both processes and decisions in analysis.

Dealing only with process lead to the pathology that is often found in comparative or “physics-based” sims that the human is a confounding “dB-loss” to the otherwise harmonious music of the celestial spheres of simulated process execution. This begs the question of why we bother with so many efficiency reducing humans in our process loops?

Well, to DECIDE… Yup, something has to decide which process to use when, when to start and end a process, and despite the indication for sims that humans are speed-bumps to execution, they bring “value-added” when it comes to understanding how to arrange process to achieve a goal. Yes, AI progress is being made in ASSISTING in that effort, but until SkyNet takes over, there will not be a machine running the war.

Recent focus on ‘performance chain analysis’ has reinforced this duality of “the process has to work right” at each step in the chain, but you need creative decision-making to queue the right processes in the right order across complementary performance chains. When you aggregate all those decisions together up to the operational level you start to understand why it’s called “operational art” and why we may not want to ever have “AI” doing more than assisting it.

And if you have not joined the milgames yahoo group, its well worth it!


About Paul Vebber

"If you read about something, you have learned about it. If you can teach something, you have mastered it. Designing a useful game about something however, requires developing a deep understanding of how it relates to other things."
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